What's New For 2009? The 2009 Volkswagen Routan is all-new. However the basic vehicle has been on sale for a year as the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country. The primary differences between the Volkswagen and Chrysler versions are exterior styling, suspension tuning and options packages.
Should I Buy This Car? Yes. Although we're lukewarm toward the Dodge and Chrysler versions of this same platform, the improvements made to the VW Routan address most of them. The ride is better controlled, the steering feels better, and it looks better. Just be sure to drive a Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna before you sign on any dotted lines.
Why is VW working with Chrysler instead of making its own van? Volkswagen actually has a minivan in Europe called the Sharan, a joint venture between VW and Ford. However, importing that van would have been too expensive, so VW decided to partner with a U.S. manufacturer for its minivan needs. Since Chrysler is the only U.S. maker still in the minivan business, it was a natural choice.
What else should I consider? Two other vans to consider are the Honda Odyssey and the 2009 Volkswagen Routan's platform-mate, the Dodge Grand Caravan. The Honda Odyssey offers a more powerful and refined drivetrain, a nicer interior and an equally satisfying driving experience. The Dodge Grand Caravan offers up more options like Swivel 'n Go seating – which allows the second row of seats to face rearward – and satellite TV. And don't be afraid to look at the long-wheelbase Kia Sedona either if V-6 value is your priority.
Quick Look: 2009 Volkswagen Routan
The 2009 Volkswagen Routan is a new vehicle for the brand and a joint venture between VW and Chrysler. Although built in the same factory as the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country, the VW Routan is more than just a clone of those vehicles, with unique styling and suspension settings, as well as a few other improvements that put the Routan ahead of its counterparts in terms of drivability and style.
The 2009 VW Routan comes in three variations, all with a $690 destination charge: The $25,390 S, the $30,290 SE, and the $33,890 SEL. The Routan S and SE models are powered by a Chrysler-sourced 3.3-liter V-6 engine with 197 horsepower. The SEL receives a 4.0-liter 251-hp V-6. Both engines route power to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Standard on all VW Routan models is air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, stability control, all kinds of airbags, and an audio system with MP3 capability and an auxiliary input jack. The SE adds alloy wheels, power sliding doors, three-zone manual air conditioning, and a power driver's seat. In addition to the bigger engine, the SEL piles on leather upholstery, automatic climate control, power adjustable pedals, heated first and second row seating, and Bluetooth wireless connection for your cell phone. A rear-seat entertainment system option adds $2,700 to the Routan S, and $3,100 to the SE and SEL, and the SEL Premium throws in HID headlights, chrome exterior trim, power folding third row seats and other goodies for a total of $39,090.
The changes made to the 2009 Volkswagen Routan versus the Dodge and Chrysler versions of this minivan are subtle, but effective. It has its own style, looking more like a Volkswagen Touareg in the rear thanks to more steeply angled pillars. The driver's seat is unique to the VW Routan as well, and much more supportive than the chairs in the Dodge and Chrysler versions. The biggest improvement is to the suspension though, with revised spring and shock absorber settings that give the Routan a much more controlled ride without sacrificing comfort. Put together, the minor changes make for a big improvement. The VW Routan doesn't offer things like the Swivel 'n' Go seating or satellite TV, both available on the Dodge and Chrysler versions, but we find those are of dubious value anyhow, and we'd gladly give them up for the better control in the Routan.
By Keith Buglewicz
Photo credit: Volkswagen