Full 2009 Volkswagen Routan Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 Volkswagen Routan is all-new -- um, except for all the parts it shares with Chrysler's minivans, that is.
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 headlight 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.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Volkswagen Routan seven-passenger minivan is available in three trim levels: S, SE and SEL. Base S models come standard with 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, heated side mirrors, a six-speaker CD/MP3 audio system with auxiliary input audio jack, a removable second-row bench seat and a 60/40-split third-row bench that folds into the floor. The SE adds 17-inch alloy wheels, power-sliding rear doors, upgraded cloth upholstery, tri-zone manual climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, removable second-row captain's chairs, rear sunshades and an upgraded audio system with a six-CD changer The top-of-the-line SEL tacks on a larger engine, leather upholstery, power-adjustable pedals, heated seats for the first and second rows, a power liftgate and Bluetooth connectivity.
Optional on all models is an entertainment package. On the S model, this adds a DVD player, second- and third-row flip-down screens, Bluetooth, the upgraded audio system, satellite radio and tri-zone manual air-conditioning. SE and SEL models with this package also get all-row DVD playback, a 30-gigabyte hard-drive-based audio system, a back-up camera and the power liftgate (SE).
Some of the standard features on higher trim levels can be added as options on lower trims. Towing preparation with a load-leveling rear suspension is available on all three trims, while a navigation system that's bundled with the hard-drive-based audio system, satellite radio and the back-up camera is optional on the SE and SEL. The SEL-only Premium package adds xenon headlights, foglamps, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, a sunroof, remote engine start, a nine-speaker, 506-watt audio system, an eight-way power passenger seat, a power-folding third-row seat, a memory function for the driver seat and pedals, a 115-volt AC power outlet and rear park assist.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Volkswagen Routan S and SE models come with a 3.8-liter V6 that produces 197 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque. The SEL is outfitted with a more sophisticated 4.0-liter V6 making 253 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. Both engines come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Surprisingly, the smaller 3.8-liter engine is rated at just 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined, while the 4.0-liter V6 yields a respectable 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. The latter also provides superior acceleration from zero to 60 mph -- 8.9 seconds, according to VW's estimates, versus 10.2 for the 3.8-liter mill.
The 2009 Volkswagen Routan comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control and full-length side curtain airbags. In government crash tests, the Routan scored a perfect five stars in all frontal and side impact categories. Likewise, in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Routan scored the best possible rating of "Good" in the frontal offset and side impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
VW has spruced up the Routan's Dodge-sourced interior with a revised dash layout, including a modified center stack and Volkswagen's trademark red and blue backlighting. However, anyone who has spent time in the Town & Country or Grand Caravan will instantly recognize the cheap-feeling switchgear, dash-mounted shifter and basic overall design as straight outta Motown. The Routan lacks Dodge's innovative Stow 'n Go and Swivel 'n Go second-row seats, but at least its conventional seats are nicely shaped. The third-row bench folds flat into the floor, while the second-row bench or captain's chairs can be removed for serious hauling duty. VW says the Routan can carry up to 144 cubic feet of cargo -- that's about average for a minivan, which is to say, it's gigantic.
Volkswagen says the Routan evinces "European ride and handling characteristics." Thing is, Europeans tend to drive vehicles that are half the Routan's size. For such a large conveyance, the Routan acquits itself fairly well on twisty roads while swallowing most bumps and ruts without complaint. However, its driving dynamics remain a step or two behind the segment-leading Honda Odyssey. The interior remains quiet at highway speeds, and the 4.0-liter V6 makes the 2009 VW Routan one of the fleeter minivans around, if you care about that sort of thing. The hoary 3.8-liter V6 is relatively sluggish and thirsty, but you're stuck with it unless you ante up for the SEL.