It's easy enough to lambaste the Routan for what it's not -- a "true" Volkswagen -- but let's instead focus on what it is: a competent minivan. Although some competitors pack their vans with widescreen entertainment for the kids, super-luxurious interiors, or dress-up kits that theoretically suggest manliness, the Routan seems to play the middle the field. Its exterior styling is handsome and pleasant, albeit somewhat pedestrian.
Regardless, I still have a hard time justifying a Routan purchase over a comparable -- and mechanically identical -- Dodge Grand Caravan or Chrysler Town & Country. Although the VW once held the upper hand thanks to a more attractive instrument panel and better suspension tuning, revisions to the Mopar models for the 2011 model year have essentially narrowed that gap, if not eliminated it altogether.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
In the face of the sluggish economic growth and excessive national debt plaguing much of the Western world, I propose a simple yet elegant solution: buy more Routans.
The Routan is engineered and assembled by Chrysler in North America - that's a jobs program, folks. At the same time, every Routan purchase sends desperately needed dollars to crisis-stricken Italy (Fiat owns 53 percent of Chrysler) and to Germany. Buy some gyros for dinner, and you'll have effectively saved the free world.
Now, some of you may be thinking this is simply a covert method of taxing minivan buyers. Admittedly, the Routan does cost 12 percent more than a Dodge Grand Caravan. But that money doesn't simply support government largess. In addition to the excellent steering and strong new Pentastar V-6 offered in the Dodge, the Volkswagen adds more refined exterior design and a cleaner dashboard design, not to mention the satisfaction that comes with knowing you've made a real difference.
In closing, the Routan Economic Stimulus Plan can work, but only with your help. Through the first ten months of 2011, 11,241 Routans found homes with noble citizens. That's a good start, but we must do more. Specifically, we must buy more Routans.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
While my colleague David Zenlea proposes purchasing a VW Routan as a way to help the global economy, one might also consider purchasing a Routan as a show of support for Brooke Shields, whose stumbling career seems to have fizzled along with the Routan Boom commercials from 2008.
Otherwise, the only real reason to buy this Volkswagen over a Dodge or Chrysler minivan is styling and the subtle interior differences. I personally prefer the more sculpted fabric seats, the newer climate controls, and the car-like center console of the Dodge, which also offers the option of disappearing second-row Stow 'n Go seats.
Just two years ago, any discussion of the Routan would have included a recommendation to visit a Honda or Toyota dealer to check out an Odyssey or a Sienna. Today, the Chrysler and Dodge minivans are so good that any minivan shopper can pick based on styling or packaging. The 2011 update brought a new, powerful and efficient V-6 plus tangible changes to the steering, ride, and handling. The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are still great buys, but there are plenty of reasons to pick a Town & Country, Caravan, or Routan instead.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
Chrysler's minivans are among the best entries in a very competitive (although quite small) segment. It may seem silly for Volkswagen to rebadge a Chrysler minivan, but the fact that Routan sales will likely settle in at about 15,000 units for the third year in a row (better than the Passat and the Touareg, for instance) means that quite a few consumers obviously like the idea of a VW minivan, even if brand purists still cringe at the thought. I can't really blame them, because the Routan offers gobs of space, utility, comfort, and features and looks just different enough from the much more common Chrysler and Dodge variants to set it apart from the vanilla-minivan masses.
Other comments: I thought this might be an eight-speed transmission for as much searching as it did on the highway. (In fact, it's only a six-speed.) The other surprise I got when looking at the spec sheet was the fact that this Routan stickers for almost $41,000. Wow!
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
The low level of interior quality startled me in the Routan. Yes, I understood that it might not be a "real" Volkswagen, but expected that when Chrysler's vans got a materials upgrade, the Routan would see one as well. While the interior plastics look about as durable as a Playskool playset, they also feel to be about the same grade of plastic. Fit lines are in line with the kid-friendly idea -- that is, the same kind of large gaps you would find in fitting together plastic blocks. The piece covering everything below of the steering column is most egregious and caught my eye the first time I opened the door. It's remarkable that a car with less than 2000 miles would have such poor fits, and makes me worry about how well the interior would hold up against a family's use and abuse.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
I drove the Routan almost exclusively in the dark during my time with it, which is important for one reason: the VW badge on the steering wheel was obscured by darkness. Had you told me I had just driven a Chrysler, I would have believed you.
Yes, yes, the automotive cognoscenti will never like the fact that the Routan is not a "real" Volkswagen, and I'm firmly in their camp. The interior quality is typical Chrysler minivan -- respectable but not anything worth writing home about -- and everything is just...standard stuff.
I will say, however, that while driving a Routan is nothing like driving a great VW, it does have some joie de vivre about it. Credit the new V-6 engine with 283 hp: the minivan is properly quick -- something one would never expect from a car with sliding doors and space for seven. The chassis might never feel as planted as that in, say, a Golf, but it copes with the amount of horses under the hood quite well.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor