By KBB.com Editors
Although cost issues kept the slick Microbus concept it showed at the 2001 Geneva Auto Show from ever seeing production, VW has finally made its move to join the minivan market with the 2009 Routan. Available in S, SE and SEL trim levels, this seven-passenger, front-drive family hauler was derived from the latest version of Chrysler's best-selling people mover, which itself was completely redesigned for 2008. While the Routan shares most of its key mechanical and electrical architecture with the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan, it boasts unique styling treatments, inside and out. Despite continuing volume pressure on this market segment, Volkswagen hopes the Routan's distinctive VW appearance cues, appealing features, Euro-tuned suspension and attractive pricing will help it grab up to 40,000 buyers in its debut season.You'll Like This Car If...
Buyers who love the formidable benefits a minivan offers when it comes to true utility and ease of operation but want something with a more sophisticated look and driving character will find plenty to admire in the new 2009 Volkswagen Routan.You May Not Like This Car If...
If your minivan taste runs to a softer-riding package and you want kid-oriented Swivel 'n Go seating or hideaway Stow 'n Go second-row seats, stick to the 2009 Volkswagen Routan's Chrysler cousins. If having a state-of-the art, big-screen navigation system is important, consider a Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest or Toyota Sienna.What's Significant About This Car?
Although tardy to the minivan scene, the new Routan does give Volkswagen a vehicle with first-rate mechanical credentials, distinctive visual character and the kind of comfort and convenience elements that should help boost its overall appeal to anyone who is considering a minivan purchase.Driving It Driving Impressions
One of VW's primary goals with the Routan program was to impart a distinctly European feel to its ride and handling. Stiffer springs, tauter shock-absorber settings and revised valving in the power steering system do exactly that, creating a package that's firmer than the average minivan while remaining comfortable as a long-range cruiser. Body roll is nicely curtailed in corners and the steering feels positive without being twitchy. It's not quite enthusiast-grade, but it is a welcome compromise that's ably assisted by the standard Electronic Stabilization Program with traction control and vented-front and solid-rear anti-lock disc brakes. With a curb weight around 4,500 pounds, the Routan is a good deal more energetic with the 4.0-liter 253-horsepower engine in the SEL than with the smaller 197-horsepower 3.8 V-6 in the S and SE. The dash-mounted shift lever takes a bit of getting used to, but its positioning does allow easy Sport-mode gear changes.Favorite Features
Impressively Contoured Seats
While somewhat firmer than their Chrysler counterparts, Volkswagen upgraded both the first- and second-row individual seats in the Routan, adding more aggressive and supportive bolstering to complement the vehicle's sportier suspension tuning.
Carefree Maintenance Program
The Routan comes with VW's all-encompassing Carefree Maintenance program that complements the normal three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty with zero-cost coverage for all basic routine servicing performed during that same time period.
VW established a signature look for the Routan's spacious cabin, retaining the Chrysler gauges, primary electrical components, supplemental switchgear, heating and ventilation elements and the various cupholders, bins and under-floor storage areas, but recasting everything else – from the dash to the door panels to the carpet – in a more upscale manner. That enhanced character plays best in the leather-lined SEL, but even the cloth-covered S and SL trims boast a bounty of soft-touch surfaces and neat center consoles, plus more supportive first-row seats and better-bolstered, adult-scaled foldable and removable second-row Captain's Chairs (or a two-place bench in the S). Row three is best for kids, but it does flip over for "tailgating" duties and can be folded flat into the floor.Exterior
Volkswagen's decision to endow the Routan with a unique exterior pays handsome dividends. In order to create its own sense of corporate visual character, VW kept only the side door panels, glass and windshield from the Chrysler minivan donor platform. Up front, the Routan's prominent grille, air intakes and aero headlamps impart an arguably more sophisticated flavor with recognizable VW flair. The rear-end treatment, while less distinctive, brings smoother, rounder overall contouring and features a Routan-specific hatch design. At the S trim level, the Routan has 225/65R16 all-season Yokohama tires on steel wheels, while the SE and SEL have standard 17-inch alloy rims with 225/65 Bridgestone tires.Notable Standard Equipment
Beyond V6 engines, a six-speed automatic transmission and seats for seven, all Routans feature an impressive array of standard equipment, including power windows, locks and mirrors, keyless remote entry and cruise control. Front seats on the S trim level are manually operated, the S has a power driver's seat and both front seats are power-operated with the SEL Premium. The upper trim levels also have dual-power sliding doors, second-row Captain's Chairs, steering-wheel audio and cruise control buttons and a six-disc CD/DVD player with an enhanced AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system. The air conditioning is single-zone with manual control on the S, tri-zone on the SE and automatic climate control on the leather-trimmed SEL, which also gets power-adjustable pedals, a power rear liftgate and heated front- and second-row seats. All models include stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes and front and side-curtain airbags.Notable Optional Equipment
Major Routan optional extras include a Tow Package (which increases trailering capacity from 2,000 to 3,500 pounds) and a Rear Seat Entertainment Package (which includes Bluetooth, SIRIUS satellite radio and a single video screen on the S model, with dual wide screens on the SE and SEL). The SE also offers a Climate Package (with heated front seats and remote start) and the step-up SEL Premium "option package" adds a power sunroof, HID headlamps and foglamps, upgraded audio and a power-folding rear seat. The SEL and SEL Premium each offer a touch-screen Navigation Package (with 30 GB JoyBox music hard drive, USB port and backup remote camera) while opting for the Premium also allows buyers to add a nine-speaker, 506-watt audio upgrade.Under the Hood
All 2009 Volkswagen Routans are fitted with one of two different Chrysler V6 engines. Both run on regular unleaded gasoline and are backed by a six-speed automatic transmission with manual Sportshift mode. The 3.8-liter overhead-valve V6 in the Routan S and SE makes 197 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque while the more sophisticated single-overhead-cam 4.0-liter in the SEL cranks out a robust 251 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. Surprisingly, the bigger six also earns better EPA fuel economy ratings, with 17 mpg city and 25 mph highway marks compared to the 3.8-liter's 16-mpg city/23-mpg highway numbers. Not so surprisingly, that extra muscle also helps trim the SEL's factory-estimated zero-to-60-mph acceleration time from 10.2 to 8.9 seconds.
197 horsepower @ 5200 rpm
230 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/23
251 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
259 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4100 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/25
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) on the 2009 Volkswagen Routan starts at about $25,000 for the S, $30,000 for the SE and just under $34,000 for the SEL. Those base numbers put it in the middle of the current minivan pack: Relatively steeper than the Hyundai Entourage and Kia Sedona but modestly below the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna – as well as comparably-equipped versions of its mechanical kin, the top-selling Chrysler Town & Country. While major option package upgrades can increase those figures – a fully-loaded SEL Premium will approach $42,000 – they are at least partially offset by the fact that all scheduled maintenance is free during the vehicle's basic warranty period. The current state of the minivan market does make figuring residuals a bit tricky but, overall, Volkswagen products have tended to do a slightly above-average job of holding value over time and we suspect the Routan to follow suit.