Who, in their right mind, would pay £68,000 for this?

SPECIFICATIONS
Price: £68,000;
Engine: 6.0 litre, W12, 420 bhp;
CO2: 374 g/km;
Performance: 155 mph, 0-60 in 6.1 secs, 18.1 mpg;
Also worth considering: Mercedes S500, Audi A8, Jaguar XJ8, BMW 745.

When Toyota ventured upmarket, it not only rebranded its new product Lexus, it made sure it built the best car in its class, perhaps, at the time, the best car in the world. Volkswagen, on the other hand, have not only given their new, super-saloon a similar badge to a Lupo's (only bigger) they have not even bothered to build a truly great car.

The auto box is slothful, its steering likewise; the exterior design is inoffensive but bland; the interior is let down by horrible, cheap sparkly-grey plastics; and the air-con and stereo controls are almost unfathomable(what is it with German manufacturers and their aversion to "Off" buttons?).

Worse are the car's fuel consumption and emissions. But still, they expect us to accept the W12 for what it appears to be - a steroidal Passat - and cough up £68,000 (cheaper V6, V8 and V10 models are available).

Why anyone with fully functioning synapses would choose to do this, is hard to say. For less money, you could have a BMW 745, a Mercedes S500, the Jaguar XJ8 or the Audi A8. VW concede they will lose money on every W12 sold, so this is a costly loss leader, designed to inspire the march upmarket for VW as a whole, away from the likes of Skoda and Seat. In the long term, that may work, but at what cost?

Phaeton was the son of Helius, who built the chariot of the sun. Phaeton wanted to drive it but could not cope with the power and ended up causing untold devastation.

So Zeus had to step in, kind of like traction control. Someone should have stepped in much earlier where the road-going Phaeton is concerned. At the drawing board, perhaps.

Sotiris Vassilou, 34, teacher from Manchester
Usual car: Renault Clio

"This is a big, heavy car. When you floor the pedal you can feel the size of it. When you brake you can feel the momentum and it lumbers in corners. I don't think many people are going to go for this, and I can't understand why the same company is building this and the Audi A8. Maybe they are trying to appeal to those who want something understated. The engineering is amazing, and the W12 cylinder formation is innovative, but it is difficult to justify the fuel economy. The ride is wonderful, but it didn't get any looks. It does have some presence, but it is low key and I think most people assumed it was a Passat."

Alastair Scott, 39, mill owner from Delph, Oldham
Usual car: Mercedes E-Class

"In theory this is probably the next step up from my car but I can't say I'm taken by it. Maybe it would be more successful with an Audi badge, I can't really understand why this is a VW. There are lots of problems that need solving in the world of cars and transport these days and I have to say that getting a three-ton car to 60 mph in under six seconds is not the most urgent. The fuel economy and CO2 figures are absolutely terrible. Don't get me wrong; it is a beautiful and fantastic car, very quiet and handles well for such a big car, but in the year 2003 it is not remotely practical. It doesn't look worth much more than £40,000. In fact, it looks like a big Passat."

Susannah Carr, 38, police officer, and her daughter Elizabeth, from Warrington, Cheshire
Usual car: VW Passat

"It's like the swan on the lake: everything you see is calm and regal, but underneath it must be working very hard. You just float along and everything that moves is damped; all the controls including the brakes and steering have that remote feel. It's very easy to drive, the kind of car that would do well on long distances. It is a shame you can't hear or feel the engine; it kind of removes you from the real world when you're driving. And, of course, it is hard to justify that much money."

Elizabeth: "I want Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

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