2010 Volkswagen Routan Execline Road Test Review

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So, before you ask: no, Volkswagen's minivan isn't a Microbus. It doesn't look like a Microbus, and it doesn't have the same attitude. And I don't know why that's the case. Yes, I know it would have been awesome if VW had recreated the Microbus.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let me introduce you to the Volkswagen Routan. It's not the sort of van that Volkswagen is known for, but it's got plenty going for it nonetheless. Rather than designing its own van from the ground up, Volkswagen teamed up with the avowed minivan experts of the industry at Chrysler. Since it's arguable whether Chrysler or Volkswagen invented the minivan, with the early-eighties Dodge Caravan or late-fifties Microbus, respectively, it seems only fitting that these two companies would join forces. The Routan is based directly on the Chrysler Town & Country.

At a glance, this isn't obvious. Volkswagen has done a good job of giving the Routan a complete exterior makeover. This seven-passenger van shares the VW lineup's smooth, uncluttered lines and a handsome grille whose contour lines dip into the front bumper.  The headlights are a combination of round and angled elements, like those of the Passat, and high-intensity discharge headlamps are available.  At the rear, gently curving taillights flank a large rear hatch, the better for swallowing cargo.

The Passat seems to have donated its instrument panel as well; Volkswagen drivers will find a familiar layout and materials when sitting in the front seats.  Moving back in the Routan, however, the illusion begins to unravel. The materials are nicer, but the layout is identical to that of the Chrysler Town & Country on which it's based. That's not a wholly bad thing, of course, as the Routan is available with dual power sliding doors, a 115-volt outlet for household electronics and a remote start, like the Chrysler. The sound system's head unit and the available touch-screen navigation system are lifted from Chrysler's parts bin, and though they don't quite fit ergonomically with the Volkswagen bits, they're easy enough to use. Ultrasonic rear parking assist is available, as is a JoyBox Multi-Media entertainment system with a 30GB hard drive and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with dual nine-inch video screens for second and third-row passengers. Chrysler's cool UConnect mobile wi-fi is also available on the Routan. The power-operated third-row seat folds into the floor or flips over for tailgating parties, but the Routan doesn't offer Chrysler's rotating Swivel n' Go seating (with the centre table like VW's old camperized bus) or the Stow n' Go seating system that allows the second row seats to be tumbled under the floor when more cargo room is needed; the VW's second-row captain chairs are more comfortable however. From the interior, the Routan feels more like a Chrysler than a Volkswagen, which may disappoint some VW fans.

The driving experience is also pure Chrysler, and that's almost guaranteed to be a letdown for dedicated Volkswagen people. Two V6 powerplants are offered; a 3.6-litre V6 that produces 197 horsepower and a 253 horse 4.0-litre V6.  The 4.0 is the more sophisticated of the two, and it's got enough power to adequately propel the 2,000+kilo (4,500-pound) Routan. Six-speed transmissions are standard with both engines, so fuel economy is decent, topping out at an EPA equivalent 9.4 L/100km on the highway; the Canadian rating system estimates 7.4 L/100km, while the city rating is 12.2 via the Canadian system or 13.8 by more realistic US EPA standards.

To sum it all up, you'll have to lose those expectations of a GTI-like driving experience. The Routan's suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam at the rear. Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is standard, as it is on all VW products, and anti-lock brakes are also standard. The Routan is a competent driver, but the underpinnings lack the Germanic touch of the rest of the VW lineup.

Routan pricing is in line with the rest of the Volkswagen lineup--that is to say, it starts out reasonably enough, and can be equipped up to top-line luxury levels. The base Routan Trendline starts at $28,075, and walks all the way up to a base price of $50,575 for the top of the line Execline. This model has no options, kitted out with a navigation system, sunroof, power-folding third row seat, remote start and the rear air suspension, making it a top-flight minivan. Is $50+k too much for a glorified Chrysler Town & Country? That depends on how important the VW badge on the grille is to you.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Minivan, Volkswagen, VW, 2010, Routan, $30,000 - $39,999, $40,000 - $49,999,

Organizations: Volkswagen

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