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Volkswagen Routan

Review

REVIEW

It seems almost every American family has a story or experience with the original Volkswagen Beetle. Whether you lived in Duluth, Miami, Manhattan, or Malibu, the quirky German compact was all over American roads in the 1960s and '70s. Perhaps VW's Microbus wasn't as widespread as its compact cousin, but there's no question it had nearly as much of an impact on automotive culture, especially if you lived in California, or were a devotee of the Grateful Dead.
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The original VW Microbus was a definitive counterculture icon of the '60s and '70s. To this day, the original air-cooled models and even the later water-cooled, rear-engine Vanagon fetch shocking five-figure prices in California coastal towns, as they are prized by collectors, surfers, and high-schoolers alike.
The Eurovan that came after the Microbus and Vanagon, while quirky in its own right, wasn't exactly a sales success here, and it drove out of the U.S. market in 2003. It would be effectively replaced five years later with the Routan, a re-badged Chrysler Town & Country (or Dodge Grand Caravan, take your pick.) There are various theories as to why this happened, but the long and short of it is Wolfsburg believed it needed a van model in the U.S. but apparently didn't want to go to the trouble and expense of federalizing and importing one of its European offerings.
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Although there's nothing particularly objectionable about the 2012 Volkswagen Routan we recently had in for a test drive, there's nothing exceptional about it, either. Other than some mild styling differences inside and out that distinguish it from its Chrysler brethren, there is nothing uniquely Volkswagen about it, unless you count the fact that you can't get Chrysler's innovative Stow & Go seating in the Routan.
From behind the wheel, the Routan has a distinctly American feel. There's no VW magic in its DNA, at least none that pokes through its thoroughly Yankee pedigree in any appreciable measure. Although our tester was the top-shelf SEL Premium trim, complete with HID headlights, memory seats, navigation, dual power-sliding doors, and a power rear hatch, the inescapable fact is that this vehicle is a utilitarian people-hauler. It has that unmistakable workhorse feel of a minivan or airport shuttle. And that's not the kind of feel you want when shelling out hefty $45,100 for a specimen equipped like our tester.
But for kiddie-hauling duty, the Routan has a lot going for it. It has copious cupholders, or getraenkehalters, as VW likes to call them. Thirteen in all, six of which are clustered around the driver. There's the obligatory convex inside rearview mirror to keep a watchful eye on rambunctious youngsters, an available built-in rear-seat DVD player, and the hazard lights thoughtfully flash for several seconds after the power side doors are opened.
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The Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6, introduced in 2011, provides adequate motivation, but you're always aware of the Routan's overall mass pitted against the engine's somewhat peaky torque curve. While 283 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque seem like a lot on paper, they have to contend with nearly 4500 pounds of not-so-mini minivan. Consequently, deliberate merging or passing requires a healthy shove of the go pedal. At least the Pentastar has a reasonably pleasant, muscular growl at full whack, although the flaky six-speed automatic transmission always seems a step behind what you actually want it to do.
Over the past few years, Volkswagen has teased us with several concepts that hark back to the groovy days of the Microbus, most notably the eponymous concept of the same name in 2001, and the smaller-sized Bulli in 2011. Both were enthusiastically received by the automotive press. Yet here we are with the utterly unremarkable, badge-engineered Routan.
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Although it's unlikely we'll ever see the return of a mid-sized rear-engine van from VW, the brand has proven it can successfully apply a heritage retro theme to a modern platform, as it did with the original New Beetle in 1998, and arguably even more successfully with the 2012 revival. In my mind, there's only one brand that could truly make the minivan cool again, and that's Volkswagen. Sadly, the Routan is not the van to do it.

2012 Volkswagen Routan SEL Premium
BASE PRICE $45,100 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 7-pass, 4-door, van
ENGINE 3.6L/283-hp/260-lb-ft V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4494 lb
WHEELBASE 121.2 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 202.5 x 76.9 x 68.9 in
0-60 MPH 8.1 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 17 / 25 mpg (est)
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 198 / 135 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.98 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently
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2012 Volkswagen Routan

SPECIFICATIONS
$27,020
17 / 25
3.6L V6
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First Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Routan SEL
Wolfsburg's Re-badge Falls Short -- Although there's nothing particularly objectionable about the 2012 Volkswagen Routan we recently had in for a test drive, there's nothing exceptional about it, either.
Edward A. SanchezMar 19, 2012
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2012 Volkswagen Routan SEL First Drive
A Missed Opportunity to Make the Minivan Cool
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2011 Volkswagen Routan

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$26,930
17 / 25
3.6L V6
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Chrysler's Minivan Plant Experiences Parts Shortage, Shuts Down For One Week
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Volkswagen's Chrysler-sourced Routan Surprised Boost in November Sales
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2010 Volkswagen Routan

SPECIFICATIONS
$25,900
16 / 23
3.8L V6
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Verdict: 2010 Volkswagen Routan SEL
Designed in Detroit, refined in Wolfsburg -- While the Routan is a definite improvement over both previous-generation Chrysler products, there's still room for improvement.
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Suspension Suspense
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Long Term Update 5: 2010 Volkswagen Routan
The deja vu continues
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Recall: 2010 Volkswagen Routan for Faulty Ignition Module
Following hot on the heels of the same issue with the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country, Volkswagen has now issued a recall notice for the wireless ignition module with its 2010 Routan minivan.
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Them's the Brakes, Kid - Routan's Discs Need Work
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7 months and 14,249 miles -- The Town & Country's ghosts haunt the Routan
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Executive editor Ed Loh recently used the Routan as a tour bus
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Long Term Update 1: 2010 Volkswagen Routan
Senior photographer Brian Vance, who spends a lot of time in a photo locker, er, minivan, when one is in our long-term fleet, isn't impressed with the 2010 Volkswagen Routan brakes.
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Long Term Arrival: 2010 Volkswagen Routan
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Teutonic Town & Country Joins Our Long-Term fleet
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2009 Volkswagen Routan

SPECIFICATIONS
$25,200
16 / 23
3.8L V6
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Volkswagen Recalls 2009 Routan, Improperly Routed Wiring Harness May Cause Fires
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Volkswagen Using Oprah to Raise Awareness About Routan van
Volkswagen is now hoping Oprah Winfrey will succeed in increasing awareness of the product where Brooke Shields and her amusing Routan advertising campaign failed.
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Volkswagen's Newest Twist On Camping: The 2009 Volkswagen California Black Edition
Well, for those van-types looking to get away for away in style, VW has just released a limited California Black Edition featuring classy and sophisticated appointments suitable for the most discerning of campers.
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Group Therapy: More of a cousin than a clone of the Town & Country
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Andrew StrieberSep 19, 2008
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