By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 7.3
The early VW bus is iconic in the truest sense of the word, and while later VW people-movers – the Vanagon and Eurovan – may have lacked the Microbus' intrinsic charm, they compensated with distinctive personalities and a surplus of utility. Today's Routan, built atop a donor platform provided by Chrysler, omits personality completely and brings to the table a people-carrier with virtually no versatility beyond carrying people. Lacking any provision for camping, and certainly no capability (like the Vanagon Syncro) for adventure touring, the Routan falls relatively flat in the automotive catalog – and certainly has failed to connect in the VW showroom. That said, Volkswagen's marketers have attempted to imbue the Caravan-based hauler with a semblance of Autobahn, interior updates provided by VW are tasteful in a nondenominational way, and the new 3.6-liter V6 is both more responsive and efficient than the powerplants which preceded it.
Chrysler's family of minivans has attracted a huge block of fans over the years. For those seeking typical minivan attributes but desire a platform more responsive than is typical, VW's modifications to the Chrysler platform may be just the ticket.
If you're looking for a van to chill out (or just hang out) in a 1960s kinda' feel-good way, this isn't your cup of green tea. The Routan is no better or worse than other badge-engineered devices (Mercury, anyone?), but that's rarely a reason for investing upward of $30K.
With extensive updates provided to the Routan for 2011, this is a year of additional features and equipment. The 2012 VW Routan SEL with Navigation adds keyless access with push-button start, along with rain-sensing wipers. The top-of-the-line SEL Premium now features both Blind Spot Monitoring and Cross Path Detection. With the soccer team making da' noise, both could prove invaluable.
Driving Impressions To its credit, Volkswagen worked diligently to provide the Chrysler van platform with some semblance of what back in the day it used to call "Fahrvergnugen" ("It's what makes a...car a Volkswagen"). But even after putting lipstick on a pig, it typically remains a pig. With that as the caveat, the Routan comports itself on the road in a manner no 1967 Microbus ever dreamed of doing. And the later Vanagons and Eurovans weren't exactly Porsches in corners or over the open road. A suspension menu comprising firmer springs, shocks and bushings gives the Routan a distinct edge when compared to its Chrysler siblings, while the 3.6-liter, Chrysler-sourced V6 is one of the very best powerplants attached to any minivan architecture.
3.6 Liter DOHC V6
This is the powerplant that is singularly transforming Chrysler's lineup of Dodges, Chryslers and Jeeps, and what it does for Chrysler's own divisions it does for VW's offshoot. Its 283 horsepower and 6-speed transmission do a commendable job of moving the minivan's mass, while delivering economy on the order of 17 mpg city/25 highway. Within the context of the minivan segment in 2012, the Routan powertrain is among the best in the marketplace.
With its base S model boasting a starting price of just $28,000, this is family transportation a great many families can afford. And unlike SUVs, the Routan benefits from a low center of gravity for better handling, a generous greenhouse for better outward vision, and real-world fuel economy of 20-plus mpg. More consumers should take the bait.
The key to any minivan's success in the marketplace is its management of space, and few do it better than Chrysler; they have, for all intents and purposes, been doing this particular act the longest. There is but one seating layout, with room for seven; two front seats for driver and front passenger, two Captain's chairs for middle-row passengers, and a third row, 3-across bench. A touch point unique to the Routan is a VW-style steering wheel, and perforated leatherette is reminiscent of certain entry-level Mercedes-Benz models. The third-row bench can be folded flush into the floor but, notably, Chrysler's Stow-'n-Go middle-row seating is not offered on the Routan.
Volkswagen claims the Routan is "instantly recognizable as a member of the VW family." We'd agree, if Volkswagen, rather than Fiat, had become heavily invested in the fortunes of Chrysler. Despite a number of styling tweaks unique to the VW spinoff, this remains – from the front, sides and rear – a product of Chrysler's styling studios and stamping plants; don't let anyone tell you otherwise. With seven distinct trim levels, the Routan is offered in a range of seven colors.
With the drivetrain coming in one size (3.6-liter DOHC V6 connected to a 6-speed automatic), the balance of the Routan's features are determined by trim level. But all Routans are well-equipped, beginning with the S model's comprehensive list of standard features. A 3-zone climate control system, second-row Captain's chairs, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, power windows with 1-touch up/down for both first and second rows, CD/MPE player with 6-speaker sound system and user-selectable fuel optimization are just some of the features offered on the base, under-$28K Routan. In contrast, at the top of the Routan ladder is the SEL Premium, which at roughly $45K includes Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path Detection, Nut Burl trim, 115V power outlet, 8-way power driver seat with memory and 8-way power passenger seat, 9-speaker 560-watt sound system and 17-inch Soho alloys.
Most options are purchased via trim level. The first step – and some $5,000 – above base is SE, and that delivers several options appropriate to active lifestyles, including a roof rack, 8-way power driver seat with lumbar, Bluetooth connectivity, adjustable pedals and DVD/MP3 capability. For those traveling with families, the SE with RES provides rear-seat entertainment, a power liftgate and rearview camera system, and lists for just under $35,000.
Historically, Chrysler had a powertrain for almost every trim level, a range of choices making for both confusion on the showroom and a production/distribution headache at Chrysler. With the introduction of the 3.6-liter V6, that messy production and selection process is behind them. The new 3.6 is fully competitive with anything offered by the volume (Toyota and Honda) minivan makers.
283 horsepower @ 6,350 rpm
260 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/25
In today's marketplace it's a war, so do your research before committing to a negotiated figure. Helping that, of course, is kbb.com's Fair Purchase Option, giving you a clear, concise idea of what consumers are paying for specific models in your immediate market area. At a base price of around $28,000, the S is competitive with the entry-level van from Kia, while mid-level SE and SEL have mid-level Toyota Siennas and Honda Odysseys in their sights. Finally, VW's Routan SEL Premium is analogous to top-of-the-line Hondas and Toyotas, with a retail of roughly $45K. Routan resale will depend in large part on the size of the incentives Volkswagen throws its way. With few visible means of marketing a low-volume niche entry, those marketing dollars are often given to incentives, and those vehicles discounted aggressively on the showroom typically suffer at trade-in.
By croutonowner (NY) on Tuesday, November 12, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 43,000overall rating 6 of 10rating details
Pros: "Lots of great features for passengers"
Cons: "Bad brakes, uses oil, bad service at dealership"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 2
"We were very pleased with the 2010 Routan when we first got it as it was $10,000 off the sticker price brand new from the dealership. That should have been our first warning! The car holds a lot and has lots of great features, but that is where the "pros" end. The car is very comfortable for everyone except the driver. We have taken it on many long road trips and I always feel like I have to fight with it. It drives more like a truck than a car. I loved my Sienna and this is definitely on the opposite side of the comfort spectrum. I guess some people may like this, but I feel it lends to driver fatigue. It is the only car I have ever driven where my foot actually falls asleep while driving! The car is very heavy, but does not do well in the snow of Western New York. I have gotten stuck a few times and needed to be pushed just to get up a small incline or hill. Not good for a family of skiers! Hoping that a better set of tires will help with that this year. Also, the transmission does seem to drop while accelerating. We have had the brakes fixed 3 times within 40K miles averaging about once a year since we have owned it. When the brakes go, they burn up smoking and getting incredibly hot! It is now beginning to use oil as well. I have had to add at least 2 quarts just to get to the next oil change. I was told this was "normal" usage. Never before have I had to use this much oil! It seems it was easier for VW to just stop making this vehicle than fix it!"
By jj (WI) on Friday, September 27, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 35,500overall rating 1 of 10rating details
Cons: "Everything -pricy,bad sevice,bad brakes,bad doors"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"I bought my van new $37000 in '09 I have had MANY problems to many to list. The main 2 are first the rear brake the caliper frame was faulty causing rotor and pad to be shot that was '11 and even though they knew frame was faulty was not replaced now '13 it wore out my brake and rotor again and now there saying it was from the caliper bracket so they wont do anything about it. (its the same part)but HAHA my warranty is over I think thats what they were waiting for so they could get more money. Second my side door on passenger side wasn't working properly and there was a recall but they only did that side and now my other side is acting up and they say well the recall is outdated so they probably wont cover it. DO NOT BUY A VW OF ANY MODEL YOU WILL WISH YOU DIDNT."
2 people out of 2 found this review helpful
By Ohara (CO) on Friday, August 30, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 63,000overall rating 4 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great use of space. Quiet on good roads."
Cons: "A mix of Chrysler and VW? Not the best grounds...."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 3
"I always consider the reliability if a vehicle by how much time it spends at a dealership in a twelve month period. More importantly, how good a service department is at resolving issues. Firstly, brakes on this vehicle were truly not engineered well. Just view the extensive complaints about warped rotors? I normally put these comments down to bad driving habits, but not in this case. My vehicle has never been driven with more than three people in, never loaded and still I've replaced three sets of front rotors within 30k miles. Half a dozen repair attempts at fixing the side rattling doors, never resolved. Chrsyler modded their vans while VW never did the same. Noisy transmission, that bumps and drops between gears, something that a VW tech considers normal. Numerous failed window motors, buttons and regulators. Poor city MPG. Rust appearing on upper internal areas of door. Vehicle has spent 10 weeks at dealer within the last 60... I'd truly be surprised, if this vehicle makes it to a 100k, without a major issue! Such a shame, considering my previous Odessey clocked up 180k before any real concerns."
3 people out of 4 found this review helpful
By Tvelesky (TX) on Saturday, August 10, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 68,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "can fit tons of stuff in it"
Cons: "middle seats not on tracks and cost"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"We bought our Routan used and we still love it. It accommodates all 4 of children and is wonderful during 14 hour road trips. If I had to pick one flaw that we work around is that the middle seats aren't adjustable (on tracks) as far as for leg room. Other than that it gets great gas mileage and its a living room on wheels. Tons of room! awesome car just wish it was a little cheaper."
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful
By KH (KS) on Tuesday, July 23, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 44,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Like the stow-and-go feature."
Cons: "Wished gas mileage was a little better (who wdnt)"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"We recently bought a 2009 Routan. Shortly after we bought it we drove it out to the Grand Canyon (2800+ mile round trip). After driving it around before our vacation trip I was a little concerned about how the 3.8L engine would do in the mountains, but I was pleasantly pleased with the performance. The downside of the performance was that when the cruise was on the mph would go down 5-10 before the transmission would shift to compensate for the elevation gain. The ride is a little stiffer than our old van (Chrysler T&C), but not too bad. Overall, I am happy with our purchase."
1 person out of 2 found this review helpful
By mac_addict32 (CA) on Friday, May 24, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 52,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "fun to drive, great features w/o the price,"
Cons: "towing capacity"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"We have loved this van. As a man who drives it a lot, I love how it handles more like a semi-sports car than a loose town-car. I've heard some people say it's not as smooth riding but I don't know what they're talking about. It's got very responsive steering and an engine to back it up. We've made several long road trips in it and it travels well. We put about 20k miles a year on our vehicles and it has stood up to the wear and tear. In the VW, you get many of the "upgrades" but without the premium price. I personally like the sporty changes that VW put on the van. The spoiler, different nose, and interior designs are great. All the seats are VERY comfortable. The leather has been extremely durable and I would highly recommend it. There's also a lot of great extra storage space in the floor due to the design from Chrysler but without the stow-and-go seats. We have one with a dual entertainment system and wireless headphones. Our kids love it. If we wanted to, our kids can be watching 2 different movies on the headphones and we can listen to iPod or something up front on a long trip. It also has an AUX input by the rear row that you can plug a game console or iPod into and feed into speakers and/or video screen(s). The touchscreen entertainment system has been great. We love the built in hard drive for loading CD's onto it. We did have an issue with an engine valve spring but it was covered under the warranty. The VW dealership has a technician who is specially trained to work on the Routan. I did wish that it had a bit more towing capacity but even the other vans can't tow that much. One other thing, if you want to use the LATCH in the 3rd row, it will fit 2 car seats and not leave any room left for a third person. We've gone ahead and just used the seat belts and it hasn't been a problem. I would recommend this to anyone in a heartbeat."
4 people out of 4 found this review helpful