Full 2011 Volkswagen Routan Review
What's New for 2011
For 2011, the Volkswagen Routan gets the new, more powerful and efficient 3.6-liter V6 that now powers its Dodge and Chrysler minivan siblings. Other gifts from the family include expanded trip computer functionality and a cheaper navigation system option, which is sourced from Garmin but integrated into the stereo's touchscreen interface.
Somewhere a hippie is weeping. Elsewhere a camping enthusiast is wondering where he'll be sleeping next. For decades, Volkswagen vans have been the go-to vehicles for these two groups -- not to mention surfers and High Times subscribers. So while the 2011 Volkswagen Routan is indeed a van with a VW in its grille, the fact that it's a mainstream minivan intended for families (and thus substantially more people) is sure to leave a few Deadheads crying into their pints of Cherry Garcia.
They might find some solace in the fact that the Routan is really a Volkswagen in name only. Behind its unique front fascia and underneath its slightly higher-quality interior is a Dodge Grand Caravan. You thought it looked familiar, didn't you? This heritage brings with it a number of advantages and disadvantages.
To kick things off in a positive way, the 2011 VW Routan inherits the Dodge's (and Chrysler Town & Country's) new 3.6-liter V6 that produces more power and gets better fuel economy than both Chrysler-sourced V6s found in the Routan last year. Beyond this, the Routan continues to provide the sort of interior layout and space expected by American minivan customers, while also offering family-friendly features like power sliding doors, a DVD entertainment system, heated rear seats and an iPod interface. A new integrated Garmin-sourced navigation system is now available for those who want route guidance for less money than the premium navigation system with its real-time traffic and other advanced features.
However, all of that also applies to the Grand Caravan and the Town & Country. Last year, we would've told you that the Routan stood out with better driving dynamics and a substantially nicer cabin. But for 2011, the Chrysler vans have closed the gap considerably (if not completely). Plus, the Chryslers still include Stow 'n Go seats and a few other features not available in the VW. And from a long-term ownership standpoint, you have to wonder how vested VW is in the Routan or what the service experience of a Chrysler vehicle at a VW dealership might be.
As such, it's hard to think of a significant reason why someone would opt for a 2011 Volkswagen Routan rather than one of its American siblings. But it's also important to note that the Chrysler minivans are far from class leaders. The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna would be our picks and we highly suggest looking at those models first. The new Nissan Quest is also worth considering, as its unique interior layout and styling might be appealing to those looking for something different than the typical minivan. They certainly won't be getting it from the 2011 VW Routan.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Volkswagen Routan is a minivan available in S, SE, SEL and SEL Premium trim levels. The base S comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, power rear vent windows, cruise control, a tilt-only steering wheel, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, rear air-conditioning controls, second-row captain's chairs, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
The SE gains 17-inch alloy wheels, a roof rack, upgraded exterior trim, power sliding doors, power-adjustable pedals, an eight-way power driver seat with lumbar adjustment, heated front seats, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, second- and third-row sunshades, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an overhead storage console, a trip computer, Bluetooth and a six-CD changer. When equipped with the Rear Seat Entertainment (RSE) package, the Routan SE gains a power tailgate, a rearview camera, a Chrysler-sourced touchscreen audio interface, a single-CD player (in place of the six-disc), digital music storage, satellite radio and video screens for the second and third rows. A Garmin navigation system can be integrated into the touchscreen audio interface included with the RSE package.
The SEL adds to the SE's equipment automatic headlamps, a sunroof, a remote ignition, a rearview camera, automatic three-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated second-row seats, a power-folding third-row seat, the touchscreen audio interface, a Chrysler-sourced navigation system, real-time traffic, voice controls, digital music storage, satellite radio and an iPod interface. The rear-seat DVD entertainment features are optional on the SEL. The SEL Premium gets xenon headlamps, foglamps, keyless ignition/entry, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, additional chrome exterior trim, driver memory functions, an eight-way power passenger seat, interior wood trim, an advanced trip computer and a nine-speaker sound system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 VW Routan is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. In Edmunds testing of the mechanically identical Dodge Grand Caravan, this powertrain/minivan combo went from zero to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds, which is about a half-second slower than the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.
The 2011 Volkswagen Routan comes standard with traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes and brake assist, front side airbags, a driver knee airbag and side curtain airbags. A rearview camera is available.
The Routan has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedures. However, its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 tests) were a perfect five stars in front and side crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Routan the highest possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Now that the interiors of the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan are much improved for 2011, the Routan's advantage over its siblings has shrunk considerably. The dash covering, seat upholstery, steering wheel and several bits of switchgear continue to be nicer than what you find in this van when it carries an American label, but there's still too much Chrysler content here (especially the audio interfaces) to put the Routan on par with Volkswagen's typical offerings.
The Routan lacks the Caravan's Stow 'n Go seats that allow you to drop the second-row captain's chairs into the floor, not to mention the removable middle seats found in the Odyssey and Sienna. But at least they're more comfortable than those in the Chrysler. The Routan's third-row seat still folds into the floor, but its severe rearward tilt that creates legroom for taller passengers may be a bit strange for shorter folks or kids.
Speaking of taller folks, those of even average height may find that the driver seat and pedals are placed too close together -- even when both power-adjustable features are set at their farthest apart. In typical minivan form, the Routan can hold an immense amount of cargo with the second-row seats removed -- 144 feet, to be precise.
For such a large conveyance, the 2011 Volkswagen Routan still acquits itself fairly well around corners while also swallowing most bumps and ruts without complaint. Its driving dynamics still remain a step or two behind the segment-leading Honda Odyssey, however.
The new-for-2011 V6 engine is a big improvement, as it's more powerful and fuel-efficient than what VW offered last year. Still, this engine lacks the refinement (specifically in regard to sound) found in the Odyssey and Sienna -- not to mention Volkswagen's actual engine lineup. On the upside, the six-speed automatic does an admirable job of keeping power on tap.