For the naysayers who think there couldn't possibly be any true Volkswagen DNA in the new Routan, well, you're mistaken. Granted, it's not the Microbus Concept we'd been dreaming of since 2001, but it's a step in the right direction. Think of the Routan as a new beginning, and if everything goes well it could demonstrate to the powers that be a Volkswagen van can be viable again. And who knows where else that could lead. Judging by the initial buzz, it might seem easy to dismiss the Routan as simply an American designed and engineered minivan with a VW logo. Not quite. Volkswagen designers and engineers analyzed, deconstructed and tested everything, and then put it all back together again. Ultimately, they transformed this seven-passenger minivan into something uniquely Volkswagen.
The underpinnings were sourced from Chrysler, the inventor of the modern day minivan and the industry leader in that segment. The major components from Chrysler include the standard six-speed automatic transmission mated to a standard 3.8-liter V6 with 197 hp and 230 lb-ft of torque, or an available 4.0-liter V6 with 253 hp and 262 lb-ft. Though parts were borrowed from Chrysler, Volkswagen still had to make sure the design and vehicle dynamics were unmistakably its own and worthy of the V-Dub logo. To accomplish this, they had to break the vehicle down to its most basic components. Designers reshaped the sheet metal, added the signature grille and various other exterior components. Since the interior is where the customers spend most of their time, it was also critical to enhance the Routan's interior with high quality materials with superior German fit and finish. VW even went as far as tuning the seat cushions to the match the van's sportier ride and handling characteristics.
The Routan benefits from Volkswagen's ongoing commitment to safety with standard features such as front and side curtain airbags and Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) with hydraulic brake assist. Additional safety benefits come from the German-tuned suspension and steering, both of which have been optimized for handling and improved stability. To give the vehicle a true European feel, VW engineers swapped the suspension bushings, shocks, springs, and steering gear. On the road, it gives a smooth yet firm ride, exuding confidence during cornering in a way that only a German vehicle could.
Like most premium minivans, the Routan features three rows of seating, dual power sliding doors, in-floor storage, a power folding third-row seat. Cupholders outnumber the amount of people that could legally fit in the car; I lost count after thirteen. To keep the kids entertained there's also an optional multimedia entertainment system available.
Why did VW decide to use Chrysler engines and drivetrain components? If you guessed managing cost, you're correct. Using Chrysler components allowed Volkswagen to keep the Routan's price point reasonable. Using American components may not be as diabolical as it sounds; we feel if there was a need to address any mechanical issues, Volkswagen would have addressed them. Extensive testing concluded the drivetrain components offered good performance and reliability. Having had the pleasure of driving the Routan in its natural habitat-a combination of freeway and around-town driving, as well as on the occasional winding back road-allowed me to get an good overall impression. The engine responded well, acceleration was decent, transmission operation was smooth, and the brakes worked as well as could be expected on a 4,800-pound passenger vehicle.
If circumstances forced me to drive a minivan, the only thing that would bother me about the Routan in the 10mm plug in the dash on the right side of the dash-mounted shifter. But with a sportier look and phenomenal handling, this is definitely not your parents' minivan. The Routan stays true to the brand, outdoes the expected, and stands out from the minivan crowd.