Although aging hippies may never forgive VW for shelving the iconic Microbus concept it showed at the 2001 Geneva Auto Salon, expanding the brand's scope and reach with a people-mover aimed at U.S. buyers never left the automaker's wish list. The question was how to do it in a timely, cost-effective manner -- sad to say, never an option on the Microbus menu. The answer? Find a partner who'd already done most of the heavy-and expensive-design lifting. With an all-new iteration of the world's most popular minivan rolling out for 2008 from its underutilized Windsor, Ontario, assembly plant, Chrysler became the obvious choice.

Just how different are VW's new Routan and its closest kin, Chrysler's Town & Country? Plenty. The only body panels shared by the sleeker and arguably more attractive VW are its side doors. Same story inside: Save for gauges, switchgear, electrics, audio/nav systems, and headliner elements, everything else from dash pad to door panels to the carpeting has been tastefully redone to VW spec. No Stow-n-Go or Swivel-n-Go seats here, but the Routan's individual first- and second-row perches do offer plusher and more supportive bolstering, whether covered in cloth on S and SE versions or leather-bound in the primo SEL. While the flip/flop/foldaway third row is Chrysler carryover, even it gets a Teutonic retrim.

Underneath, VW gave this front-driver a sportier suspension tune, bumping spring rates by 50 percent and tweaking the shocks and power steering for a more positive feel. While its T&C powertrain elements are unchanged, VW prudently used only the two most potent engines, putting the 3.8-liter, 197-horse V-6 in the Routan S and SE, the 4.0/253-hp V-6 in the SEL. Both are paired with the slick six-speed Sportmode automatic.


Our day spent touring highways and byways in Virginia established that the new Routan merits a respectable place at any minivan party table. We're less sanguine about its chances of meeting VW's 40,000-unit sales bogey for 2009. Starting prices ranging from $25,390 to $33,890, and loads of high-value features should help the Routan's competitive cause. With the minivan segment in shrink-down mode, racking up marginal numbers on that scale would be a remarkable feat.


2009 Volkswagen Routan
Base Price $25,390-33,890 (est)
Vehicle Layout Front engine, FWD, 7-pass, 4-door minivan
Engine 3.8L/197-hp/230-lb-ft OHV 12-valve V-6; 4.0L/253-hp/262-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb Weight 4500-4650 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 121.2 in
Length x Width x Height 202.5 x 76.9 x 68.9 in
0-60 mph 8.9-10.2 sec (mfr est)
EPA City/Hwy Econ 16-17/23-25 mpg
CO2 Emissions 0.89-1.05 lb/mile
On Sale In U.S. Fall 2008