The 2009 Volkswagen Routan is Volkswagen’s chance to get a piece of the minivan pie. Essentially a reworked and rebadged Dodge Grand Caravan, the Routan comes well equipped for a reasonable base price and is offered with niceties such as 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.
VW claims this is the “Volkswagen of Minivans,” and judging by the exterior, we can’t disagree. A handsome new snout capped off by a big VW logo and monochrome bumpers give this van far more presence than its Dodge and Chrysler relatives, while fitting right in with the rest of Volkswagen’s lineup. An inviting interior with redesigned textures and VW touches impresses, at least until the details are scrutinized. The instrument panel design is particularly effective, with chunky styling, a simple layout, and a distinctive two-tone theme.
The pushrod 3.8-liter V-6 that’s standard on S and SE trims, developing 197 horsepower, struggles to move the 4,500-pound van with anything approaching authority. What’s more, the six-speed automatic seems to pause interminably between gears in an attempt to give smooth handoffs to the next ratio. The uplevel 251-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 engine that’s standard on the SEL is of a completely different, modern overhead-cam design; it makes a much happier combination with the same six-speed automatic and transforms the Routan into a refined, responsive, and more efficient machine that’s in keeping with the Volkswagen driving ethos. The 4.0-liter gets the better EPA fuel economy ratings of the two, at 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway.