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Ed. note: Contrary to what we were told earlier in the model year, Volkswagen has opted not to sell a 2013 Routan and has discontinued it. That said, we wouldn't be all that surprised if you did find one or two, somewhere, labeled as a 2013 model.
A rare sight on the roads, the Volkswagen Routan is a lightly reskinned version of the Chrysler minivans--kith and kin with the Chrysler Town & Country and the Dodge Grand Caravan, sold by VW under a licensing agreement that runs at least through the 2013 model year.
The Routan gets some distinctive VW styling touches in its conversion from its Chrysler roots, and drops some features that distinguish the Chryslers as the most flexible, most safety-precautious vans on the planet. From the outside, the changes are most obvious: there's a Volkswagen grille and slightly different front and rear bumpers. The interior of the Routan is distinct, too, though since Chrysler upgraded the cabins of its minivans, the differences between those and the Routan are less than in the 2009-2010 model years. In any case, the Routan--like the Chryslers--is still among the more boxy of minivans, which pays off with great outward visibility.
In the 2011 model year, the Chrysler minivans and the Routan all adopted a new powertrain. The new 3.6-liter V-6 is coupled to a six-speed automatic, and sends power to the front wheels. Powertrain differences are very slight: we haven't been behind the wheel of a Routan since the transplant, but extensive test drives in the Grand Caravan have revealed pleasantly brisk acceleration, with steering that's light and quick, by minivan standards.
Volkswagen's suspension tuning is slightly different as well. We've found the Chryslers to have a very compliant ride, with less body roll than in past editions. The Grand Caravan and Town & Country do tend to bound over long series of bumps, though. We'll report back if we find differently in the Routan.
Some important distinctions separate the Routan from its Chrysler cousins, when it comes to flexibility and functionality. Chrysler decided to keep its most distinctive feature to itself: the Town & Country and Grand Caravan have second-row seats that fold flat into the floor, a system called Stow 'N Go. When left up for passengers, those Chrysler seats leave the in-floor space behind for storage. In the Routan, the second-row captain's chairs fold and slide forward, but don't disappear in the floor; it's a setup more like the one in the Honda and Toyota minivans. The Routan's third-row seat does fold flat, expanding cargo space and giving the Routan competitive cargo-carrying capability. We've been pleased to find third-row seat room in the Chrysler vans is nearly adult-sized, and expect no different from the Routan.
The Chrysler vans have scored top safety ratings from the IIHS, which calls them a Top Safety Pick, and it applies to the structurally identical Routan. The Routan comes with the usual airbags and stability control, and blind-spot monitors and a rearview camera are offered, along with Bluetooth.
The Routan lacks some of the Chrysler minivans' advanced tech features, such as in-car wireless Internet. However, VW does offer power sliding doors and a power tailgate; a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with twin LCD screens; a navigation system; a sunroof; satellite radio; a USB port; and a premium audio system. There's a slight premium that comes with the Routan versus Dodge's Grand Caravan, but to some minivan drivers, the VW badge and slightly nicer interior might make up for some of the missing flexibility and features.We'll update this review once the Routan is available for a test drive. For now, see our in-depth review of the 2010 Volkswagen Routan, and if you're curious about new powertrains, take a look at our most recent review of the Dodge Grand Caravan.
- Airy, spacious cabin
- Strong V-6 powertrain
- Improved interior trim
- Excellent safety scores
- Lacks all-wheel drive
- Stow 'N Go is gone
- Higher priced than Chryslers
- Missing some high-tech options