First Drive: 2009 Volkswagen Routan

Group Therapy: More of a cousin than a clone of the Town & Country

Bob NagySep 22, 2008
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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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

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