What's in a name? When Volkswagen decided that it was time to add a van to its lineup, replacing the unloved Eurovan, it turned to Chrysler for its successful Town & Country platform. Rather than spend extensive time and money to start from scratch, it rolled out the Routan -- an example of collaborative German engineering, imported from Detroit.
To be fair, VW worked hard to make the Routan feel more like a Volkswagen. Interior materials have improved with new color schemes, and the suspension has been tightened up for a (relatively) sportier feel. There's just one engine: Chrysler's 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, producing 283 horsepower. Three different models are available, and the highest SEL Premium model comes well-equipped with navigation, Bluetooth, 17-inch alloy wheels, a powered rear liftgate, two screens for the DVD-based rear-seat entertainment system, three-zone automatic climate control, a backup camera, and HID headlights. Like the Chrysler minivan it seats seven and features 13 cupholders, but unlike the Chrysler, however, the versatile Swivel-N'-Go seats fail to make the cut.
The VW Routan combines practicality and understated German style with a price range that envelopes that of the Chrysler: its base price is $3000 cheaper than the Town & Country, but it can be optioned up to $44,300. It's perhaps for this reason that the Routan hasn't exactly lit the minivan world on fire.
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Models: S, SE, SEL
For 2012 the Routan gets more standard features available in its model range: SEL models with a navigation system get standard keyless entry with rain-sensing wipers, and SEL Premium models add a blind spot sensor and Rear Cross Path Detection, which is designed to alert the driver to vehicles approaching from the side when pulling out of a spot.
Volkswagen does an admirable job hiding the Routan's Detroit-based origins, which is especially noticeable from the outside: the only parts it shares with the Town & Country are the doors and roof. The Routan carries Volkswagen's corporate face, which looks dated in comparison to the new Jetta and Passat. New taillights in back flank a large VW logo, further shielding customers from its platform-sharing.
While the Routan received the engine upgrade that blessed the Chrysler versions of this van last year, unfortunately it didn't get the interior upgrades as well. While the wood and aluminum trim look nice, the hard plastics elsewhere detract from the experience. It's still versatile though, with 13 cupholders and plenty of miscellaneous bins. Seats can be optioned in leatherette or "Vienna" leather, which VW promises to be easier to clean, and the Routan's third-row seats can stow into the bottom of the van for maximum storage space. Unfortunately, the Chrysler "Stow 'n Go" second row seats -- which fold down into the floor with the flip of a lever -- aren't available on the Routan. Rear-seat entertainment with wireless headphones, two screens, and a DVD player can be optioned.
Performance & Handling
With a suspension makeover featuring 50-percent stiffer springs and shock absorbers, the Routan tries to impart a little fun in the driving experience. The power steering is also revamped for better feel. The 3.6-liter, 283-horsepower Chrysler V-6, now the Routan's only engine, will get the kids to soccer practice in plenty of time.
Multistage front and side curtain airbags are standard front and rear, as well as knee airbags up front under the dashboard. Stability control is included as standard equipment. On SEL Premium models, Blind Spot Monitoring and Cross Path Detection alert the driver to cars behind and to the side of the Routan.
EPA Fuel Economy
17 mpg city/25 mpg highway
- Suspension makeover means less body roll
Touches of VW style
You Won't Like
- Leaves out some of Chrysler's better features
Gets pricey with more options
Better mileage from the competition
The Euro-fan's minivan
If You Like This Vehicle
- Chrysler Town & Country
- Dodge Grand Caravan
- Honda Odyssey
- Toyota Sienna