Volkswagen Routan Overview
Volkswagen has a long history of producing small vans, from the iconic Microbus to the funky Vanagons from the 1980s. However, there hasn't been a minivan in VW's lineup since the EuroVan bowed out in 2003. The 2009 Volkswagen Routan minivan is VW's way of rectifying this situation. For traditional VW buyers, this is good news -- Volkswagen dealers now have something that will meet the needs of large families in search of maximum passenger and cargo space. But there's bad news, too -- the Routan is basically a gussied-up Chrysler Town & Country/Dodge Grand Caravan.
Yep, you read that right. VW wanted a minivan ASAP, Chrysler had excess production capacity at its plant in Windsor, Ontario, thanks to the extinction of the Pacifica, and the Routan is the product of this unlikely marriage. You'd think the VW folks would have learned a lesson from their countrymen at Daimler-Benz, whose dalliance with Chrysler proved costly in terms of both brand image and the bottom line. But Volkswagen believes that its improvements on the Grand Caravan formula will be sufficient to woo would-be Odyssey or Sienna buyers.
The tweaks start with styling. While the Routan's overall shape is pure Dodge, its front end receives Volkswagen's familiar halo headlights and grille design, and the slick-looking taillights are VW-specific as well. Inside, the dashboard layout has been revised for a more upscale appearance, though the chintzy switchgear is straight out of the Chrysler parts bin. Dodge's innovative Stow 'n Go and Swivel 'n Go second-row seats are unavailable in the Routan, but VW compensates with superior seat comfort, and the third-row seats still fold into the floor for cargo-carrying duty. Underneath it all, the Routan makes do with the same suspension layout as the Chrysler vans, though numerous revisions by VW's engineers aim to produce a more refined driving experience.
The reasonably priced 2009 VW Routan is indeed a better vehicle and probably the best of the three. But that's not saying much. Chrysler's myriad quality issues with its newest minivans don't bode well for the Routan, and even putting these aside, this is not a segment-leading minivan to begin with. It's a competent people mover with a hint of Germanic flair, but rival models like the Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage/Kia Sedona twins and Toyota Sienna will serve the typical minivan buyer better.