The Volkswagen Phaeton was an unexpected entry into the luxury segment. A top-notch sedan from a brand whose reputation was all about mass-market compacts. Like most cool cars throughout history, the Phaeton was about making a point – that Volkswagen could build a damn good luxury sedan. To mark Phaeton’s 20th anniversary, Volkswagen has taken the covers off a secret successor that never made it to the production line – the Phaeton D2.

When Volkswagen was considering a successor to the original Phaeton, the process got as far as developing a one-off driveable D2. That’s what we’re looking at here. The finalised design was the work of Marco Pavone, Head of Exterior Design, and Tomasz Bachorski, Head of Interior Design. They’re joined by VW’s current Head of Design, Jozef Kaban, at this showcase celebrating the Phaeton.

Left to Right: Tomasz, Jozef and Pavone

The D2 looks as modern as any of Volkswagen’s current line of sedans. Its design language stays true to the idea of the original – understated luxury. The proportions are sleek and well-defined. Its elegance is highlighted by its shoulder lines that stretch from the headlight to the tail end. There are sporty details such as the sculpted shape of the bonnet and the raised lip along the boot that acts as a subtle spoiler. Like all modern luxury cars, the Phaeton D2 has a lot of chrome details, especially in the large grille. The new jewel-like headlamps are certainly an improvement but the taillights lack the character of the round-shaped lamps in the original.

Inside the cabin, the Phaeton D2 was futuristic for its time. It has curved integrated displays – one for the digital instrument cluster and the other is a large touchscreen for the infotainment system. The steering-mounted controls are seamless with no clear markings for the buttons. They might even be designed to be haptic touch controls. But what truly stands out about the dashboard is the simplistic elegance with the mix of leather, wooden veneer and gloss black surfaces. This theme of materials is applied to the large, circular steering wheel as well. The central console tunnel looks pretty fancy too with its large gear selector and cup-holder covers designed like crosshairs.

The rear seats of the one-off D2 were in a two-seat layout with a fixed centre console that connects to the console tunnel between the front seats. This showcase example is even kitted out with the rear entertainment package comprising two large screens mounted to the front backrests. There is even a pop-out touchscreen tablet for the rear passengers with other controls behind it. The dual-pane sunroof really helps brighten up the cabin.

The original Phaeton was almost entirely hand-assembled by specialist employees at a facility on the outskirts of Dresden.

There is no mention of the powertrain powering the one-off Phaeton D2. However, the luxury sedan started with an impressive trio of engines – an entry-level 3.2-litre V6 petrol (241hp), a 6.0-litre W12 petrol(420hp), and a 5.0-litre V10 diesel (313hp). The W12 was made of two V6 engines for a compact design. But it was the diesel V10 that was particularly impressive with its 750Nm of torque that made the Phaeton the most powerful diesel sedan in the world then. The V6 was used to drive the front wheels while the other two engines came with all-wheel-drive.

Over time, Volkswagen introduced a more practical 4.2-litre V8, replaced the 3.2 V6 with a 3.6-litre and then a 3.0-litre engine. The most popular option was the 3.0-litre V6 diesel introduced in 2004 that put out 245hp. Volkswagen stopped making the V10 diesel engine in 2006 and the W12 petrol unit in 2011.

While Volkswagen decided to let go of the Phaeton, it can potentially find a spiritual successor in the form of an all-electric luxury sedan in the future. The German marque has not lost its touch at designing understated and sleek sedans as witnessed by the ID. Aero concept, the Arteon, Passat, Jetta and even the Virtus. We can only hope that someday, we will get a replacement for the Phaeton as well.

If I had to buy a luxury sedan without buying it from a luxury brand, the Volkswagen Phaeton D2 would have certainly been on my list, along with the Volvo S90.

What do you make of the second-gen Phaeton that never came? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe to the Auto Loons blog for more cool updates from the car world. You can also follow us on Instagram for more automotive content.

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