- Attractive exterior
- Available 4.0-liter V-6 engine
- Smooth-shifting six-speed automatic (V-6 models)
- Carlike handling
- Ample cargo room
- Crude, inefficient base engine
- Not all interior plastics up to VW expectations
- Balky transmission in base package
The 2010 Volkswagen Routan has the bonuses of Chrysler's segment-defining minivans with a touch of German flair, but a modern-day VW Bus it's not.
Leaning on Dodge's Grand Caravan for basis of the Routan minivan, Volkswagen taps into a core American market. Well-equipped and offering a competitive set of features and abilities, the 2010 Volkswagen Routan presents an attractive package-but it's best when upgraded. New for 2010 is the addition of standard satellite navigation on SEL and SEL premium models, plus a standard rear entertainment system on the SEL premium. For 2010, there's a range of new colors throughout the lineup.
VW calls the Routan the "Volkswagen of minivans," and it wears its corporate identity clearly on its exterior. The attractive front end pairs a large VW logo with monochrome bumpers that give it more curb appeal than its platform-mates at Dodge or Chrysler. The interior is mostly successful, too, though the details aren't as refined as most "pure" Volkswagen vehicles, with some plastics coming up short. On the other hand, the instrument panel is easy to read, pleasingly styled, and attractive with a two-tone color scheme.
Rough and unrefined, the base 3.8-liter pushrod V-6 engine that comes standard on the S and SE trim levels also struggles to get the 4,500-pound van moving with authority. At 197 horsepower, it's understandably overtaxed at anything but a leisurely pace. Paired with a balky base six-speed automatic, the Routan's performance in base trim is less than inspiring. The 4.0-liter V-6 engine that comes standard on the SEL trim is a 180-degree difference, however, with its 251-horsepower output and smooth power delivery through an upgraded six-speed automatic transmission more than up to the task. Surprisingly, the more powerful engine also delivers the better fuel economy ratings, scoring 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway compared to the 3.8-liter engine's 16/23 mpg.
Standard features for all Routan minivans include an ingenious power-folding third-row seat, 144 cubic feet of storage with the seats stowed and removed, and sliding doors both left and right with windows that roll down. All trim levels offer a Volkswagen-tuned suspension that promises better handling than the Chrysler vehicles with which it shares a platform, a fact that's reflected in its stable on-road feel. Despite the "German tuned" suspension, the Routan feels more like a slightly more composed American minivan, with comfort at the fore. Seats are supportive and comfortable, with no complaints even on long trips.
Taking a look at the interior, the Routan's Chrysler roots begin to show through, and not in a good way. Materials, switches, controls, and other details aren't quite what you'd expect from a Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna, much less a Volkswagen. The controls for the HVAC, for example, are a morass of illegible black plastic buttons and require more attention to adjust than they should.
That said, the Chrysler minivans on which the Routan is based are themselves very competent vehicles in many respects. The Routan gets most of those advantages, but Chrysler's Swivel N' Go seating isn't one of them. The S trim picks up standard second-row folding bench seats, while the SE and SEL trims add fold-flat/removable captain-style chairs. All models get the folding/disappearing/reclining third-row seat that Chrysler calls Stow N' Go. The combination of these various seating arrangements allows all models to fit 144 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seats stowed. A few more options, including a rear conversation mirror, power windows in the sliding side doors, plus in-cabin entertainment and touch-screen navigation, help bring the Routan up to the specification you'd expect from a Volkswagen.
Despite its relatively affordable cost, the base S model can quickly be optioned up to the price level of the Touareg luxury SUV. Upgrading to SE trim gets larger wheels and power sliding doors, a garage door transceiver, and heated power mirrors, but the bottom line will show it. Going to the SEL trim costs even more, but adds a more powerful engine, better fuel economy, a more refined cabin, and rear-seat entertainment.
Crash safety is one strong mark that carries over from the Chrysler basis, with the essentially identical Dodge Grand Caravan scoring a top mark of "good" in IIHS testing, and the Routan itself earning five stars in NHTSA testing. The top scores are possible thanks in part to the wide range of standard safety equipment, which includes driver and passenger airbags, side curtain airbags, electronic stability control, and ABS.