As I was test-driving the 2010 Volkswagen Routan I couldn't help but think I'd driven this minivan before, and I had. The Routan is Volkswagen's version of the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan.
I was hoping for some extreme styling that would set this minivan apart from its Chrysler sisters. With the Routan, it's mostly the badges that make it a VW; otherwise, it's pretty standard minivan fare. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The Routan got me where I needed to go with no hassles, no arguing from the kids, and, of course, no door dings.
The Routan isn't going to win any races, but its V-6 engine had enough power for merging onto the highway. VW says the Routan has a "Euro-tuned suspension," which is supposed to feel sportier than its American minivan counterparts. I don't know if I'd go as far to call it sporty, but it did handle curves well.
That brings me to the meat of it. The Routan starts at $25,900, and my test minivan, an SE, cost $34,300. My test car had a navigation system, a rear entertainment system, power doors and liftgate; and a backup camera. That's quite a bit of vehicle. The leatherette seating surface, heated front seats and a variety of options price this vehicle a bit higher than the Grand Caravan and Town & Country.
The Routan's front end definitely looks like a Volkswagen. It has a sloping grille, and the Routan's headlights look more aggressive than the Town & Country's. This gives it a contemporary look. Many of my neighbors and friends commented that it looked sporty.
The Routan offers lots of utility. My test car had power-sliding doors, which were a hit with the kids and made it easy for them to get in and out of the minivan. I appreciated the keyfob, which enabled me to open either side's power-sliding door as well as the power liftgate. These features are a must on a minivan, and the Routan didn't let me down.
The available power liftgate is always appreciated when you have an armful of shopping bags. The deep well behind the third row makes it possible to load up this minivan with people and their stuff, which is a phenomenon that's rarely possible in three-row crossovers.
The Routan SE has a 197-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 engine that has enough power to move it alone. If you want more power under the hood, a 251-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 is available. The smaller V-6 gets an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg city/highway and runs on regular gas.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times (for the kids)
The interior is the epitome of dual citizenship. The boxy theme of the Chrysler brands has been toned down but not eliminated; however, a couple of items remind me I'm driving a vehicle with a different accent. It's hard to miss the VW badge on the steering wheel, and the sharp-looking steering wheel is definitely from the German automaker. The center stack and instrument cluster are easy to read and clearly part of Volkswagen genes.
Also part of the German parentage is comfortable captain's chairs in the second row. These seats are not Chrysler's Stow 'n Go or Swivel 'n Go, and they don't slide forward and back. I almost thought they were just 'n Go, but then I discovered that they fully recline. Additionally, they're removable and fold flat like a sandwich, but not flat into the floor. On the plus side, the seats are more comfortable than the Stow 'n Go variety.
The floor beneath the second row has awesome storage bins where you can stash all of your kids' gear. However, the second row only has bottleholders in the door and cupholders at the back of the front row's center console. This isn't a good placement for kids because they won't be able to reach their drinks when they're buckled in. However, the front row has four cupholders within easy reach of the driver.
The third-row bench in my test Routan didn't have the power-folding feature, which meant I needed to flex some muscle to get the seats to fold into the floor. I had to tug on straps in the back of the third row to get the seats to collapse, and it wasn't easy. Leverage was key. Shorter people should be sure to try folding the third row before buying this minivan.
The available rear entertainment system ($2,000) was enough to make us forget about the cupholder problems. My kids didn't want to leave the minivan until they'd finished watching their movie, and it was hard for me to say no because they could watch it with their wireless headphones on while I listened to my new CD (yes, I still buy those) without interruption. Bliss. The Routan actually had two fold-down screens for the second and third rows, so we could decide who watched what where. The rear entertainment system was a little confusing at first, but it only took a little time to figure it out.
The seven-seater's storage was ample and flexible. However, the only thing I really missed in the Routan is the super-fancy center console I had in the Town & Country. The console had a sliding top that sent the cupholders back to the second row, making it easier for the kids to reach them.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
The Routan has three sets of easy-to-access Latch anchors, with two sets in the second row and the third in the third row. Booster seats and forward-facing convertible seats fit great in the reclining seats in the second row. However, a rear-facing convertible and infant-safety seat could have fit problems because the second row doesn't slide forward and back.
All the seatbelts are easy to use, but you need to work with the third-row seat belts to get them to fit flush against your child's shoulder. You might need to employ the little seat belt clip that comes with your child's booster seat, which older kids will likely protest if they haven't been using that for a while.
The Routan has standard antilock brakes with brake assist, stability control, traction control, front-impact airbags and side curtain airbags for all three rows.
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