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