2009 Volkswagen Routan
If you think there's something familiar looking about the 2009 Volkswagen Routan
, here's a hint: imagine a Chrysler badge on it. Ignoring the overhauled front and rear ends, the middle is distinctly from the Town & Country
. This isn’t an adventure in copyrights; built at the American manufacturer’s Canadian plant, the Routan is made up of 80 percent Chrysler parts. Volkswagen cites time constraints and costs as primary reasons why they partnered with the automaker on their first U.S. spec minivan. The collaboration makes sense, too. The minivan market, while smaller than it used to be, still has a strong hold on family car buyers. The Routan fills a void for the German company's lineup and introduces a new competitor to a stale segment. It also takes two of the T&C’s more powerful engines and adds a well-designed interior and plenty of features that aren’t usually standard. For that 20 percent of the car that is all VW, you'll find changes to the suspension, steering and interior. The exterior gets a more modern design as well. This is no Porsche, if you couldn't tell from the pictures, but Volkswagen has given us a people carrier with some truly German abilities.
What's to Like
The stiffened suspension makes for a much more dynamic ride than the traditional fare. The third row can be folded away under the floor with a push of a button and the side doors open and close with just a tug of the handle. Free scheduled maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles will let Routan owners worry about the more important things in their lives.
What's Not to Like
The center console's compartments feel flimsy, and you're on your own if your kid spills juice in there. The low roofline makes for a nice looking exterior, but clambering to the back seats can be a little awkward. Some drivers will be dismayed that the steering wheel doesn't telescope, as it can result in an uncomfortable driving position.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
The 4.0-liter engine is quick, and cuts through the air more efficiently than you'd think for an object shaped similarly to a toaster. The smaller 3.8-liter V-6 handles driving situations with unexpected ease as well. That’s what happens when engineers snag the two most powerful engines from the Chrysler parts bin. The Routan's steering has plenty of feedback, despite a minor dead spot in the center. Transmission shifts are smooth and instant, giving you more power on demand without having to think too much about it. A firmer (relatively speaking, of course) suspension makes the ride moderately rougher than others in the segment, but there wasn't that frustrating feeling of riding in a hovercraft either. And a lack of pitch and roll around corners means the kids won't have to pop Dramamine tablets while riding in the back.
Engine and Drivetrain
S and SE trims get a well-equipped 3.8-liter V-6 engine that delivers 197 horsepower and 230 lb-ft of torque. Opting for the SEL will include the 4.0-liter V-6 engine, upping your power output to 253 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. All are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual mode shifter.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
As is with most VWs, comfort comes at no extra cost, even in the most basic trims. Which is why the S has such luxuries as cruise control, stain-resistant seat cloth, an MP3 compatible audio system and power doors and locks. The conveniences continue up the line until the topmost SEL, where you’ll reach for heated first and second row leather seats, adjustable floor pedals and a power liftgate.
Key Technology Evaluation
Since minivans generally carry some very precious cargo, VW has included top of the line safety features to the Routan. Standard Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) will keep the vehicle from slipping around the road in dangerous situations. Available High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights provide better visibility than the standard ones and a check of an option box will give you rear-park assist. Also standard are front and side curtain airbags.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
Without any modifications to the Chrysler’s engines, the Routan meets the segment’s fuel economy averages. The smaller displacement engine returns 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, while the larger 4.0-liter engine increases the Routan’s gas mileage to 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
The Routan may have lost the T&C’s Swivel ‘n Go seats in translation, but the interior feels equally able to handle the life of a busy family. Cubbies can be found everywhere and there are cup holders aplenty. Seats, covered in either cloth or leather, are certainly comfortable enough for a long haul.
So it’s true that the minivan won’t turn any heads. Its front end is, however, an improvement over the Town & Country’s. The headlights meld easily into the bodylines that cut through the side panels and the grille is more formidable, too. The tail end conforms to current VW styling, with the rear window and spoiler lip taking cues from the Tiguan.
Market Segment and Pricing
The brand new Routan starts at $24,700 for the S trim, immediately undercutting its Chrysler forebear. The SE and SEL follow at $29,600 and $33,200, respectively. Main competitors besides the $26,500 Chrysler Town & Country
include the Honda Odyssey
($26,255), Dodge Grand Caravan
($24,300) and Toyota Sienna
What We Think
VW plans on taking a five percent chunk out of the current minivan market, and has the credibility to do so. Its newest and well-priced vehicle adds a needed spark to a slowing segment, which hasn’t seen a fresh entrant in years. And a slew of standard features, refined interior design and two powerful but fuel-efficient engines won’t hurt its sales either.