Our much ballyhooed, super-luxPhaeton awaits at Dresden's small airport. There is no traditional folded map, only satellite navigation.
Time is short. The dashboard-mounted key is turned. Nothing. Only after looking at the rev counter, needle fixed at a constant 640 rpm, does it become apparent the engine is alive — so hushed, the 414-hp W-12 engine can't be heard when the cabin doors and windows are closed.
VW's engineers, aware that others may make the same mistake, have developed a system that prevents the starter motor from engaging when the engine is running. OnlyMotor Corp.'s Lexus LS 430 has an engine approaching this level of quiet.
The W-12 engine — two VW V-6s mated to a common crankshaft and block — produces 414 hp and 406 lb.-ft. (550 Nm) of torque. It drives all four wheels via a5-speed automatic.
This engine is the pinnacle of the Phaeton range. VW's S-Class-sized limousine, launched with a 3.2L front-drive V-6, later will offer a 5L V-10 turbodiesel (with 6-speed automatic), a V-6 turbodiesel and a thoroughly redeveloped version of Audi's existing V-8.
What's immediately obvious is that the W12 Phaeton is more hedonistic than sporting. Its sheer dimensions exude authority, placing it closer to the Mercedes S-Class and Lexus LS 430 and its Audi A8 sibling.
Lack of conventional feedback suits the Phaeton's gracious manners. Not that the limo asks to be driven only in moderation. Push hard and the W12 effortlessly gathers speed. It's quicker than it feels — 0-to-62 mph (100 km/h) in just 6.1 seconds.
Top speed? Nominally, Phaeton adheres to the German maker's self-imposed limit of 155 mph (249 km/h). But engineers admit dealers are empowered to remove the electronic limiter, lifting maximum to 178 mph (286 km/h).
VW's taken a conservative route in the cabin — comfortable and superbly finished. It may lack the perception of spaciousness found in an S-Class, yet two 6-ft. (1.8-m)-tall people can easily ride in tandem.
Sumptuous and silent, swift and serene, the Phaeton immediately establishes the credibility of its luxury DNA. Whether that's enough to tempt upscale car buyers away from their Mercedes S-Class and7-Series has yet to be determined.