Subscribe Twitter Facebook

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Volkswagen - (Not the Rich) People's Car

Luxury is a funny thing in the car industry.  Upon hearing that word, many different marques enter the mind.  The usual suspects include Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Cadillac, Lincoln, Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti.  Since 2009, some might consider Hyundai's Genesis sedan as a good entry-priced piece of opulence but let's be real here.  Nobody ever wants to talk about their cheap luxuries.  This being the case, let's talk about the Equus as well as another plebeian manufacturer's attempt at extravagance, Volkswagen's Phaeton.

Right now, you might be wondering what my drug preference is if I'm comparing Hyundai to Volkwagen and the Equus to the not so dearly departed Phaeton.  There's more food for thought here than you would previously believe.  Stick with me on this one.
Back in 2002, VW produced their entry level luxury car in the W8 powered Passat.  It cost somewhere in the range of $40,000 while the base price of the Passat was hovering near thirty grand.  Sound similar to a certain Korean automaker today?  This was VW's warning shot toward its more premium German counterparts, the first volley before the main attack, the Phaeton.
Now, Volkswagen is an established marque.  It had been around for something like seventy years when it released the Phaeton in 2004.  Having said that, VW is best known as a builder of small cars with decent performance and a really nice interior for its price.  Consider that up until this point in time, the Passat was the top of the range and in the U.S. its doppelganger, the A4, was the bottom rung in Audi's model line-up.  This is one reason why the Phaeton did not work in the U.S.  To us here in the states, the Phaeton was just a supersized Passat.  But wait, Americans like everything supersized including their own waistlines.  Well, we like everything supersized for "just 50 cents more" not for the starting price of 65 large.  Yes, sixty-five thousand dollars for a bloated Passat whose real name couldn't be pronounced.  We won't even talk about the maxed out price of over $106,000 if you want the W12 motor.  Damn! I talked about it!

As long as we're on the topic of motors, that W12 scorches the earth moves a bit of loose gravel with a zero to sixty run of 6.1 seconds.  Granted, that's not exactly Toyota Prius slow especially considering the weight of this two and a half ton behemoth. However, the other Germans are doing that sprint faster with V8s and a more prestigious badge on the grill. 

What does all this have to do with Hyundai?  Hyundai is not an established marque in the American consumer market.  Since their entry in the late 80s, their cars have been considered "throw away" cars.  Yet, they seem to have followed a similar strategy to Volkswagen when trying to sell a premium product.  After improving their existing product line in leaps and bounds, the Genesis sedan was introduced as almost a teaser to the Equus.  It, like the Passat, was the entry level luxury car but the Genesis had an ace up its sleeve.  That ace was something called value.  The Genesis offers mid-sized luxury car amenities for entry level prices while the Passat W8 was just a Passat with a crazy motor configuration.  After factoring in the most recent recession, people were willing to get a little more for their money if it meant dropping a fancy star or roundel from the hood.  After praises rained down on the Genesis from both owners and auto magazines, consumers were prepared for the price that Hyundai would bestow upon its wing-badged S-class fighter. ($58,000 vs. $91,000)

While Hyundai hasn't started a completely separate luxury division like Toyota's Lexus, there is no italicized "H" on the hood of the Equus but a simple, elegant eagle design.  The marketing makes sense but the badge itself doesn't.  Equus in Latin means horse.  I guess someone already took the prancing pony badge.  It really is all about the badge after all.


  1. Mostly my choice of four-wheeler is that which should be affordable to buy and looking cool also. The above Volkswagen model keeps such look.

  2. Used Phaeton are pretty affordable. When new, the Phaeton was bettered by Mercedes and Audi for large four wheel-drive sedans who offered brand prestige and better performance at comparable cost.

    The Phaeton was a very capable car but there wasn't anything particularly special to set itself apart.