First Look: 2009 Volkswagen Routan minivan
American blood, German heart
After a multiyear hiatus, Volkswagen is back in the van game with its all-new Routan seven-passenger minivan -- a vehicle the value-conscious German automaker has based around European standards in design, handling, and build-quality.
The result is all very German Town & Country, which shouldn't be surprising, considering the Routan also is based on Chrysler's premier people-mover. In fact, the VW Routan will even be built at the same Windsor, Ontario, plant as its Chrysler cousins. Not to say, of course, that Volkswagen hasn't done its best to add some Wolfsburgesque touches to the quintessential American minivan. The front end of the Routan is unmistakably VW, with a grille and front fascia that could come from no other automotive family. Other distinctly Volkswagen elements include the headlamps, taillamps, and side mirrors. Mask up the front and remove a few lights, however, and what you're left with -- at least on the outside -- is pure T&C.
Inside the Routan, the VW essence is again felt -- but not strongly. Volkswagen has swapped the tach and speedo, slapped a VW badge on the steering wheel, and even mimicked a Volkswagen center stack, but the results are still all too familiar to Chrysler's layout when viewed side by side. Radio and vent controls, the dash-mounted shift lever, the instrument binnacle layout, and even the steering wheel are all essentially Chrysler-spec.
But at least the Routan is well-optioned with all the conveniences one would expect in a U.S.-issue minivan. No fewer than 13 cupholders can be found inside, while the usual infotainment systems are also present: two nine-inch screens for the second and third rows and a touch-screen navigation unit with hard drive at the top of the center stack (MyGig, anyone?). A conversation mirror, power liftgate, and power sliding doors are on the equipment list, while passenger seating is handled by two second-row captain's chairs and a third-row bench seat. Remove the third-row seat, and VW says you'll find a total of 83 cubic feet worth of storage space aft of the second row.
The Routan offers choice of two power units, the standard engine being a 197-horsepower, 3.8-liter, 230 lb-ft V-6. Power-hungry chauffeurs can opt for the available 251-horse, 4.0-liter, 259 lb-ft V-6. A six-speed automatic is found in both applications, as is standard traction control and ESP.
So while the Volkswagen Routan isn't completely -- well -- Volkswagen, there are some advantages to come from its Chrysler backbone. For one, the Routan will arrive to market much quicker than it would've had VW started from scratch with an entirely new design. It also will be much cheaper when it gets here. Fewer development costs and the use of a pre-existing North American factory will allow Volkswagen to start the Routan at under $25,000 in the U.S. That's around the same price as a moderately equipped example of Volkswagen's own GTI hot hatch -- itself seen as a relative bargain in the broader automotive market. With VW's claims of a more Teutonic driving experience than the Town & Country at a comparable price, the Routan could enjoy reasonable success in the VW showrooms. Just don't be shocked by your dealer's dirty looks if you ask for Swivel 'N Go seating.