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2009 Volkswagen Routan SE Minivan Review

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SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Specs, Prices and Comparisons - Volkswagen Buyers Guide

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Volkswagen announced a few years ago a particularly ambitious plan to become one of the major players in the US market, that is, to sell 800,000 units by 2018. At that time VW was more of a niche marketer with mostly great performing small sedans focused on a dedicated bunch of VW aficionados. VW even tried a large, expensive performance sedan, called Phaeton, that failed miserably. Now they’re focused on mass market segments – including the minivan.

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And that’s what we have this week – a VW Routan minivan. As one of those VW lovers of the past I’m mighty disappointed that VW didn’t do something more like the VW Microbus Concept from the 2001 Detroit auto show. It had all the styling queues of the old, incompetent, but loveable, VW vans of old with a wonderful retro chic appearance and updated technology. It looked like it might reach production.

But, alas, it didn’t happen. Rather, VW decided to hire Chrysler to make a version of their minivan instead. This one has some VW styling queues and modestly European ride and handling, but it has the proportions and ambiance of a Dodge Caravan or Chrysler Town and Country. And that’s what it is, a Chrysler minivan with VW badges and trim.

It’s certainly an entirely competent, useful and OK-looking vehicle as are the Chrysler donor vehicles. But, it’s not as special as I was hoping a VW would be.

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Our test vehicle has a nondescript fabric interior with soft seats. The bolsters look substantial but they just squish out of the way as we slide into the seats. The dash has a conservatively attractive VW style and the shifter for the standard 6-speed automatic transmission juts out of the dash between the center stack and the gauge cluster. It’s a bit of an awkward reach and it has a rather tawdry tactile character, but it was easy to get used to. There are no fewer than 8 – count ‘em 8 – cup holding options for the two front seat occupants – four in the center console, one in each door (for water bottles) and a hidden two-banger in the lower stack. Two-fisted drinkers in the second and third row seats have plenty of receptacles for their libations as well.

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Nooks and crannies are rife with useful storage options. The second row seats do not fold into the floor like the Chrysler Stow-And-Go system but deep storage caverns hide under the floor there. The second row releases fairly easily for removal. The third row folds nicely flat into the rear floor. Cargo capacity would support a delivery business with 32.7 cubic-feet back of the rear seat and 83 cubic-feet with third seat folded. With second row removed and third folded an astounding 140.6 cubic-feet opens up.

Performance is just about the same as the Chrysler products with the same engine and transmission offerings. This one has the 197-horsepower V6 that makes a good 230 pound-feet of torque. For just a few mpg and a couple of bucks more you can have a 4.0-liter unit that makes 251 horsepower and 259 pound-feet. I found our smaller engine entirely up to the task of getting us around expeditiously. I didn’t have it loaded up with teenagers and hitched to a trailer full of their sports gear though. The Routan can pull 2,000 pounds (3,000 pounds with the towing package). All models come with a competent, smooth 6-speed automatic transmission.

EPA estimates fuel mileage to be 16-mpg in the city and 23 on the highway. That’s with the 3.8-liter engine. We managed 20.1-mpg this week in a variety of driving environments. The 20.5-gallon fuel tanks gives us a good 400-mile range in most circumstances.

Routan comes in three trim levels beginning with the S model starting at $25,200. Then the SE version, like our tester, begins at $29,700 and the top-of-the-line SEL begns at $33,600. You’ll find that each of the trim levels is well-equipped with all the common safety and convenience features you would expect. The Routan is priced just about midway between the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan, model-for-model. Our SE test car has just one package that includes power sunroof, power adjustable pedals, towing preparation, roof rails and adjustable rear suspension for just about 2-grand. With the $690 destination charge ours stickers out at $32,275.

Warranty coverage is the standard VW 3-year/36,000-mile deal with 5-year/50,000-mile coverage on the powertrain.