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Heels on Wheels: Minivan Comparison: VW ROUTAN vs DODGE GRAND CARAVAN


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyers Guide
SEE ALSO: Dodge Buyers Guide

HEELS ON WHEELS
By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

INTRO TO THE ROUTAN AND CARAVAN VEHICLES

One well-known minivan – the Dodge Grand Caravan – gets pitted against a relatively newcomer to the family driving market, the Volkswagen Routan. Will German engineering beat American-made machinery? Or will the Routan be revealed as a clone or “Mini-Me” to the Caravan?

I drove a 2010 VW Routan with a 197-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission. Available in S, SE, SEL and Premium trims; my SE test drive featured a healthy list of standards for a step above base including an 8-way adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, power-sliding rear doors, tri-zone manual climate control, removable second-row captain's chairs, the upgraded V-tex upholstery, Bluetooth and an upgraded audio system with a 6-CD changer. The addition of the RSE (rear seat entertainment) brought a DVD player, a power liftgate and satellite radio. Total vehicle price came to $33,500. There were no add-on packages to configure.

And I drove a 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan also with a 197-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission. Available in a base van, SE, Hero and SXT trims; my Hero test drive featured a trip computer, heated exterior mirrors, third-row power ventilated windows, 3-zone temperature control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifting knob and a 6-speaker audio system with SIRIUS satellite radio. Optional packages included a $1,495 Popular Equipment Group (remote start, power liftgate, passenger-side power sliding doors), a $1,875 Single Screen DVD Entertainment System (6.5-inch touch-screen display, 30GB hard drive for storing songs, backup camera) and a $220 special sliding front console with cup holders. Total vehicle price came to $29,490.

Don’t let the Routan’s slightly different looks fool you: If you haven’t figured it out yet based on engine stats, the minivan is essentially a rebadged of the Caravan. Both feature the second and third-row Stow ‘n Go seating system, and identical safety features and results.

HEELS ON WHEELS REVIEW CRITERIA

Stylish But Comfortable Results: Two major interior differences were apparent: The Routan had a nicer or “leatherette” seating material and a navigation system, whereas the Caravan had cloth seating material and no navigation. The dash build inside the Routan is a little larger or expansive, which give a sense of more frontal space. Both vehicles have the standard Stow 'n Go setup, which consists of a pair of second-row captain's chairs that disappear into the floor along with the third-row bench for a flat floor featuring 140 cubic feet of cargo room. Unfortunately, Stow 'n Go seatbacks aren't as comfortable as larger seats.

Reliability & Safety Factor: Safety features are the same – but I find it odd the Caravan charges for anti-lock brakes (ABS) in their Power Equipment Group. Powertrain and basic warranties are the same. Both feature “Good” rating for frontal and side impact crash tests with the IIHS. But the only minivan on the 2010 IIHS Top Safety Pick is the Toyota Sienna.

Cost Issues: Base price for the Routan starts at $ while base price for the Grand Caravan begins at $21,800. Look into current Dodge incentives. The most surprising thing about the Routan is how affordable VW allowed this minivan to be.

Activity & Performance Ability: The driving experiences of the V6 engines are identical – swift, responsive and quiet. The difference is in the seating. Do you want to sit up high, like a bus driver? Choose the Caravan. The Routan’s driver seat tends to cradle the body more. It has been slighted repeatedly by critics both vehicles cannot compare to the performance of the Honda Odyssey in regards to handling refinement.

The Green Concern: Both vehicles retain 16-city/23-highway driving mpg for an average of 18 mpg – to be expected with a V6 engine. The smaller 4-cylinder found inside the Toyota Sienna can get you 19-city/24-highway driving mpg for about a 2-mpg improvement.

FINAL PARTING WORDS

The Grand Caravan feels a little bland next to the VW Routan’s special German genes that make an un-cool car like a minivan into something sleek and desirable. Furthermore, consumers should not have to pay extra for some of the Caravan’s optional features like a power liftgate, remote start and special cup holders; I also l appreciated how the Routan doesn’t offer such traditional packages but just well-equipped trims. And prices are the same when you consider my Routan test drive was equipped with a touch-screen navigation system and the Caravan test drive was not.

©2010 Katrina Ramser