Somewhere a hippie is weeping. Elsewhere a camping enthusiast is wondering where he'll be sleeping next. For decades, Volkswagen vans have been the go-to vehicles for these two groups -- not to mention surfers and High Times subscribers. So while the 2011 Volkswagen Routan is indeed a van with a VW in its grille, the fact that it's a mainstream minivan intended for families (and thus substantially more people) is sure to leave a few Deadheads crying into their pints of Cherry Garcia.
They might find some solace in the fact that the Routan is really a Volkswagen in name only. Behind its unique front fascia and underneath its slightly higher-quality interior is a Dodge Grand Caravan. You thought it looked familiar, didn't you? This heritage brings with it a number of advantages and disadvantages.
To kick things off in a positive way, the 2011 VW Routan inherits the Dodge's (and Chrysler Town & Country's) new 3.6-liter V6 that produces more power and gets better fuel economy than both Chrysler-sourced V6s found in the Routan last year. Beyond this, the Routan continues to provide the sort of interior layout and space expected by American minivan customers, while also offering family-friendly features like power sliding doors, a DVD entertainment system, heated rear seats and an iPod interface. A new integrated Garmin-sourced navigation system is now available for those who want route guidance for less money than the premium navigation system with its real-time traffic and other advanced features.
However, all of that also applies to the Grand Caravan and the Town & Country. Last year, we would've told you that the Routan stood out with better driving dynamics and a substantially nicer cabin. But for 2011, the Chrysler vans have closed the gap considerably (if not completely). Plus, the Chryslers still include Stow 'n Go seats and a few other features not available in the VW. And from a long-term ownership standpoint, you have to wonder how vested VW is in the Routan or what the service experience of a Chrysler vehicle at a VW dealership might be.
As such, it's hard to think of a significant reason why someone would opt for a 2011 Volkswagen Routan rather than one of its American siblings. But it's also important to note that the Chrysler minivans are far from class leaders. The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna would be our picks and we highly suggest looking at those models first. The new Nissan Quest is also worth considering, as its unique interior layout and styling might be appealing to those looking for something different than the typical minivan. They certainly won't be getting it from the 2011 VW Routan.
The Routan's greatest advantage over the Town & Country is the quality of the Volkswagen interior materials. The Routan takes advantage of most of the T&C's thoughtful entertainment features, but lacks the innovative seating options that give the Chrysler an advantage in the minivan class. The Routan seats are comfortable, however. Folding the third row and removing the second row turns the Routan into a capacious cargo van. Where hard plastic dominates the dash and doors of the Town & Country, the Volkswagen Routan has nicely padded door armrests and a quality soft-touch upper dash. It's not all luxury level, though. The lower dash is hard plastic and the trim piece that bisects the dash is thin plastic. The white-faced gauges with black numbers are sourced from Chrysler. Surrounded by a faux aluminum trim piece, they are not that easy to read in bright sunlight.
The radio is set high on the center of the dash, and VW offers a version of Chrysler's UConnect Tunes and UConnect GPS hard-drive radios called JoyBox. JoyBox is also offered in two versions, one with a navigation system and one without. Both include a touchscreen, both come with one year of Sirius satellite radio, and both have a 30-gigabyte hard drive that holds music and picture files. Those files can be ripped from a CD or downloaded from a thumb drive plugged into the vehicle's USB outlet. When the navigation system is ordered, the hard drive also holds navigation map information. The navigation system has voice activation. An optional Garmin navigation system is available for the Routan SE. Routan's controls are easy to use, though those on the right of the radio or touchscreen can be a bit of a reach for the driver. The climate controls are located below the radio, and they're self explanatory. The gearshift is mounted between the radio and the instrument panel. It's easy to reach, leaves plenty of room for other controls, and includes an electronic gear readout in the instrument cluster.
Room up front is plentiful. There is plenty of head room, and leg room will only be lacking for the tallest drivers. The front captain's chairs provide an upright driving position with an SUV-like view of the road. A tilt steering wheel and available adjustable pedals should help most drivers tailor a comfortable seating position, but some might prefer a telescoping steering wheel to bring the wheel closer to the driver.
When it comes to storage, the Routan has two glove boxes and some cubbies in the center stack for small items storage. A total of 13 cupholders are found throughout the Routan SEL. The standard console has four integrated cupholders and a small storage bin. The Routan SEL's premium center console has four cupholders and a small bin on top that slides back to reveal a larger storage bin below it. The lower bin also slides back. With both layers slid back, the top level moves back a total of 21 inches, which allows parents up front to pass drinks and sandwiches to the kids in back. The premium console is also removable to allow easy access to the back seats.
In the far back, the Volkswagen Routan has a deep well behind the third row, which makes hauling groceries easier. Even with all seats up, the Routan has 32.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row. The third-row seat is split 60/40. It folds into that well in one or two sections. Three straps are attached to the back of each seat and they're marked 1, 2, 3. To fold the seats into the floor, first pull strap 1, then pull strap 2. You have to give strap 2 a good yank and help the seat along with your other hand. It can require leverage that some moms might not have. Strap 3 pulls the seats back up. A better option is the power folding third row seat, which can be set to four positions, including what VW calls the tailgating position. In this position, the seatbacks act as seat bottoms and the bottoms act as backs facing the rear of the van.
The second row a pair of captain's chairs that recline. The backs can fold flat on top of the bottoms for loading flat cargoes on top of the seats. Or the second-row seats can be removed, though they're heavy and you need somewhere to store them. With the second-row seats removed and the third-row seats folded, the Routan has a flat load floor, 144.0 cubic feet of cargo volume, and enough space to fit a 4x8-foot sheet of plywood.
A DVD rear-seat entertainment system is available with nine-inch video screens in the second row and third row. When the vehicle is in Park, video can be sent to the front navigation screen, allowing front-seat passengers to watch movies. Video game systems can be plugged in, and each row can watch or play something different. Four sets of headphones are provided.
The Routan shares the same boxy shape as the Town & Country and Grand Caravan, but its face wears Volkswagen's sloping grille and lower air dam. The headlights incorporate rounded sections for the outboard bezels, similar to the lights on the Passat and Volkswagen's SUVs. Exterior features include:
- Optional power sliding doors
- Optional power liftgate
- Optional xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights
- Optional fog lights
- Optional roof rack
ENGINEThe 2011 Volkswagen Routan comes in S, SE, SEL, and SEL Premium trim levels, all powered by the new 283-hp 3.6-liter V6 mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. All models are front-wheel drive.
Volkswagen Routan S ($26,930) comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, four-way manually adjustable front bucket seats, two-passenger reclining second-row fold-flat bucket seats, third-row stowable split folding bench seat, manual side doors, cruise control, conversation mirror, power heated exterior mirrors, power front windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo, auxiliary audio input jack, automatic headlights, engine immoblilizer, three years or 36,000 miles of free maintenance, and P225/65R16 tires on steel wheels with wheelcovers.
Routan SE ($31,770) upgrades to V-Tex Leatherette upholstery, 6CD changer, Bluetooth, eight-way power adjustable driver's seat with lumbar adjustment, lumbar adjustment for front passenger seat, power-adjustable pedals, second-row captain's chairs, power sliding side doors, overhead storage system, steering wheel audio controls, second- and third-row sunshades, universal garage door opener, security alarm (in addition to the engine immobilizer), stowable roof racks, and P225/65R17 tires on 17-inch alloy wheels. The Navigation System ($2,980) features integrated Garmin DVD Navigation and sound system with Sirius Satellite Radio. The Rear Seat Entertainment System ($2020) includes second- and third-row nine-inch video screens with headphones and remote, Joybox AM/FM/CD/DVD/MP3 sound system with hard disc drive and USB connection, rearview camera, and power liftgate with floodlamp. Routan SEL ($37,390) upgrades to leather upholstery, HDD touch-screen navigation, three-zone automatic climate control, auto-off headlights, power sunroof, auto-leveling rear suspension, remote engine starting, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated second-row seats, power-folding third-row seats. The Rear Seat Entertainment System ($2000) includes second- and third-row nine-inch video screens and additional DVD player.
Routan SEL Premium ($43,240) includes 506-watt nine-speaker sound system, high-intensity discharge headlights, power liftgate, chrome mirrors and door handles, memory-activated exterior mirrors, power-adjustable pedals with memory, 115-volt power outlet.
Dealer-installed accessories are available, ranging from running boards to several different roof racks and a range of towing equipment. A dealer-installed wireless router can connect to devices up to 150 feet away.
Safety equipment includes dual-stage front airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags, tire-pressure monitor, ABS with brake assist, traction control, and electronic stability control. 2011 Routan models also come with side-impact airbags for the front-row seats and a knee airbag for the driver. Optional safety features include rear park assist and a rearview camera.
The 2011 Volkswagen Routan comes standard with traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes and brake assist, front side airbags, a driver knee airbag and side curtain airbags. A rearview camera is available.
The Routan has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedures. However, its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 tests) were a perfect five stars in front and side crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Routan the highest possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side crash tests.