The Volkswagen Routan has been updated with new features for 2011 headlined by a new 3.6-liter V6 engine that brings more power and refinement without sacrificing fuel economy. That's good news because a lack of power has been Routan's weakest point.
The Routan minivan offers space for up to seven adults and their belongings in a high-quality cabin with amenities similar to those of a home theater.
The 2011 Volkswagen Routan is powered by a new 3.6-liter V6 engine. Rated at 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, the new Pentastar V6 is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. That's substantially more power than the previous 3.8-liter and 4.0-liter V6s used in the 2009-10 Routan models.
Fuel economy for the 2011 Routan with the new 3.6-liter V6 is an EPA-estimated 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. That matches the fuel economy of the 4.0-liter V6 in the 2010 Routan SEL and beats the old 3.8-liter V6. A new fuel optimization switch allows the driver to select an ECO mode which adjusts shift patterns to increase fuel economy.
The Routan is basically a Chrysler Town & Country with a different interior, a Volkswagen exterior, and revised suspension settings. It has nothing in common with previous Volkswagen minivans. The new Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 is built by Chrysler. Routan was introduced for 2009.
Underway, the Routan offers a pleasant ride and the driver enjoys a commanding view of the road.
The Volkswagen has a nicer interior than the Chrysler, and the Routan is a virtual rolling living room for families. New interior fabrics are available on 2011 Routan models, along with new interior colors. New perforated front row seating with pillow top armrests and second row captain’s chairs offer an increased level of luxury and comfort. All 2011 Routan models include an all new leather-wrapped steering wheel with multi-function controls, a leather-wrapped shift knob, and a full assortment of gauges. Underfoot is a high-density carpet, with matching floor mats, which add to the interior appeal. Routan is available with dual power sliding doors with power windows, power-folding third-row seating for extra storage room or tailgating function.
The cabin is wired for phones, MP3 players and game consoles, with 12-volt outlets, 115-volt house current. A DVD rear-seat entertainment system features screens in both the second and third rows. Video game systems can be plugged in, and each screen can show something different, including the front navigation screen. Also offered is Volkswagen's JoyBox hard-drive radio. It has a 30-gigabyte hard drive that can hold thousands of song and picture files.
Intelligent storage solutions can be found with dual glove boxes, a floor console, 13 cup holders, an available highline console with a large storage compartment, available ceiling storage, door sill and rear quarter storage bins, cargo nets, and a variety of coat and bag and purse hooks throughout. Airline style LED reading lights are ready in all three seating rows, while sunshades and privacy glass keep unwanted light from shining through. When sunshine and fresh air are wanted, a power sunroof is available.
Volkswagen opted to make the second-row seats thicker and more comfortable than those in the Town & Country. The Routan lacks the Stow 'n Go and the Swivel 'n Go seating features that make Chrysler minivans unique because the bigger seats won't fit in the storage bins. The Routan does have the useful underfloor storage areas, however. The second-row seats fold flat and are removable.
The third-row seats fold into the floor. A flat load floor big enough for 4×8-foot sheets of plywood can be created by removing the second-row seats and folding the third row into the floor, a great feature. The Routan can haul an enormous amount of cargo in this configuration. When the third-row seats are up, there is a handy well behind them that's great for groceries.
Volkswagen Routan S ($26,930); SE ($31,770); SEL ($37,390); SEL Premium ($43,240)
Volkswagen Routan uses the same architecture and some of the same body panels as the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan. It's a large vehicle, but it's about the same size as several competitors, including the Nissan Quest, Honda Odyssey, and Toyota Sienna. Cargo room is comparable.
The boxy main body is the same as the Town & Country's, but the Routan has VW styling from the front pillars forward. The grille is unmistakably Volkswagen, resembling that of the Tiguan compact SUV. The tailgate is also a VW design, with the main element being the VW logo placed dead center.
Routan was launched as a 2009 model.
Routan S models have manual sliding doors on both sides while Routan SE and higher line models have power sliding doors. The top-line Routan SEL Premium has a power rear liftgate. On no model does the rear glass open separately.
Routan S comes with 16-inch steel wheels; 17-inch alloy wheels are standard on SE and SEL.
The Routan's greatest advantage over the Town & Country is the quality of the Volkswagen interior materials. The Routan takes advantage of most of the T&C's thoughtful entertainment features, but lacks the innovative seating options that give the Chrysler an advantage in the minivan class. The Routan seats are comfortable, however. Folding the third row and removing the second row turns the Routan into a capacious cargo van.
Where hard plastic dominates the dash and doors of the Town & Country, the Volkswagen Routan has nicely padded door armrests and a quality soft-touch upper dash. It's not all luxury level, though. The lower dash is hard plastic and the trim piece that bisects the dash is thin plastic. The white-faced gauges with black numbers are sourced from Chrysler. Surrounded by a faux aluminum trim piece, they are not that easy to read in bright sunlight.
The radio is set high on the center of the dash, and VW offers a version of Chrysler's UConnect Tunes and UConnect GPS hard-drive radios called JoyBox. JoyBox is also offered in two versions, one with a navigation system and one without. Both include a touchscreen, both come with one year of Sirius satellite radio, and both have a 30-gigabyte hard drive that holds music and picture files. Those files can be ripped from a CD or downloaded from a thumb drive plugged into the vehicle's USB outlet. When the navigation system is ordered, the hard drive also holds navigation map information. The navigation system has voice activation. An optional Garmin navigation system is available for the Routan SE.
Routan's controls are easy to use, though those on the right of the radio or touchscreen can be a bit of a reach for the driver. The climate controls are located below the radio, and they're self explanatory. The gearshift is mounted between the radio and the instrument panel. It's easy to reach, leaves plenty of room for other controls, and includes an electronic gear readout in the instrument cluster.
Room up front is plentiful. There is plenty of head room, and leg room will only be lacking for the tallest drivers. The front captain's chairs provide an upright driving position with an SUV-like view of the road. A tilt steering wheel and available adjustable pedals should help most drivers tailor a comfortable seating position, but some might prefer a telescoping steering wheel to bring the wheel closer to the driver.
When it comes to storage, the Routan has two glove boxes and some cubbies in the center stack for small items storage. A total of 13 cupholders are found throughout the Routan SEL. The standard console has four integrated cupholders and a small storage bin. The Routan SEL's premium center console has four cupholders and a small bin on top that slides back to reveal a larger storage bin below it. The lower bin also slides back. With both layers slid back, the top level moves back a total of 21 inches, which allows parents up front to pass drinks and sandwiches to the kids in back. The premium console is also removable to allow easy access to the back seats.
In the far back, the Volkswagen Routan has a deep well behind the third row, which makes hauling groceries easier. Even with all seats up, the Routan has 32.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row. The third-row seat is split 60/40. It folds into that well in one or two sections. Three straps are attached to the back of each seat and they're marked 1, 2, 3. To fold the seats into the floor, first pull strap 1, then pull strap 2. You have to give strap 2 a good yank and help the seat along with your other hand. It can require leverage that some moms might not have. Strap 3 pulls the seats back up. A better option is the power folding third row seat, which can be set to four positions, including what VW calls the tailgating position. In this position, the seatbacks act as seat bottoms and the bottoms act as backs facing the rear of the van.
The second row a pair of captain's chairs that recline. The backs can fold flat on top of the bottoms for loading flat cargoes on top of the seats. Or the second-row seats can be removed, though they're heavy and you need somewhere to store them. With the second-row seats removed and the third-row seats folded, the Routan has a flat load floor, 144.0 cubic feet of cargo volume, and enough space to fit a 4×8-foot sheet of plywood.
A DVD rear-seat entertainment system is available with nine-inch video screens in the second row and third row. When the vehicle is in Park, video can be sent to the front navigation screen, allowing front-seat passengers to watch movies. Video game systems can be plugged in, and each row can watch or play something different. Four sets of headphones are provided.
All 2011 Volkswagen Routan models are powered by a new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The 3.6-liter V6 is provides 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg City/Highway.
Volkswagen retuned the Chrysler suspension to make the Routan more like a Volkswagen. Changes to the springs, dampers, bushings and steering gear resulted. However, without any changes to the suspension geometry, the Volkswagen Routan still handles and rides much like the Chrysler Town & Country. Volkswagen touts the Routan's European ride and handling, but we sensed little difference between the Routan and the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan.
Like the Town & Country, the Routan is tall, heavy and long. Those traits make describe a good hauler but they make for cumbersome handling. With a bit quicker steering ratio over that of the Chrysler, the Routan reacts a little quicker to driver inputs. Still, the steering is very light and has lots of play on center. Drive it hard into a turn and it exhibits lots of body roll, leaning in turns. Pushed beyond the grip of the tires, it understeers. In other words, it prefers to keep going straight rather turning in quickly. Granted, most owners will never drive this aggressively, but the Honda, Toyota, and Nissan vans offer tighter, more responsive handling.
What most people want is a smooth ride, and here the Routan delivers. Most bumps are handled without transmitting a jolt to passengers. Sharp ruts can crash through, though. While the Routan does have some of the Town & Country's floaty feel on the highway, it doesn't seem to sway as much and feels slightly better buttoned down. On the whole, the Routan isn't as luxurious as the Toyota Sienna and it isn't as carlike or a as sporty as the Honda Odyssey or Nissan Quest. Tire and wind noise are well controlled in the Routan.
The Volkswagen Routan is a family friendly minivan with a high quality interior. The 2011 Routan gets a new 3.6-liter V6 that produces more power yet maintains fuel economy. Routan rides smoothly, but handling is not as good as that of its competitors. Routan comes with Volkswagen's three-year or 36,000-mile free-maintenance plan.
Kirk Bell filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Chicago, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.