Remember That Time I Broke a VW Phaeton’s Transmission?


phaeton transmission

The Volkswagen Phaeton will go down in the annals of history as a pinnacle of automotive engineering, and complete foolishness. Were it not for the utter madness of Ferdinand Piech, we would have never known the abilities of VAG’s engineers and designers. If Mr. Piech’s parents had used a condom or the pill, there would be no Phaeton, nor Bugatti Veyron 16.4, for that matter. Thankfully, they didn’t so there are.

For a period, I was resolutely convinced that the Phaeton would be my next car. It was perfect! It had year-round usability, no badge-snobbery, supreme luxury appointments and accoutrements, and had depreciated faster than my 2008 stock portfolio and was therefore affordable.

So I began my search for a local-ish Phaeton that was in reasonable condition and at a competitive price. I eventually found one at a local Chrysler dealership. Probably not a great sign, but I went to check it out anyways and to get some seat-time in the people’s luxobarge.

Now let me share with you my single behind-the-wheel Phaeton experience from April 3, 2009. There I was just toodling along in the nearly 17-foot Silver battlecruiser, trying to manage the prodigious length, when I thought I’d put the 4.2L through its paces. With an alleged 335 hp on tap, I sunk my foot into the accelerator. What came next can only be described as completely uneventful. The engine wasn’t exactly forceful in this application, which probably had something to do with the 5000+ lbs it was trying to haul.

The transmission tried in vain to keep things in seamless order, but the programming seemed unable to infer the driver’s intentions. When I really jammed it, the gear would be held for an agonizingly long second right at the redline, before harshly shifting and repeating. These upshifts were glacially slow. And when the glacier finally moved, there was an audible clunk as the cogs swapped. I looked over at the salesman, who knew more about barbeques than he did about the Phaeton, and he just looked at me with this vexed expression.

The downshifts were slightly better, only because they were just slow, not detrimentally self-destructive. I know, I know, the Phaeton is a luxury car, not a sports tourer, but to have such an incompetent transmission in an otherwise rock-solid package is a downer.

I could go on describing the shortcomings of the Tiptronic system, but what came next is even more telling.

It died. The tranmission, it just died. I was slowing down at a stoplight from a high-speed run and at about 20 kph, there was a the biggest clunk yet. So I came to a full stop at the stoplight and everything seemed okay. Until the light turned green and I pressed on the gas. No response. No gear. Just a big “Service Now” warning, illuminated on the dash. The car was stuck in neutral and for the life of it, could not find a gear.

The salesman got out, pushed the Phaeton to the side of the road while I steered, and then called back to the dealership to send someone to pick me up.

I never heard from them again, which was a mild concern of mine because the Phaeton was out of warranty and I’d probably just caused a few thousand loonies in repairs. That was the moment that I decided against owning a Phaeton.