Rough and unrefined, the base 3.8-liter pushrod V-6 engine that comes standard on the S and SE trim levels 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 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.
That extra power and efficiency are noticed across the board, with Edmunds recommending the 4.0-liter engine for its "superior acceleration" and "respectable" fuel economy. Once it's moving, the VW-tuned suspension is readily apparent, too. Car and Driver raves, "It's actually fun for a minivan," but complains that there's none of the typical VW engine options, including a VR6, turbo four-cylinder, or TDI diesel. It's not a sports car, however, and Automotive.com notes that the Routan "can feel a bit top heavy at highway speeds," and it's "not as pleasant to pilot" as the Japanese competition. Cars.com reports that the Routan "handles like a minivan" and finds a "bit of rattle" over rougher roads.