VW’s Routan makes the minivan routine more pleasant
summit daily auto writer
If your hauling duties call for a vehicle which can carry at least half of the lacrosse team, and you too have come to the consensus that only Texas tourists drive Expeditions anymore … I may have a solution for you.
And yes, it is a minivan, and yes, I did recently diss the entire genre of minivans, but … Volkswagen has crafted a slight exception to the rule. More impractical supercar coverage soon, I promise.
The Routan, launched about this time last year (you may remember the weird ads with Brooke Shields), is a peculiar but oddly inviting alternative in the box-tastic world of people-haulers. It is, absolutely, a joint project with Chrysler and is, for the most part, a Town and Country minivan with a fair amount of Volkswagen-specific parts and attributes, but don’t use that as a reason to write it off entirely.
On the outside, the looks are definitely sexier than the standard American-made model; the interior offers a hybrid blend of Chrysler components (the navigation system and steering wheel setup, for instance) with plenty of totally VW bits and pieces (a new dash, wider and more comfortable seating and the AC system).
Rarely do I get a chance to travel with an absolutely full house of passengers (people at my office have seen me doing donuts in the back parking lot and tend to run the other way), but when a lunch date required room for myself and six riders, the Routan came in mighty handy.
It also gave me a very practical chance to see what happens when that many people need to operate the doors, flop down the access points and sashay themselves into the back of a moderately sized vehicle. I can report, from the relative lack of uncomfortable squeals and whining, that the Routan does the trick.
Unlike the Town and Country, Routan lacks the handy second-row “Fold-and-Go” seats – permanently affixed second-row captains chairs appeared instead in my tester – though the nearly keg-sized storage spaces underneath the carpets remain.
In the third row, there’s a 60/40 split seat which can be stowed entirely (or reclined) electronically; my guests reported that they had definite issues accessing the third row, as those second row chairs would only rather indelicately flop forward.
The large side doors both open electronically, as does the tail liftgate (you can do so remotely with the key fob, which is handy, or from the driver’s seat) but … despite a self-arresting function, I still managed to nearly get one passenger’s leg caught in the door, so prudence is necessary. The side doors also feature power windows, which will roll down about 70 percent of the way.
Out on the highway, some of the key minivan attributes remain (ie., it’s still more or less like driving a boxy minivan), though the SEL model’s 251-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 offered quite adequate thrust, even with a full house. You can also generate as much as 25 mpg on the highway, though 21 was more my norm.
The manufacturer boasts that Routan has received special VW-specific ride tuning; I haven’t had a new-generation Town and Country so I can’t vouch for that, but it was certainly pleasant enough.
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