Gab with some Volkswagen fans about their most wanted people's car and the 2004-2006 Phaeton will certainly come up. Here are eight Phaeton topics in case the dinner party conversation heads down that road. (You can thank us later.)

1) Golly, wouldn't it be cool to own one nowadays?
2) Hopefully I can find one with the W-12 engine!
3) I feel bad for the original owners who had to deal with the initial and massive depreciation.
4) I feel bad for the secondhand owners who had to deal with the subsequent depreciation.
5) [See item #4] Ah, who are we kidding? They probably got steals!
6) It's cool that Volkswagen offered such an interesting car in the mid-2000s.
7) Let's look up used Phaeton listings on our smartphones.
8) What do you think VW's next flagship will be like?

Alas, seven years after VW's full-size sedan flagship's U.S. market exodus, there can be only one logical stand-in. Flagships must be able to demonstrate the brand's styling direction and technological might. Flagships showcase new, expensive, or outrageous features and options that eventually migrate into the junior categories. Flagships are pricier than the rest of the family and are supposed to be coveted by the brand's most loyal fans. For Volkswagen in 2013, that vehicle is the Touareg.

While the first-generation Touareg (2004-2010) came with intriguing tech such as 4XMotion four-wheel drive (with low range!) and 4-Corner Air Suspension with Continuous Damping Control, the second-gen (2011-current) boasts items of interest such as VW's first (but not only) production hybrid powertrain and an enormous panoramic sunroof (standard on Lux trim). Carried over from Gen 1 to Gen 2 is the optional 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 replete with a meaty 406 lb-ft of torque and 7716-pound tow rating. We recently hosted a 2013 Touareg TDI, now rated for 240 horsepower (up from the previous 225 hp) courtesy of exciting efficiency enhancements including friction reduction, lighter pistons and connecting rods, separate cooling cycles for the cylinder heads and block, an optimized timing chain cycle, and a water pump able to disengage itself to decrease engine drag. These lessons learned will likely trickle into other VW engines. And yes, selective catalytic reduction is used, so the diesel exhaust fluid ("AdBlue" to VW) level will need to be minded and topped off. (The filler location is in the spare-wheel well.)

In the summer of 2010, I drove the first-gen Touareg TDI during its farewell tour. I remember it being fairly luxurious, even though the interior's "bling bling" chromed accents bounced sunlight into my eyes. It got 24.3 mpg driving from Southern California to Denver and back. It was comfortable and stable over long highway slogs.

Recently I weaseled my way into the 2013 Touareg TDI. It's also fairly luxurious, but the interior decor has less of the former's opulent vibe, replaced with the corporate restraint and attractive cabin treatment you'd expect from an Audi yet adding nothing noteworthy save for the sunroof. It got 26.5 mpg driving from Southern California to Phoenix and back. It was mostly comfortable and very stable over extensive highway runs, but transmitted more tire and road noise than the older model. It also lacks Gen 1's plush air-sprung ride. The air suspension had cost $2750 -- money well spent in the luxury midsize SUV category, in my opinion.

Oddly, the driver's seat base appears to be longer than before, which shouldn't affect taller or leggier drivers. But it did force my 5'8" self's legs straighter than I would have liked, because I couldn't hinge them over the base's leading edge where I wanted and I wasn't about to start slouching in the seat. I wasn't alone in thinking this. Quoting Truck Trend honcho and fellow person of 5'8" stature Allyson Harwood: "Was there a way to shorten up the seat bottom length? I felt like my legs were barely long enough to clear the length of it."

For comparison's sake, the old and new SUVs' performance numbers are located below, but you can likely guess how updates have helped. Fitted with an eight-speed automatic transmission, the 2013 model enjoys a wider overall gear ratio spread than the preceding six-speed auto (7.20 versus 2010's 6.01), yielding greater acceleration and improved fuel economy. A taller axle ratio (3.27 against 2010's 3.90) and lower curb weight help efficiency.

The mild boost in hp, combined with a quicker launch and decently responsive eight-speed, increases the quarter-mile trap speed by a noticeable 4.5 mph. The thing about diesel engines -- even the bigger ones like VW Group's 3.0-liter V-6 - is that their powerbands tend to feel indistinguishable from one another. There are definitely differences in NVH if you jump from a diesel-powered BMW to a diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz to a diesel-powered Jeep, and there may be differences in fuel consumption and performance numbers since vehicle packaging varies from brand to brand, but the powerbands will feel more or less the same. There's a grin-inducing amount of shove down low and then the engine pull levels off dramatically the higher the rpms go. Having a little extra hp is nice for passing situations on interstates with higher speed limits.

The Touareg TDI may be positioned as a luxurious, highway-gobbling (theoretical 766-mile tank range) cruiser, but it can still do light off-roading. And did we ever. Turning the dial located near the shifter from On Road to Off Road adjusts the software governing the ABS, stability/traction control, and brake-based Electronic Differential Lock. Being in Off Road automatically deploys the Auto Hill Descent Assist when it's needed. It activates gradually, smoothly, and quietly no matter the descent gradient, and is simply one of the best in the game. The concern with hill-descent assist systems is underdeveloped units will grab brakes suddenly as they try to figure out the appropriate descent rate. Being able to hear ABS pulses while clumsily descending a steep, muddy, and tight path is nobody's idea of technological progress. The Touareg's off-road squad has done an admirable job. Let's not forget the 2013 Touareg has 0.4-inch less ground clearance than the steel-spring first-gen SUV (7.9 versus 8.3 inches), and substantially less than the air-spring model (11.8 inches at its highest). One more fact: Unlike many modern Volkswagens, it is possible to disable the Touareg TDI's stability control. The caveat is you can only do so in Off Road, and it's primarily to help with rocking out of a tough spot.

This story started off with a prolonged mention of the Phaeton, whose exclusivity and coolness guaranteed it a favorable place in Volkswagen history. Aside from talking point number 8, can you imagine the VW-loving crowd or car enthusiasts ever chatting up the contemporary Touareg with topics in the same vein? It's hard to imagine that many years from now we'll be talking about the reluctant flagship incumbent with the same recognition. Especially since it had a tough act to follow with the first-gen Touareg, a past Motor Trend SUV of the Year winner. The 2013 Touareg remains a competent SUV, but it doesn't have that special sheen anymore.


  2013 Volkswagen Touareg TDI 2010 Volkswagen Touareg TDI
BASE PRICE $48,320 $45,150
PRICE AS TESTED $54,595 $59,850
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.0L/240-hp/406-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 24-valve V-6 3.0L/225-hp/406-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4992 lb (53/47%) 5429 lb (53/47%)
WHEELBASE 113.9 in 112.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 188.8 x 76.4 x 68.2 in 187.2 x 75.9 x 68.0 in
0-60 MPH 6.9 sec 7.9 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.3 sec @ 88.0 mph 16.0 sec @ 83.5 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 124 ft 122 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.82 g (avg) 0.81 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.3 sec @ 0.64 g (avg) 27.6 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 20/29 mpg 18/25 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 191/132 kW-hrs/100 miles 213/153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.95 lb/mile 1.08 lb/mile