2009 Volkswagen Routan S

As a long time VW fan, I was hoping the Routan wasn’t going to be what logic tells you it is; a warmed over Chrysler minivan. I’m sorry to say that all my fears were accurate. Sure, the seats are more comfortable and offer more support. Additionally, the dash materials and gauges are slightly better. But in the end, there’s no hiding from the fact that the Routan is based on a vehicle that is lackluster at best. The creaks and groans that afflict our long-term Town & Country are present in the VW as well. This base, 3.8-liter engine is low on power, and the sounds it emits would make any longtime VR6 fan sad.

A Volkswagen PR man once told me that the majority of customers that walk into a VW dealership don’t know that the Routan is a Chrysler underneath. He also said that VW desperately needed a people carrier to keep customers from leaving the brand. Those are valid points but couldn’t they have picked a better donor than Chrysler? It’s one thing to base an Audi on a VW platform, it’s another thing to base a VW on a Chrysler. Sorry VW, you disappoint me.

Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor

Not only are the creaks and groans of our long-term Town & Country present, those same creaks and groans are actually louder in this Volkswagen Routan. The Chrysler has 30,000 miles on the clock and a more posh trim level while this VW barely has 1300 miles under its belt. How in the world did that happen?

The 3.8-liter engine doesn’t really provide less torque steer than the 4.0-liter in our Chrysler, but it’s not nearly as strong when you need to merge with traffic or pass someone. Sadly the refinement is nowhere near what we’ve come to expect from the Volkswagen Group. Add this thing to the list of vehicles I’d pass over in a heartbeat if I were in the minivan market. I’d much rather have a Kia Sedona.

As Marc points out, the seats are more supportive and the trim and gauges are better looking than those of a standard Chrysler minivan, but all the regular faults of a Chrysler van are still present. Despite the “German tuning” infused during the rebadging ceremony, the suspension on this Routan leaves a lot to be desired. Initial turn-in feels marginally better, but all hell breaks loose as soon as you hit a bump mid-corner. I wasn’t driving hard this morning, and I swear the back end started to slide in more than one turn.

The public clearly agrees with our negative assessment of the Routan; Volkswagen asked Chrysler to stop building Routans for the entire month of February this year. Apparently there have been about 29,000 Routans assembled and fewer than 4000 have found owners. The 148-day supply (as of January 17, 2009) is a bit much, even at a time when sales of all new vehicles are at or near historic lows.

I think the only reason people are so hard on the Routan is that VW had a chance to develop a very cool new van that would have captured people’s hearts like the Microbus and decided to rebadged a Chrysler instead. Even when new Volkswagen products aren’t perfect, there’s a certain charm to them. This Routan has all the charm and character of a watered-down Chrysler.

Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor

My nephew Marshal and I walked out of the restaurant, toward the Routan.

“Oh, you have a Volkswagen van!” he exclaimed.

“Well, kind of,” I replied. “What do you know about VW vans?”

“I have lots of friends with them,” Marshal said. “We’ve gone camping in them. They’re very cool. Westfalias.”

“Well, this is not quite the same thing,” I explained. “This is a Chrysler minivan that’s been rebadged as a Volkswagen.”

Marshal got in, looked around, and said, “Why in the world would Volkswagen allow Chrysler to put VW badges on this thing?”

Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor

Well, I guess it’s unanimous: Bad idea. Seats are better than the Chrysler’s but the creaks and rattles are worse.

I’d rather have the Chrysler. And I LIKE the Chrysler.

Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief

Wow! Based on my colleagues’ hateful notes, I must be the biggest Routan fan on the planet. I don’t love the vehicle, don’t get me wrong, but I can see how it sorta makes sense for both companies:

-Volkswagen needs a vehicle for the North American market that seats more than five passengers, but it’s not worth it for VW to invest billions in such a low-volume product.
-Chrysler has too many North American factories operating at below capacity, and it can profit from rebadging its minivan for another maker.

I’ve seen worse rebadging jobs. The upmarket VW touches are easy to spot if you’re familiar with the Chrysler minivans, but they’re still nice, including a better shifter, nicer interior door trim, and much more substantial inside door handles. The Routan’s ride feels slightly firmer than that of the Chrysler/Dodge twins, but as others noted, this vehicle creaks way too much over our atrocious road surfaces.

The white gauge faces are VW specific, too, but they don’t cohere well at all with the red radio backlighting and blue clock/radio display. I like these base cloth seats better than those in our top-of-the-line T&C. I find them to be more comfortable, firm, and grippy. Speaking of seats, it’s strange to see the old second-row bench (no Stow ‘N Go) … I haven’t driven a minivan with that arrangement since my parents’ ’87 Grand Voyager rusted into eternity.

I think the Routan’s exterior styling is more jelly-bean-ish than that of the Chryslers, and it’s the worse for it. But my main issue with the Routan is its silly German-engineering/ Brooke Shields ad campaign. I’m not a hater, though.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

2009 Volkswagen Routan S

Base Price (with destination): $25,390
Price as tested: $25,390

Options: No Options

Fuel Economy: 16 / 23 / 18 (city/hwy/combined)

Size: 3.8L V-6
Horsepower: 197 hp
Torque: 230 lb-ft

Safety Ratings (in stars, 1-5):
Frontal Crash Driver: 5
Frontal Crash Passenger: 5
Side Crash Front Seat: 5
Side Crash Rear Seat: 5
Rollover: 4

Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic

Weight: 4335 lb

Wheel/Tire Info:
– 16″ Steel Wheels (size)
– 225/65R 16 All Season Tires

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