• Oct 14, 2008

2009 Volkswagen Routan – Click above for high-res image gallery

The Volkswagen Routan's "German Engineering" ad campaign has provided plenty of irony-laced comedic fodder for the Autoblog water-cooler, and VW's own press release doesn't help, heralding the Routan as "a stylish alternative to the minivan." An alternative to what?

In a perfect world, VW would have revolutionized the moribund minivan segment with a production version of the 2001 Microbus concept, thereby capitalizing on V-Dub's cheeky heritage in the same way the new Beetle did in the late '90s, and perpetuated by other vehicles like the MINI Cooper and Fiat 500 today.

Thankfully, all is not lost. According to VW's Product Planning Manager, Bret Scott, "We would never say 'no' to the possibility of a Microbus revival." But in the meantime, we have to make due with this: the 2009 Volkswagen Routan, a reworked Chrysler Town & Country that VW execs call (with a straight face) "The Beetle of minivans."



Photos Copyright ©2008 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.

Now that you've stopped laughing and have caught your breath, let's look at substance. The Routan eschews the Dodge Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country's front and rear end with an admittedly attractive set of fascias. But viewed in profile, all it takes is a few well-placed hands covering the bow and stern to reveal the Routan's Windsor, Ontario roots. The new front end is undeniably VW, with trapezoidal HID headlamps, a deep air dam and grinning grille, while the rear taillights, redesigned hatch and 17-inch wheels (standard on SE and SEL trims) do their best to compliment the van's lunchbox proportions.



It's a similar story inside. The switchgear, stereo, electronics, optional sat-nav and redundant audio controls mounted on the underside of the steering wheel are all carryovers from the Pentastars, but the headliner, dash and door materials are easily a step above the Caravan and Country on which the V-Dub is based.



Power sliding rear doors are standard on the SE and SEL, as is three-zone climate control (automatic on SEL) and a host of information is housed in the instrument cluster, including dual trip odometers, temp display, compass, fuel range, trip time and gear indicator (SEL models also benefit from a tire pressure and audio display). Choose the S trim and you're left with a blacked-out panel on the bottom of the tachometer. The SEL's power-stowing third row and electronic lift-gate is a worthwhile feature for families on the move, but Chrysler's famed Stow-and-Go and Swivel-and-Go seating is notably absent, replaced with a set of more comfortable chairs occupying the Routan's mid-section.



On the topic of seating, the driver and front passenger enjoy more bolstering than any minivan has the business to offer. It's one indication that Volkswagen's 100,000+hour Routan reworking put a premium on driving dynamics, stiffening the springs and dampers while also adding a dose of "Euro feel" (their words, not ours) to the steering. The effect is good, but hardly soul-stirring – exactly as you'd expect in a minivan. Steering is light, but not quite overboosted, and while body roll is de rigueur for the segment, it's slightly less pronounced in the Routan compared to its structural siblings.



As for power, here's all you need to know: go big. The long-in-the-tooth 3.8-liter V6 needs to be put out of its misery post haste. The SOHC 4.0-liter V6 not only offers more power (251 hp and 259 lb.-ft. of torque versus 197 and 230), it also gets better fuel economy to boot (17/25 city/highway versus 16/23). Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic that does its best to shovel power to the front wheels, and with the 4.0-liter V6 delivering a 0-60 time of 8.9 seconds (not entirely bad for a barn on wheels), it's all the more reason to opt up for the SEL package.



Volkswagen aims to take a 5% chunk out of the minivan market here in the U.S., and the Routan actually has a shot of stealing a few buyers cross-shopping comparably equipped Honda Odysseys, Toyota Siennas and Nissan Quests. We somehow doubt that VW's core demographic will be looking at the Dodge and Chrysler products that form the foundation of the Routan, particularly when you consider price. The entry-level S model (with the 3.8-liter V6) starts at $24,700, while the range-topping SEL begins at $33,200 and heads into the high $30k-range. For comparison, the Odyssey starts around $26,000 and crashes into the $40k ceiling when decked out with all the amenities. For buyers looking for a practical family hauler that isn't one of the usual suspects, the Routan could fit the bill. But until VW decides to live up to its lofty ideals and bring back the Microbus, those of us looking for some style and sense will be left wanting.



Photos Copyright ©2008 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.

The automaker provided lodging for this event.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 43 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      I believe that the center stack and vents in the Routan appear to be different from the Dodge and Chrysler versions.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Volkswagen reworked the entire suspension of the Routan – they minimized body roll, improved the steering dynamics, and used custom-programmed electronic stability software, a safety feature not available on most minivans. I’m working with VW, and there are many noticeable differences between the Town & Country and the Routan – suspension being an important one.
      • 6 Years Ago
      That picture of the side made me realize how much was carried over from the Chrysler/Dodge twins.
      I'll pass, thank you very much.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I don't know why are you guys so pissed off. Half of cars in america are rebadged cars. So i don't think this is a big deal. But if this car has a VW engine than the story changes.
      • 6 Years Ago
      As a eurovan owner, this makes me so terribly sad.
      • 6 Years Ago
      If they would have slapped a TDI in there, they would actually be able to sell these things. Instead, they're going to use Chryslers V6, making less than 200HP and getting gas mileage that is abysmal, at best.

      Make the TDI Routan and you'll have redeemed yourself, VW.
        • 6 Years Ago
        It doesn't stop people from buying every TDI VW can build.

        If they were to offer a TDI, I'd think they'd have to go with something like the 3.0L which would probably be overkill. But, it would be much more powerful than the 2.0L. Maybe drop in the 170hp version from the TT TDI?

        It would instantly become unique in its class and would have the best mileage as well. I see some moderate increases in sales by doing it.

        But, I don't see it ever happening. There would be too much work converting the chassis to accept the engine and tranny as I'm sure VW would prefer their trannys to be used with the TDI. I also don't think the 3.0L would work in a transverse layout, I think all vehicles it is used in are longitudinal.
        • 6 Years Ago
        X2 on the diesel option.

        Along those same lines, Chrysler (if they're not sold to GM this week) should be trying to workout an arrangement with VW to buy their newer diesels to use across their line.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The problem with a Diesel motor is the cost.

        VW largely went through this exercise with Chrysler to get the cost of the vehicle down. Now you want them to add a lot to the price to put in a more expensive motor.

        This is a risky move. It could work great, and it might also backfire and hurt sales like the price of the Eurovan hurt its sales.
      • 6 Years Ago
      And the name rhymes with crouton? O-kay.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The whole Brooke Shields advertising campaign has turned me off of VW!
      • 6 Years Ago
      Or maybe VW has no real experience building mini-vans so they have to re badge another vehicle for the time being and in some years, they'll have gained the knowledge to build their own mini-van?
        • 6 Years Ago
        How can you say they don't have any minivan experience? They've had it for half a century! Remember the Type 2 vans that were hippie icons back in the 1960s?
          • 6 Years Ago
          I think that the Transporters are completely minivany, if not in architecture nor in spirit, then in purpose: they were definitely designed to be economical, car-based family/cargo haulers, certainly the original "minivan" definition as created by Chrysler in the 80s. However, that has all changed in the subsequent decades: now minivans are big luxurious vehicles that have to have a million things to keep the kids entertained. By this definition, VW don't have much modern minivan experience. But they still keep the original minivans (economical afmily/cargo haulers) alive in the EuroVan. Too bad that's not what US customers are looking for, so it's been discontinued in this market.
          • 6 Years Ago
          I don't think that would be comparable to a mini-van. The EuroVan sure, but not a real mini-van.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I keep thinking this van is some type of horrible joke.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The last line sums up how I feel exactly. I am not a VW loyalist enough to buy a Caravan with the badge on it. Give me a Microbus for $30k.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Honestly, the badge engineering thing here is a good thing. I like the Caravan, but its got an ugly mug. The fact that VW basically just made it more attractive would make me purchase it over a Honda or Nissan. Got better features.
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