2009 Volkswagen Routan Review

Michael Martineck
by Michael Martineck
2009 volkswagen routan review

A large percentage of TTAC readers arrive here via a Google search of a specific vehicle. They know nothing of– nor care much about– our “take no prisoners” editorials or Inside Baseball auto industry analysis. So, in their honor, let’s start with THE key fact: the VW Routan is a rebadged Chrysler minivan. Rebadged as in mildly reworked. So why buy a VW Routan instead of a Chrysler product? For the same reason you’d buy a Chrysler minivan over a Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna: no reason at all, really. But there’s more to it than that. At least in theory…

Externally, the Routan’s metalworkers have done what they could to differentiate their “German engineered” product from its American/Canadian cousins (i.e. nothing much). If the Dodge Caravan is a lunchbox, and The Town and Country a Chrysler 300 sedan inflated by 500 percent, the Routan is an inflated lunchbox with a VW nose. That said, the Routan’s schnoz demonstrates the importance of a vehicle’s “face;” VW’s plunging trapezoid re-brands the box, transforming it into a significantly more coherent vehicle. Whether or not the resulting VW-ness appeals depends on how many hours/dollars you’ve spent at a VW dealership.

The aesthetic improvements continue inside… somewhat. VW recast the Chyrsler product’s cheap ass dash in a faux painted metal. For those who remember the original Microbus, it’s a constant reminder of the innovative, iconoclastic vehicle that the Routan is not. There’s no disguising the Routan’s modern roots: a non-Germanic vehicle made for people comfortable living inside a box. If you can’t see the problem, blinded as you are by the steering wheel’s big-ass logo, you can feel it. The switchgear and cabinetry respond with Chrysler-esque imprecision.

Also lacking: Chrysler’s oh-so clever Stow-n-Go seating. Jumbo cargo schleppers will have to remove the Routan’s mid seats and leave them somewhere. On the flip side (get it?), the Routan’s second row seats are considerably more comfortable than Chrysler’s origami ones. If you’re going to be carting more humans than old armoires, the Routan is the way to go.

Our test van had a power tailgate, which is helpful. You can lift things out, hit the gate with your elbow and walk away. The power-folding rear seat is jewelry: a nice touch that serves no practical function. Minivanistas will know that reconfiguring seats means crawling around in the back moving CD collections, abandoned sippy cups, Tonka trucks and such before you can start the folding. After that, who cares if seat accordionage is just a button away?

They’ve Veedubbed the Dodge, but it’s still a Dodge. For example, the spare tire. You must lower it to ground from a knob on the floor near the driver’s seat. Had VW bolted the wheel to the front grill, I would have given this thing five stars just for old time’s sake. Hell, I may have bought one. As nice as the Routan is– with its cubbies and LED map lights and 13 cup holders (six passengers can two-fist it, with the driver leaving one hand on the wheel) and back-up video camera– it’s got as much character as Brooke Shields in The Muppets Take Manhattan.

The Routan offers the same engines as its supposed Chrysler platform mates (duh): a 3.8-liter V6 making 197 hp or a 4.0-liter V6 turning-out 251 ponies. Bigger is better. The larger-engined SEL is not slow; zero to sixty in 8.9 seconds is an acceptable sprint time for a 4621 lbs. family hauler. More importantly, there’s plenty of torque on tap, allowing smooth, predictable acceleration at all speeds. AND the bigger motor gets slightly better gas mileage.

VW claimed they spent millions on the Routan’s suspension to give it that “VW feel.” Marketing execs now join TV weather people and my high school guidance counselor as people whose information must be “recalibrated” with reality. The whole world is not a parking lot. There’s simply too much waft, wallow and float, even for a minivan. I’ve driven heavyweight Dodge Chargers and sprightly VW GTIs. Both donor companies can do better.

I didn’t take the Routan on the Autobahn. Maybe there’s a difference between this four-wheeled crate and Dodge’s version at 100-plus miles per hour. The set up did seem a tad more taut than the Caravan’s… if I concentrated. What I came to believe, after a couple of mixed miles, is that whatever VW spent got diluted. Tweaking a suspension, while keeping everything else, yields nothing very much.

Taken as a whole, the Routan is the most desirable of the three minivans sharing this platform– provided you don’t need the trick seats. If Honda, Kia and Toyota weren’t in this space, the Routan would rule. But they are, so it doesn’t.

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  • Centrust Centrust on Nov 25, 2010

    I purchased a 2010 Routan minivan. I absolutely love it. The suspension is incredibly tight and the Chrysler 4.0 liter engine is a home run. Fast acceleration for a minivan and very good gas mileage. We have driven from Omaha to Chicago twice and took a long trip to the GrandTetons this summer. It was a champ in the mountains as well as on the long stretches of interstate. Frankly, I think the American auto press is so incredibly biased against the American based manufacturers that they couldn't given an unbiased opinion if their lives relied on it. I owned a 2002 Honda Oddysey and I counted the days to get rid of it. What a pile of junk. My previous 1999 Plymouth Grand Voyageur and my Routan were both superior to Honda minivan. My Honda had terrible electronics, the transmission went out at 36,000 miles, the head noise was terrible and the ride wasn't near as smooth as my Routan. Honestly, I don't understand the harsh criticism about the Chrysler products. I have 15,000 on my minivan and it has run like a champ and the VW service has been outstanding. Incidentally, I am not a "Buy American" purist as I have owned Toyota vehicles and Honda vehicles over the years as well as Ford and Chrysler. Frankly the differences in quality are grossly exaggerated by the auto press.

  • Buggar Buggar on Aug 02, 2013

    Ok, now that it has been a few years since the model came out. We can look back and see how wrong the speculators were about the VW Routan. My wife is a "Die Hard" VW fan. Me? Honda, Nissan, Toyota. Although I do not own a Toyota. Anyway, she had a few Jettas, they held their value and wanted a Routan since we had two more children added to the family. Bought The SEL (Against my advice to buy the Oddyssey) VW Price= $39,000 Routan Price= $37,000 Both were completely the same. Oddyssey ended up 9.8 critic rating, 9.6 reliability (its a Honda). Friends wife got one and has had zero problems. Value today? Routan = $18,925 ($15,525 trade in) Oddyseey = $23,025 ($19,725 trade in) Performance? Oddessy blows our van away. Handles better, rides better, looks better (opinion). My friend busts on us about it daily. Problems...Routan blows lights almost monthly,eats through tires in 12k. Have had about 4 allignments. Dealer says nothing is wrong. Googled it and they have a chronic issue with it. Backing up it surges horribly like the tranny is slipping. Did this from new to. Annoying but they says it normal. GOOD GOD REALLY? Normal for what....Chrysler? Brakes are under powered. Replaced warped rotors under warranty three times....3 times out of warranty. Annoying...they say its my wifes driving. Told her to brake softly. Shes trying hard to go easy on it but damn if they dont keep warping. Maybe, JUST MAYBE they are under powered for the weight of the vehicle or crappy materials. The worst issue is the vehicle WONT START. Acts as if the battery is dead. Replace battery, a few days later same thing. Does it once or twice a week. Googled it also and sure enough...lots are having the same problem. under warranty they said it was because of my wife leaving the DVD on for the children when vehicle is off. Ok, so now she doenst...guess what...KEEPS DOING IT. It sometimes wont start for a while leaving her stranded at the store or work. 4 jumps and a few tows later was told to put it on Neutral and try. BINGO starts everytime now. Thant VW for not fixing the problem under warranty. Friends Honda? Basturd hasnt had one issue. Time to drive the Routan into the lake.

  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.