New Car Reviews

2009 Volkswagen Routan SEL

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

Funny–the boxy physique of Chrysler‘s latest minivans always reminded me of Volkswagen‘s old Eurovan, but I never imagined the Town & Country would serve as its replacement. Yet here we are, driving essentially a T&C with the fascia of an Eos grafted onto the front fenders and Jetta Sportwagen taillights.

Even though they’re both minivans with VW logos on their grilles, I can’t see any connection between the Eurovan and the new Routan. The former may have been a quirky, slow-selling oddball in its day, but it at least offered features–some quite useful–found in no other minivan. Until Chrysler introduced Swivel’n’Go, there wasn’t a minivan since the 2003 Eurovan MV that sported a rear-facing second row and a pop-up rear table.

There are no such innovations in the Routan. Neither Stow’n’Go nor Swivel’n’Go are offered in the Volkswagen incarnation. The nifty mood lighting Chrysler installs along the overhead console is nowhere to be found. Unless you count the large underfloor cargo bins, there’s really nothing else offered by the Routan that you couldn’t find in a competitor’s minivan.

In fact, for an extra $220, you could own the same van, but with second-row seats that fold into the floor, an iPod connector, an Infinity sound system, those aforementioned mood lamps, and two DVD screens for the kids. The catch? You’d be the proud owner of an almost-loaded SXT. Think you could live with slightly less Fahrvenugen?

Evan McCausland, Web Producer

I drove the Routan to the local Mitsubishi dealer to help drop off the magazine’s Lancer Evo for service. The van was cavernous; I wondered if there were bears hiding out in the third-row, in-floor storage well. And, yes, I was greeted by a familiar set of controls that seemed pleasing to the eye. But then I realized that I was in a minivan far inferior to the three-year-old I recently used for moving. (And that was a Zipcar with tens of thousands of miles on the odometer.)

The media have been bashing the Routan for a long time already, citing its humble Chrysler roots and lambasting its similarity to its American-badged brethren. I’ve never driven a Town and Country, so I can’t make the comparison between it and the Routan, but suffice it to say I wasn’t really impressed with the Routan. Off the line, even at a stoplight, the Routan was a little too jumpy on the throttle; I had to modulate how much power I was sending through the front wheels. In terms of handling, the Routan seems far off the well-mannered Odyssey, which doesn’t wallow around corners. Steven Sherman remarked that he’d like to see the Routan stripped of its seats and used as a cargo van. And so would I. The Routan is not a bad van, but I don’t think I’d be proud to show off Volkswagen‘s attempt at badge-engineering an already imperfect vehicle.

Jeffrey Jablansky, Intern

There’s nothing shaggin’ about this people’s wagon. The Chrys… I mean Volkswagen Routan horse has been ridden into the ground and beaten enough times by us to make Calvin Borel proud. I don’t know what else to say that hasn’t been covered by one of my fellow staffers above. I can add that with only 7000 miles on the Routan‘s odometer, I noticed the brake rotors are warped enough to cause a shaky steering wheel while braking; this van has definitely seen some hard use in the media test fleet.

As a Volkswagen fan, and believe me I am, I’m very disappointed with the Routan. I don’t even want to call it a VW. Sure, it’s a van, it’s big and has room for tons of stuff; but it offers nothing in return for the cult-like following Volkswagen has. Like Evan mentioned, why buy this when you can have the exact same, but fully loaded Town & Country, for only $220 more?

Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator

2009 Volkswagen Routan SEL

Base price (with destination): $33,890
Price as tested: $38,690

Navigation package $2,475
Trim pack 3 $2,325
-Power sunroof, adjustable pedals

Fuel economy:
17 / 25 / 20 mpg

Size: 4.0L V-6
Horsepower: 251 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 252 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm

6-speed automatic

Weight: 4621 lb

17 in. alloy wheels
225/65R17 Tires