2009 Volkswagen Routan SEPosted on May 29th, 2009
Seven-passenger minivan for families on the go
By Nina Russin
The Volkswagen Routan shares chassis components with the current-generation Chrysler minivans. In addition to its distinct styling, the Routan also features a retuned suspension. Buyers can choose from a 3.8-liter V6 engine rated at 197 horsepower or 253-horsepower 4-liter V6. All models come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Engineers tuned the McPherson front suspension and twist beam rear axle for a firmer ride: something especially noticeable when cornering at speed. The rack-and-pinion steering feels extremely positive on the highway.
The test car is the mid-grade SE, one of two available models with the 3.8-liter V6. The Routan is a heavy car: curb weight is over 4500 pounds. While the smaller V6 engine is adequate, low-end acceleration is rather soft.
The SE accelerates from zero-to-sixty in 10.2 seconds, as compared to 8.9 seconds for the SEL with the larger engine. The larger engine also delivers better fuel economy: two miles per gallon according to EPA estimates.
The four-liter engine is aluminum, making it lighter than the 3.8-liter V6. It has a higher compression ratio and electronically controlled intake manifold for better power and efficiency. I’d recommend it to buyers who can afford the extra expense.
An available prep package raises the Routan’s towing capacity to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV minimum standards.
Standard safety features include front, side and side curtain airbags, traction control, vehicle stability control, and four-channel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking. The Routan received five-star federal safety ratings in frontal and side-impact collisions.
Buyers can upgrade the standard headlamps to high-intensity discharge beams to enhance visibility after dark, and ultrasonic rear park assist.
Inside, the Routan features seating for seven, including first and second-row captain’s chairs. In addition to being more comfortable than a bench seat, the pass-through between the second-row captain’s chairs eases access and egress to the third row.
The third-row seats have adequate leg and headroom. However cupholders and bins outboard of the bench seats reduces available hip room. Three kids can fit across the back, but adults will feel squeezed. The rear seats can fold flat to extend the cargo floor, or flip backwards to create seating for a tailgate party.
Up front, dual-zone temperature controls allow the driver and front passenger to travel more comfortably. There is a separate set of temperature controls for rear passengers: four ceiling vents circulate air throughout the cabin.
An eight-way power driver’s seat with available adjustable pedals helps smaller individuals find a comfortable position, and maintain good forward vision. Available front seat heaters keep passengers comfortable in temperature extremes. The seat heaters are part of an option package that also includes keyless start ($445).
I found the gearshift, located high on the instrument panel next to the radio, difficult to reach. It was awkward enough to discourage me from using the transmission’s manual gear select feature.
All three rows of passengers have access to cup and bottle holders in the outboard positions. There are four additional cupbolders in the center console as well as a deep storage bin. Two 12-volt power points recharge portable electronic devices.
Storage bins in the floor ahead of the second-row seats are large enough for small coolers.
The Routan shares Chrysler’s navigation and downloadable hard drive features. The hard drive allows passengers to download tunes and/or photos. Like its Chrysler counterpart, the Routan has two overhead DVD screens to keep second and third-row occupants entertained.
While the Volkswagen product excels over Chrysler in terms of its suspension tuning, Chrysler’s minivans offer buyers a host of features not available from Volkswagen: among them the stow-and-go and swivel-and-go seating.
Chrysler’s swivel-and-go rear seating option turns the back of the minivan into a living room on wheels, including a pop-up table and 110-volt inverter for plugging in a computer or electronic games. I also like the available satellite television on the Chrysler product for families with small children.
I found the tailgate on the Routan difficult to close. I was also surprised that roof rails on the Routan are an option package rather than standard equipment, since the primary purpose of a minivan is to haul people and their cargo. The trim package also includes adjustable pedals, a power sunroof, automatic leveling rear suspension and the towing preparation package ($1985).
Standard vehicle maintenance program
One feature that will appeal to buyers in these tough economic times is Volkswagen’s standard maintenance program. There is no charge for scheduled maintenance during the warranty period: three years or 36,000 miles.
Base price for the Routan is $29,600, not including a $690 delivery charge. The seven-passenger Routan is on display at Volkswagen dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A seven-passenger minivan with excellent ride and handling, and free scheduled maintenance during the warranty period.
Dislike: The Routan is not available with many of the interior features that Chrysler’s minivans, which share the same rolling chassis, offer.
Model: Routan SE
Base price: $29,600
As tested: $32,720
Horsepower: 197 Hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 230 lbs.-ft. @ 4500 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 10.2 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Towing: Yes, when equipped with the optional towing prep package.
Fuel economy: 16/23 mpg city/highway
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