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.
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.
The VW Routan has ample room for all your goods, kids, and what have you, but it's not for dad.
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 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.
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.
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.
2010 Volkswagen Routan SE