The Routan SE is much nicer inside than the Dodge, and I prefer the styling over that of the Chrysler. The faux leather seating was thoroughly convincing — I had no idea it was imitation hide until I read the spec sheet. For $35K including two rear video screens, a 30-gigabyte hard drive, and touch-screen navigation, this van is hard to beat. You lose the Stow ‘n’ Go seats of the Dodge, but honestly, I’d never miss them. The captains chairs in the Routan (and other vans) are significantly more substantial than the Dodge’s folding seats. I’ve removed the second-row seats from my family’s Honda Odyssey maybe half a dozen times in nine years. This much-ballyhooed feature is pretty overrated in my book.
In short, I think the Routan is an improved version of the Chrysler vans — nicer than the Grand Caravan, more tastefully styled than the Town & Country, and I would choose the Routan SE or SEL over either of them. The Routan is also nicer inside than a Toyota Sienna, but if a similarly featured Odyssey is in the same price ballpark, that’d be the van for me.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
Like its Chrysler and Dodge counterparts, the VW is a perfectly decent family hauler with lots of handy options such as power-opening sliding doors and hatch, navigation, rear-seat entertainment, and so forth. Its Volkswagen-ness is highly dubious, but the VW-specific dashboard components are fairly attractive looking, in my opinion. I can’t say the same for the head- and taillamps, which are strangely proportioned and, to my eye, make this the least attractive of the current bunch of Chrysler-built minivans.
The fact that the Routan received the much-improved new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 for the 2011 model year seems like evidence that the relationship between Chrysler and VW is extremely amicable and maybe could live on past the current generation of minivans.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
We’ve previously discussed what the Routan is not (a true successor to the venerable Eurovans and Microbuses), so let’s talk about what it is: a stylish alternative to the Chrysler Town & Country and the Dodge Grand Caravan that, like them, was treated to a few upgrades for 2011.
Although the Chrysler and Dodge models receive extensive makeovers for the new model year, the Routan looks much the same as it did when it first launched in 2008. The most significant revision occurs in the engine compartment, where the old 3.8- and 4.0-liter six-cylinders have made way for Chrysler’s new 283-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6. As before, the Routan’s unique suspension tuning strikes a nice balance between sporty and supple, although I’d be interested in sampling an SEL model, which receives load-leveling rear air suspension as standard equipment for 2011.
Unlike Matt, I find the Routan’s cabin — which is unchanged from previous years — in need of an overhaul. Volkswagen’s van has always carried a little more style than its Chrysler cousins, but the Routan’s interior lacks the soft-touch materials added to 2011 T&C and Grand Caravan. Those who want to occasionally walk from the front row to the remainder of the van will likely prefer the Routan, as it does not have the tall, integrated center console found in the Dodge and Chrysler vans. Those obsessed with safety will likely appreciate the fact that a driver’s knee air bag, along with front side-impact air bags, are now standard on every Routan trim.
Speaking of trim, VW has cut the lineup down to three (four, if you count the SEL with Navigation as its own bespoke level). That does limit the ways one can spec out a new Routan, but buyers can always cross-shop the Grand Caravan and Town & Country for a additional flexibility with regards to content and pricing.
Evan McCausland, Web Editor
The Volkswagen Routan proved to be the perfect vehicle for my weekend dash to Chicago. Four adults, luggage, and a dog all made the journey. The two adults sat in the second row buckets while the canine enjoyed sprawling out across the 3rd row bench.
Gas mileage was impressive, I averaged 23 mpg for the entire trip, not bad considering we did a lot of city driving once we got there. On the downside, cruising at 75 mph on the highway caused an annoying, high-pitched whine coming from the front end somewhere. We couldn’t identify where exactly it was coming from but all occupants in the cabin heard it. It appeared to go away if we dropped down to 70 mph or kicked it up to 80 mph. Road noise and ride quality were also not up to par with the latest minivans from Honda, Toyota, and Chrysler.
The interior needs a makeover; the bland radio and center stack area is even less attractive at night when everything lights up in a dull green glow, like something from Chrysler ten years ago. For example, the climate control knobs don’t have a blue/red lights so you didn’t know which way to turn them. Not a big deal for owners who would quickly memorize that but it was annoying to turn on the dome light to see how to turn the temperature up or down.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator
Wow, when I drove the Volkswagen Routan home, I thought to myself, life would be pretty grim if you had to drive this dated, rebadged Chrysler minivan day in and day out for four or five years, especially with freshened and far superior minivans now available from Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and even Chrysler/Dodge. I thought of Brooke Shields, who was in the original Routan TV commercials, and I said to myself, I bet ol’ Brooke isn’t even driving one of these anymore–if she ever was to begin with.
All that said, if you’re shopping for a minivan, you might want to give more weight to my colleague Matt Tierney’s comments. He owns a Honda Odyssey. He has two pre-teen children. He is the target demographic for the minivan.
And, surprise, surprise, he likes the Routan.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Base price (with destination): $32,590
Price as tested: $35,570
3.6-liter V-6 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
Electronic stability control
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
17-inch alloy wheels
Tire pressure monitoring system
AM/FM/DVD player, hard disk drive
XM satellite radio
Rearview backup camera
Heated front row seats
2nd row captain style, reclining, fold-flat and removable
3rd row foldable bench with tailgate seating feature
Leather-wrapped, multi-function steering wheel and shift knob
Tri-zone climate control
Power sliding doors
Remote keyless entry
Options on this vehicle:
Rear entertainment and navigation package — $2980
Key options not on vehicle:
17 / 25 / 20 mpg
Size: 3.6L V-6
Horsepower: 283 hp @ 6350 rpm
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Curb weight: 4595 lb
Wheels/tires: 17-inch aluminum wheels
225/65R17 Michelin Latitude all-season tires