The last time we tested out Volkswagen's all-new Routan minivan, it was on a preplanned route that was aimed at showcasing the handling and acceleration of the minivan along scenic roads just outside of San Francisco, Calif. Recently, we had another chance to get behind the wheel of the Routan to see what it would be like living with the minivan during everyday driving. Despite the fact that is derived from the minivans offered by the Chrysler Group, the Routan showcases both the styling and luxury expected from a Volkswagen.
For 2009, the Volkswagen Routan is available in three trim levels (S, SE and SEL) and is assembled in Windsor, Ontario alongside the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country which celebrate their 25th year in existence this year. We tested what is sure to be the volume seller, the mid-level Routan SE, which comes well-equipped starting at $29,700 and had an as-tested price of $30, 835. Although the minivan segment has been whittled down severely over the years, there are still plenty of competitors in the market including the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey and, the least expensive in the class, the Kia Sedona. While minivans might not be the coolest vehicles on the road, they continue to be one of the best modes of transportations for families when it comes to price, size and safety and the 2009 VW Routan exemplifies these important aspects.
2009 Volkswagen Routan SE Exterior
When creating the Routan, instead of cutting costs and slapping a big VW badge on the front grille of a Chrysler minivan, Volkswagen made significant changes to its model making it identifiable from just about every angle. From the large, scalloped headlights to the unique D-pillar shape, the Routan has a design that is easily recognizable as a Volkswagen due to the fact that it only shares its roof panel and side doors with the Chrysler duo. Our test model looked surprisingly stylish (for a minivan) with a dark Atlantis Blue exterior hue and 16-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels.
2009 Volkswagen Routan SE Interior
While the exterior received numerous enhancements to set the VW apart, the Routan's cabin is more recognizable with its Chrysler cousins. VW did give the Routan its own instrument panel that features more of horizontal layout as opposed to the Chrysler minivan's vertical nature. The biggest changes for the VW conversion included a two-tier instrument panel design finished in a soft touch material and swathed in VW's signature red ambient lighting. The front seats feel more comfortable and supportive than Dodge or Chrysler's seating, and offer enough added bolstering that the seats of a Routan are visually different from those of the Chrysler vans. Our test vehicle also added a $435 package that included heated front seats.
Maximum seating capacity for all Routans is seven passengers, but our test vehicle replaced the standard middle-row bench seat with a set of captain chairs for increased space and separation. The Volkswagen model does not offer Chrysler's trick Stow 'n GoÂ® or Swivel 'n GoÂ® second-row seating most likely for proprietary reasons, but in doing so allowed Volkswagen to offer more comfortable seats for the middle row. While Stow 'n GoÂ® allows the seats to fold into the floors, it also makes the seats thinner and less supportive for most adults over long hauls. Thankfully, the large cubbyholes found under the second-row seat floorboards are still present and are lined with plastic to store items that might be wet or muddy, but getting into these bins proved to be slightly difficult if the front seats are too far back. To help keep rear passengers comfortable, the Routan allows the second-row windows to lower almost all the way and the third-row windows to vent, but all the rear side windows offer manual sunshades to help reduce the heat.
Of all the convenience that the Routan affords its drivers, we suspect the most useful option for soccer moms and dads will be the power-operated sliding doors and remote start. Operated with the key fob, switches in the overhead console or switches mounted on the B-pillars, the power sliding doors open and close quickly and are equipped with pinch protection to prevent any accidents. To maximize the simplicity of the Routan, the third-row seats fold flat into floor through an easy, three-step process, but when the seats are up, the large storage compartment proves to be quite useful when hauling bulky or tall cargo. With all the fold flat capabilities and in-floor storage compartments, there was no room under cargo area for a spare tire, so it is actually mounted under the passenger front seat. The SEL trim level also offers a power liftgate and a power folding rear seat to quickly transform the rear bench seat into a flat cargo area, but the middle rowÂ is still latched to the floor board, making removal a little more challenging and time consuming. Once the cargo area is opened up, the Routan can hold up to 143.8 cubic feet of cargo.
2009 Volkswagen Routan SE Performance & Handling
Other than the top-of-the-line Routan SEL, the lesser models use an antiquated version of Chrysler's 3.8-liter V-6. The age of the engine is evident when comparing the output and fuel economy numbers of both vehicles side by side. The base V-6 produces 197 horsepower with an EPA rating of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway, while the 4.0-liter V-6, which debuted in the Dodge Nitro, produces 251 horsepower with an EPA rating of 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Having previously tested both engine models, the newer V-6 is both smoother and more powerful, but is only available on the $33,600 Routan SEL. The only transmission available is a smooth shifting six-speed automatic that features a manual shift mode via the oddly placed gear selector.
Volkswagen claims that the Routan features a Euro-tuned suspension through firmer springs and shocks, larger stabilizer bars and slight changes in the steering ratio. With all the changes made, the resulting ride isn't very distinguishable from the Chrysler vans in everyday driving. We did notice that the Routan is much less apt to be pushed around by crosswinds on the interstate, but we're not sure if that's a result of the suspension or not. Overall, the 2009 VW Routan SE felt very stable on the road without feeling top heavy as some of the non-Chrysler vans tend to feel.
2009 Volkswagen Routan SE Safety
Using the Dodge and Chrysler minivans as a basis allowed the Routan to benefit from the stellar safety record of the duo. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the trio of minivans (Dodge, Chrysler and Volkswagen) with a five-star crash test rating for frontal- and side-impact protection and four stars for rollover avoidance. Likewise, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests resulted in a full array of Good ratings, but the only thing keeping the minivans from earning a Top Safety Pick were the Marginal scores of the rear-impact tests. VW's Routan comes standard with Electronic Stabilization Program, four-wheel ABS disc brakes, anti-slip regulation and tire-pressure monitoring system.
Minivans may not be the most popular vehicle segment right now, but Volkswagen claims it's looking to enter new segments to expand its overall depth in the market. Although sales have been slow for the Routan so far, VW says that the van is capturing its goal of five percent of the minivan market and has confirmed that the Routan will live on at least through the 2010 model year. Like all other VW models, the Routan comes with the Carefree Maintenance Program which provides all suggested maintenance work free of charge during the basic warranty period (three years or 36,000 miles).