By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 11/9/2011
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.
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.