By on February 6, 2008

52125385_6d79e82558.jpgBack in the 90's, VW tried to compete against Chrysler’s minivans. Compared to Chrysler's mommy-mobiles, the Eurovan was too big, too expensive and too slow. In 2003, VW gave up. Five years later, VW reckons if you can't fight 'em, join 'em. The "Route-Ann" (at least officially) is little more than a reskin of Chrysler’s latest minivan. VW buyers get the same lackluster and inefficient Chrysler engines (4.0-liter and 3.8-liter V6s), same mechanically suspect Chrysler transmissions and same not-so-fantastic Plastech plastic. The Routan's interior seems to feature a Passatish theme blended with Chrysler build quality (frightening isn’t it?). The VW folks didn’t even spring for a new tiller or ICE. The lowlights don’t stop there. For the time being, Routan intenders are denied access to Chrysler's fancy seat options and back seat satellite TV. How in the world VW could sell this cynical rebadge instead of their universally praised Microbus concept shown seven years ago at the Detroit Auto Show is a mystery as deep as the decision to keep the ill-fated Phaeton on life support. VW: Lost.

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33 Comments on “There’s Something Routan in the State of Lower Saxony...”


  • avatar
    dwford

    One word: wow

  • avatar

    At least it looks twice as good as the T&C or GC. I can see why Chrysler wouldn’t want to give VW the segment exclusives only a year after they were introduced in their own vans.

    I agree, though – unacceptable that VW made a mainstream minivan instead of (or at least alongside) a neo-retro Microbus.

  • avatar
    210delray

    Lame. And VW seriously intends to sell 1 million vehicles in the US in a decade? Make that delusional.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Easily the most attractive minivan Chrysler has ever built. Might be a good buy in a few years on the used car market.

  • avatar
    jaje

    Proof that bad ideas should remain just that.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    One word: groan

  • avatar
    shabatski

    SherbornSean – Agreed, best Chrysler exterior design in history.

    Otherwise, terrible, terrible job VW. You could have had a sales hit with the Microbus, but now you pass this off and expect American’s to go running for it. Since I’m sure it will be more expensive than the Pentistar options why would anyone ever consider one, used or new?

  • avatar
    Juniper

    reality check!!
    If VWs previous vans had been any good, people would have bought them. They were off market as much as SUVs are now. The only thing they accomplished with those old vans was blocking a lot of traffic. This is good for VW and Chrysler.

  • avatar
    Christopher

    How could they not modify the existing body work to look like the Microbus concept? I’m certainly not opposed to VW using the Chrysler platform, but why do so little to it? This may be the biggest disappointment of the year. It could have been awesome.

  • avatar
    keepaustinweird

    It’s official. VW’s leadership is officially as clueless as Chrysler’s. You’d think at this point German auto manufacturers would know that Chrysler is not to be touched with a 10 meter pole. Wrong.

  • avatar

    Looks like a half decent high station wagon to me. A bit bland, to put it mildly.

    Count me among those who don’t understand why they didn’t run with the M’bus concept. I would have had a hard time holding onto my money if that had come out, and I certainly don’t need a van.

  • avatar

    Back in the early 90s when my kids were little and my dog was big I had a ’89 Vanagon “Wolfsburg Edition”. Built the year the Wall Came Down. I loved that box-on-wheels. So OK, 80 MPH was about as fast as it could go without being dropped from high altitude, but as a family hauler and hockey bus (I was a goalie, and my wife played “D” on local adult rec team) it was unparalleled.

    Our two annual vacations were always in that machine. In winter we would load the kids in, and the luggage and skis onto the Yakima rack up top, lay down the bed in the back, throw in a cooler between the seats and drive 24 hours straight from Seattle to central Colorado where my parents live at the base of a ski hill. “Hi Mom, here’s the grandkids, see ya later!” ;) The other trip was a summer wander all over the West, either US, Canada or both. That Vanagon was the cheapest and most utilitarian funtcional RV ever built. No, it wasn’t a Westphalia camper, but the 2-2-table-3 seating arrangement was fantastic, and terrifically functional for hauling kids. The passenger (myself or my wife) could stand up and walk to the backseat ferchrissakes! The kids could sit facing each other, even strapped into those damn car seats, and be engaged in sibling rivalry yet be out of fist range!

    My only complaint was thedesign of the fold-up cupholdeers, they were all destroyed within a year of buying the thing. So were all the replacements. Just a bad design.

    The tightest turning circle of any car I’ve ever owned. Very easy to maintain and self-service (important for this home mechanic!) Fun to drive in it’s own looney sort of way. You could park it anywhere as the footprint of the thing was in reality about the same as a Jetta, but with that big sliding door and the fact that the front seat riders can easily walk back to it meant that door clearance was never an issue.

    I sold that Vanagon when I was transferred overseas in early 1997. I wish I hadn’t.

    It is a shame that 50 years of design and refinement were abandoned by VW. The Vanagon was essentially the apogee of the original VW Bulli/Combi Bus, just with the “wasserboxer” engine in the end. Literally. Nobody thought outside the van shaped box like VW. Their products were always offbeat and unique.

    To badge-engineer something from Chrysler is an insult. Though I agree with others and say that at least they’ve tarted it up beyond its ugly start. The problem with most “minivans” is that they are just station wagons with a sliding door. They are NOT vans. They lack the utility of a van. They lack the room to maneuver INSIDE that a van gives you. VW vans have a long history of being second homes on wheels and nothing from Chyrerberus is going to get that job done.

    We’ve all been waiting for that New Bus to complement the New Beetle, and VW craps out THIS TURD?? Whisky Tango Foxtrot?

    –chuck
    http://chuck.goolsbee.org

  • avatar
    KixStart

    I liked the Vanagon, too, and we looked at it. For my wife, it was a non-starter. Her complaint? She could see that her skirt would drag across a {wet|muddy|slushy|dusty} fender when getting in or out. And she was right.

    If you were wearing pants, you might still end up with gunk on your butt. No good.

    However, in terms of interior room and flexibility, it was a great design.

    Fast-forward a few years to the EuroVan. Tons of room inside! We could get all 6 of us inside with camping equipment, ice chest where it would be handy en route, clothing for a fancy party, etc, and still space to spare. You could fold down the seats (not remove, just fold down) and slide a BIG sofa in.

    And, it had fahrvergneugen. It had really nice road feel.

    However, VW found that it wouldn’t sell and we were, eventually, not particularly happy with the purchase:

    – Noisy. Lots of wind and road noise. 3K rpm at 55 mph also ensured lots of mechanical noise.
    – Inadequate power. 109 hp? For 2 tons plus load? Are you nuts?
    – Only the front two seats reclined at all. If you bought the weekender with rear-facing seats, nobody could recline. Nobody could snooze on trips. However, the driver’s seat was EXTREMELY comfortable for extended drives.
    – To remove the rearmost seat bench required a WRENCH. And, since the underside of the bolts were exposed below the vehicle, it required a BIG WRENCH. And then a lot of fiddling with the carpet.
    – Unreliable. Our brakes failed. It appeared to suffer from piston slap and we sold it when my mechanic (whom we used to visit often) said there were unpleasant noises from above and below.
    – When the brakes worked, they were inadequate.

    Overall, the few redeeming qualities the thing had (awesome interior room and very comfortable driver’s seat) were overwhelmed by the many things that made it difficult to live with.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Alex, you hit the nail on the head. Can’t add anything at all.

  • avatar
    crc

    I know my first nominee for the next TWAT awards.

  • avatar
    whatdoiknow1

    F-A-I-L-U-R-E!

    Ok, once again we have a product that no one was asking for, in the USA at least. Who came up with the bright idea to combine the forces of the automaker known for the cheapest products being built with the automaker known for the most unreliable automobiles for sale in the USA market today?

    Now dont let this picture fool you this VW minivan looks just like every other Chysler minivan but with a different front-end. The interior look very cheap and inexpensive looking (not very VW). If I am correct this thing is fitted with a Chysler engine.
    I one simple move VW has created a vehicle that violates that last good quality the brand has, nice materials and good fit and finsh.

    I think Americans were looking for VW to create an German Honda Odyessy alternative, and we were willing to pay for it. I dont think anyone was looking for an cheap “affordable” VW we could have just brought the damn Chysler for that!

  • avatar
    windswords

    I like the styling much more than the Chrysler twins. Since they were introduced I have been wondering if Chrysler hijacked the Toyota Camry’s design team.

    But let’s look to the future of this baby step:

    If they continue collaborating *AND IF* (yeah I know) they do it right –

    Future joint products could have the reliability of Chrysler electronics. For VW, that would be an *immense* improvement. VW could design suspension systems. For Chrysler, that would be an *immense* improvement.

    The future could hold a van (or other vehicle)with VW interior, VW exterior, Chrylser electronics, Chrysler gas engines (Phoenix & DSG) and VW diesels and VW handling. *IF* done right, this could lead to some good things. If Chrylser learns something from VW exterior and interior design that would be a good thing. IF VW dealers learn about customer service from Chrysler dealers that would be a good thing.

  • avatar
    VAD

    The new Chrysler minivan has flexibility and utility, many different accomodation plans in one vehicle, the ability to swing around and talk to your kids while giving them a sandwhich when your husband is driving down the road. It has innovative lighting and styling, sort of looking like the dreamliner for recessed ceiling lighting.
    Utility, the stow and go seats allow it to function like a cargo van. Points against it are it has a Chrysler transmission and quality control, to many of us have driven Chryslers whose transmission could last no longer than 50,000 miles.

    The new VW mininvan has….um, a bench seat, a regular seat and restyled headlights. Ahhh, did I mention cup holders? Welcome to the 1980s. Plus all of the wonderful history of the flaming wrecks that Chrysler made as a mechanical underpinning.

    So….assuming that I trust again Chrysler to make something that won’t loose it’s transmission every 50,000 miles, like their old minivans, and the Le Baron convertable….would I choose the VW version which has seats or the Chrysler version which has more innovation, utility, and flexibility. And if I really wanted something that was a boring people mover type van, why wouldn’t I choose a Honda or Toyota van and at least have reliability?

  • avatar
    rpn453

    VW wants Chrysler to make vehicles for them? I’m having trouble even believing this. I wouldn’t buy a VW, but I did have some respect for them before I heard this.

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    In an of itself, the Routan is just a pathetic re-badge.

    However, due to the overwhelming awesomeness of the Microbus concept, the Routan is truly, deeply tragic.

  • avatar
    VAD

    I guess the thing that really is tragic is that we put a lot of stock into VW taking such an extremely long time to come up with a new minivan. In the end it looks like something they could have drawn up in 15 minutes. “OK, let’s replace the headlights, tail lights, and put wood paneling in the dashboard. Done, it’s now a VW. Ah, and since Chrysler won’t let us have anything innovative, and we can’t figure anything out ourselves, let’s put in standard seats. Done.” Really, this is just awful.

  • avatar
    James2

    I was going to say “Maybe they should let Porsche buy VW” in order to fix this mess but then I thought of the Cayenne…

  • avatar
    windswords

    VAD,

    Your about 15 years late with the charge of unreliability for Chrysler automatics. Both the 42TE and the 62TE are as reliable trannys as you’ll find in any make. Certainly their electronic components are more reliable than VW’s.

    It’s funny how Honda had the same problem but I never hear anyone say “it’s a Honda, the tranny will fail anytime now”.

  • avatar
    VAD

    windsword, sounds about right, I had a 1994 Chrysler Lebaron and kept it 5 years and never, ever, thought about going back after loosing the trannie 2 times in the middle of no where. It was amazing. It was like a time bomb, after 65,000 miles you would need a new transmission, you could set your watch by it. Actually, I take your word for the reliability now though, sounds like you do know what you are talking about. My present modern VW has more ghosts in the electrical system than the flying dutchman. The radio needed to be replaced, dashboard needed to be replaced, electrical system for the back windows twice….So in retrospect I’d say the Chrysler Town and Country sounds better and better, good reliability and great innovation.

  • avatar
    whatdoiknow1

    It’s funny how Honda had the same problem but I never hear anyone say “it’s a Honda, the tranny will fail anytime now”.

    Reputation and History.
    One company has a good reputation and a history of making fine products and the other has a VERY LONG history of making garbage and a justified reputation as a crappy automaker.
    As far as I know Honda has had one transmission in recent years that was prone to failure. I also understand that Honda did stand by its product and made its costumers whole with hassle-free repairs and replacements.
    On the other hand Chysler has a history that extends all long as the company has been in existance of making and selling all kinds of sub-par components and whole vehicles.

    When and IF Chysler somehow manages to rise its quality to the level of Honda than maybe one day Chysler too can get a “free-pass” for a mistake.
    Until than Chysler is considered one of the “Usual Suspects” and can expect to be called out for its continuious string of poor quality products.

  • avatar
    windswords

    VAD,

    I had 1990 Lebaron vert. Lost the tranny too. But since I have had a 94 G Caravan, 97 Stratus, and an 03 Durango. No issues – not just the tranny but anything else as well.

    whatdoiknow1,

    what you said is partially true, but the real culprit is the amount of media coverage. The tranny issue with Chrysler was front page news. The Honda, not so much, as a matter of fact I bet most normal people (non TTAC readers) don’t even know about it. The last time I looked at True Delta, the Dodge Caliber had less problems than the Honda Civic, and this was for the new model, not the last generation. This was a straight model year to model year comparo for the most recent year. Maybe this has changed in the last few months. Maybe not. But Chrysler reliability has been better than VW’s historically although their quality has not. Hell, Chrysler was more reliable than Mercedes when they owned it.

  • avatar
    TomAnderson

    If VWoA were a person, it’d be sitting in a filled bathtub with cuts on its wrists, a toaster in its hands, and a whole bottle’s worth of antifreeze in its belly.

    That said, I still find myself pining for a Jetta TDI Sportwagen. Sad, I know…

  • avatar
    KixStart

    windswords: “The tranny issue with Chrysler was front page news.”

    Not in any paper I read. I found out about it because I knew a couple people who had to buy new transmissions on relatively low-mile vans.

    windswords: “The Honda, not so much, as a matter of fact I bet most normal people (non TTAC readers) don’t even know about it.”

    You might lose that bet. I know Honda had some transmsission trouble and I found out the same way I found out about the Chrysler transmission problem; a friend’s ’99 Honda Odyssey transmission started to slip, so he took it in for a check (here’s where the stories diverge slightly) well out of warranty at 97K miles and Honda gave him a loaner car and replaced it right away at no cost.

    As happy as I am with my Toyotas, I was mightily impressed with that and Honda’s now on my short list.

    Oh, the friend with the bad Honda transmission? He bought two transmissions for his Chrysler van by 130K miles. By and by, he decided the Chrysler van was a losing proposition (something else spendy went wrong) and he replaced it with an Accord.

  • avatar
    kjc117

    VW is 10 years late with a minivan. VW should have produced the Micobus concept but I digress.

    Also, VW should have asked Toyota or Honda to partner in the minivan not Chrysler.

    Chrysler=cheap, low quality, unsophisticated.

    If this is the future of VW of America they will never come close to Toyota sales figures.

    BTW, VW where the hell is the Tigan CUV?
    They are already years behind Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc.. in the CUV availability.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Kix,

    The story was picked up by the major news outlets when Consumer Reports gave the vans a “not reccomended” rating because of the failures. Even Lee himself tried to do damage control with statements to the media, but handled it badly in my opinion. Chrysler to their credit waived the normal $100 deductible on the 7/70 powertrain warranty and paid expenses for anyone stranded far from home. But they dropped the ball for those out of warranty, like Toyota did with their engines until the class action suit made them deal with their customers.

    Now it’s reached mythic proportions. Like jokes (or serious statements) of Fords exploding. Or Audi unintended acceleration. Even among enthusiasts such as ourselves these persist. Tell someone you are thinking of buying a NEW Ford Explorer and they might ask you – aren’t you worried about it rolling over?

    The truth is (and this about the truth right?) that the numbers were never what they seemed to be due to the media coverage. The failure rate of the trannys was 17 – 18% – waaaay to high – but only 1 or 2 in 10 were failing. I have still met people to this day who think that EVERY new one (now several generations removed from the original) will fail before 100K. Not every Pinto exploded when hit in the rear either. A lot of folks are driving Toyotas with that particular engine and model year and have never had a problem with sludge. And they couldn’t even get those GM pickups on that Dateline episode to catch fire in an intentional crash – until they got a little help from the pyrotechnics crew.

    I’m not defending the above companies or vehicles just pointing out the power of perception and reputation.

  • avatar
    VAD

    I can only go my experience. My Chrysler Lebaron lost three transmissions, and I everyone I met who had a Lebaron also had lost their transmission, including you. As to the newer models

    From Edmunds:

    One negative aspect of the fourth-generation Town & Country model was its inconsistent reliability. Chrysler responded to concerns about long-term durability in 2002 by instituting a seven-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty; however, this was rolled back to three-year/36,000-mile coverage in 2006.

    Their reports on the reliability of all previous generations were equally bad or worse.

    Regarding Edmunds own long term tests
    For the first seven months of 2002, this is what has gone wrong with of our 2001 DGC: 1) The driver and front-passenger windows stopped working; 2) there was a recall to reprogram the power controller for the rear climate control; 3) the front suspension became loose and the front struts had to be replaced; and 4) the air conditioning stopped working.

    Consumer Reports also has never recommended a Chrysler minivan for reliability.

    I have no dog in this fight, but that’s what I see from major unbiased sources.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Yes, you are defending them, in the sense that you would deflect criticism of them by alleging that the difference is largely coverage and relatively little in the way of substance.

    It will be an uphill battle to persuade me; I know people with both kinds of vans and the Honda owners aren’t the ones who are hopping mad.

    And dropping the ball on non-warranty repairs is an intrinsic part of the story. Who said, “we’ll make this right,” and followed through?

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    The interior looks like a chinese Vorkswagen knockoff. Horrible. If they offered this in Europe, people would die laughing on test-drives.

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