There’s not much new to report on the VW Routan, a rebadged Chrysler Town & Country that was foisted on Volkswagen of America by a previous executive regime. Volkswagen’s U.S. dealers have no choice but to hold their noses and try to sell the darn thing. It’s a far, far cry from the modern-day Microbus that we and VW devotees everywhere so dearly wanted. But if you have a great relationship with your VW dealer and you want to keep your business there and you need a decent minivan, have at it, folks. The Volkswagen Routan is not a bad minivan at all; in fact, it’s a pretty good one. But it’s not much of a Volkswagen.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The Routan is a decent minivan, with lots of room for you, your whole crew, and all your belongings. As a rebadged Chrysler, it has most of the attributes of that marque’s minivans, which isn’t a bad thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have very many of the attributes of VW – the interior finishes aren’t as polished, the engine is not as refined, and it simply doesn’t feel as solid as a German-engineered vehicle does. Plus, the days of VW and minivans being synonymous (think Microbus) are gone. These days, people looking for a minivan probably don’t even consider visiting a VW dealer.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
The VW Routan has ample room for all your goods, kids, and what have you, but it’s not for dad.
The van drove very well on Ann Arbor’s less-than-perfect roads, even better when we hit the smoother surfaces of Ohio. Cruise control kept us at a constant speed, and the onboard entertainment system kept the kids of all ages entertained. Large amounts of storage in the cabin includes multiple secure, hidden compartments. Cupholders at every turn might have you looking for restrooms often. We were pleased to discover this vehicle’s range – our 100-mile trip to Toledo took only about a quarter tank of gas traveling between 75 and 78 mph. We loved the auto sliding doors, whether actuated from the key fob or the driver’s seat. I always thought this feature was a bit silly until I loaded sixteen bags of groceries in a spring windstorm by myself.
The navigation system’s auto-dimming function setting can be elusive and lead to unwarranted driver frustration. The reason this car isn’t for dad is the driver’s seat. Adjusted all the way back for a six-foot-plus driver, there wasn’t much legroom. Big dads may have to call shotgun or play attendant to the kiddies. Large turning radius was a problem in tight parking lots. I’d like to have had a front camera to see where the nose was, or at least proximity sensors.
Kelly Ryan Murphy, Creative Director
The Routan catches a lot of flack from automotive journalists, and justifiably so, given its questionable ethos, but it still has some very solid merits (space, utility, comfort, etc). Those merits just all happen to match those of Chrysler’s almost identical minivans, with the added bonus of some slightly better interior trim for front-row occupants.
I agree with Joe wholeheartedly: this is a very nice minivan, but it’s not a proper Volkswagen van.
Other notes: This 3.8-liter V-6 sounds extremely coarse under hard acceleration (much like the similar 3.8-liter V-6 in my dad’s 1995 Dodge Grand Caravan). This Routan had slightly less than 1000 miles on it, but the right-rear sliding door had already developed a noticeable rattle, although I couldn’t detect it again when I drove the van a few days later. VW customers miss nothing by not having the ability to order Swivel ‘n Go in their minivans; unless you plan to have a lot of picnics or old-maid tournaments in your van, Stow ‘n Go is the way to go. Unfortunately, Volkswagen customers can’t get that option, either.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I agree with Rusty — Stow ‘n Go is the way to go, especially if you have a fairly active family and regularly need to drop seats to haul cargo. That said, you’ll have to look elsewhere than the Routan to find it. Neither of Chrysler’s innovative seating configurations make their way into the Volkswagen, so those not in the mood for a bench or fixed bucket seats in the second row are forced to shop a Mopar dealer.
Actually, that may not be such a bad idea right now. Chrysler’s putting together some pretty interest model packages these days, giving minivan buyers some outstanding content at reasonable prices. If you’re seriously shopping a Routan and can live without the unique snout or the included maintenance program, you’re likely to snag a better deal on a nearly identical vehicle from a local Mopar dealer.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
As my colleagues have said, the Routan is simply a rebadged Chrysler minivan. Yes, the fundamental van is a reasonably solid choice in the minivan segment, though not quite as fresh as Toyota’s Sienna, but it fails to bring anything new to the table. As Evan points out, the VW actually offers customers fewer choices for useable interior configurations than Chrysler does! Perhaps the slight design changes and different badges make this van more palatable in certain markets, but I don’t get it. I think we’d all love a cool new minivan from VW that has some sort of connection to the vans and busses in the company’s past, but this isn’t even close to the mark.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
Volkswagen’s changes to the Chrysler’s suspension and seats make for a slightly better driving experience, yes. But that doesn’t make the Routan a good VW, it makes it a slightly better Chrysler. Every Routan I’ve driven, just like every Chrysler minivan, is plagued with interior rattles and squeaks. The short gearing plus the wheezing pushrod V-6’s low-end torque are no match for the front tires, so wheelspin is a constant issue in the rain or starting out up big hills.
The Routan, like all minivans, is a hugely practical vehicle. But there are far better choices out there (notably the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. Or a used Mercedes R-class). And none of them suffer from what is the Routan’s biggest problem of them all: it’s the worst badge-engineering insult since the Cadillac Cimmaron.
I hate the idea that Volkswagen is using clever TV spots to dupe its customers into thinking this is a “German-engineered vehicle.” It’s not, and that difference, if not immediately apparent to customers, will be when the rattles emerge. And does VW really think those customers will be coming back for another round? Doubtful.
Jason Cammisa, West Coast Editor
Base price (with destination): $31,300
Price as tested: $34,300
3.8-liter V-6 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
Hydraulic power steering with speed variable assist
Electronic stability program (ESP)
Anti-lock brakes (ABS)
All-speed anti-slip regulation (ASR)
17-inch alloy wheels
Tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS)
Heated front seats
Leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
Height adjustable steering column
Tri-zone manual air conditioning
Power windows and locks
Power sliding doors, lift tailgate, adjustable pedals
Remote keyless entry
Options on this vehicle:
i>Rear seat entertainment & navigation — $3000
– Touch-screen navigation
– Sirius satellite radio
– AM/FM radio with DVD player
– Hard disk and USB
– Rearview camera
– Dual roof mounted screens
Key options not on vehicle:
SEL trim — $6000
WiFi router — $515
EPA Fuel economy:
16 / 23 / 18 mpg
Size: 3.8L V-6
Horsepower: 197 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 230 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Curb weight: 4507 lb
17-inch aluminum wheels
225/65R17 100T Bridgeston Turanza all-season tires