Following the demise of the Phaeton in 2016, the Touareg was promoted to flagship status in many parts of the world. The situation is a bit different in China where the local VW-SAIC joint venture developed a new fullsize sedan to cater to the local market. The Phideon was launched in 2016 and had its best year in 2018 when sales hit 24,471 units before plummeting to 14,019 cars last year.

VW is giving its range-topping model a facelift, but the changes are rather subtle and unlikely to move the needle. The illuminated badge is among the novelties, flanked by an LED daytime running light strip that extends on the sides to meet the reworked headlights. The designers also tweaked the front bumper by adding chrome inserts and modifying the area around the fog lights, but nothing to write home about.

Gallery: 2021 VW Phideon facelift

While it’s no CN-spec Audi A6L on the inside, the 2021 Phideon comes nicely equipped with a small fridge between the rear massaging seats, while at the front it now has an enlarged 9.2-inch infotainment touchscreen. VW-SAIC will sell the car with a lot of kit, including a night vision system and a head-up display. There’s even an optional air suspension setup for a silky smooth ride worthy of a car with premium aspirations.

The model year changeover sees a simplified powertrain lineup as the Phideon is dropping the plug-in hybrid 2.0-liter as well as the beefy 3.0-liter V6. It means Chinese customers will be stuck with a 2.0 TSI producing 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet (350 Newton-meters) of torque. The output is sent exclusively to the front wheels via a seven-speed DSG, so no more AWD now that the V6 4Motion variant is dead.

VW-SAIC will launch the updated Phideon in the People’s Republic next month.

For a true Phaeton replacement, we might have to wait until later this decade when the flagship could be reborn as a purely electric sedan. VW briefly talked about a potential EV replacement back in 2017, but we haven’t heard anything on this topic since then. The company has bigger fish to fry given the SUV-hungry state of the market, meaning a sedan is not exactly a top priority for the R&D team.

Attached below is a statement made in March 2017 by VW Group boss, Herbert Diess, about how the company had to go back to the drawing board with the next-gen Phaeton development after discovering how advanced the Tesla Model S was at that time:

"We were quite far advanced with the next Phaeton but it became clear it wasn’t enough of a leap forwards. A modern large sedan has to be competitive and have an advantage over the Tesla, which is the benchmark and in many regions dominates the segment. Now, if we go back there, we have to take Tesla seriously, and of course that is what we are doing with our electric strategy."

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