I got the keys to the Routan after spending a weekend in our Four Seasons VW Jetta TDI. It is utterly amazing that these two vehicles are even vaguely related. Beyond being an excellent value, incredibly efficient, and reasonably fun to drive, the TDI basically smacks you over the head with its thoughtful design and engineering.
In contrast, the overall impression you get from the Routan is one of cynicism and laziness. The problem is not, as some will surely insist, that the Chrysler minivan on which it is based was beyond help. Quite the contrary, we just spent a year with a Town & Country and found it was a useful, efficient, and innovative vehicle in need of a nicer interior and a "bit more engineering." One would have thought Volkswagen had just the talents to "finish" the vehicle and make it a class leader. Instead, it seems VW resorted to quick, cheap fixes. There's a better dash and more comfortable seats, but the interior still feels cheap and squeaks over bumps. There's less power assist for the rack-and-pinion, which creates the impression of better steering feel at speed, but which more often makes the van feel big and heavy in parking lots. The brakes also felt better on this model, but that likely has more to do with the mileage that was on our Four Seasons car, as the rotor measurements have not changed. Otherwise, it's hard to discern any differences. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised: the Routan is built at the same factory in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, as the Town & Country.
Of course, VW is hardly the first company to pull a quicky rebadge. People might even buy a few, as the Chrysler isn't a bad vehicle to begin with, and the changes don't hurt. But I can't see how this will help the VW brand in the long run.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor