Volkswagen Routan: A big helping hand from little old Chrysler

Volkswagen has been offering a minivan since last fall, which is a little surprising considering that this market is disappearing before our eyes. But when the decision was made in 2005, little did we know what problems were on the way in 2009... For its new minivan, Volkswagen just looked to the Chrysler catalogue. Yes, the Routan is, in fact, a Chrysler Town & Country. By using the T&C, Volkswagen didn’t have to spend an arm and a leg developing a vehicle and Chrysler could throw some more work to its assembly plant in Windsor, Ontario.

The irony here is that Volkswagen practically created the minivan with its Microbus in 1950. Fifty-nine years later, it’s Chrysler, the very company whose minivan reinvented the category at the beginning of the 1980s, who’s coming to the German manufacturer’s rescue. However, Chrysler is flat broke and Volkswagen has turned into a giant!

Volkswagen’s unique features

Then again, Volkswagen didn’t just slap a VW logo on a Town & Country. The chassis, the mechanics and the side doors remain the same, but VW puts in its two cents’ worth. For instance, the front and tail ends are different and the Routan found a way to get rid of the reasonably well-liked sort of braces that form the rear pillars of the T&C. In the passenger compartment, there is a typical Chrysler dashboard, although VW modified a few details here and there. In any case, with the possible exception of some so-so plastics, this dashboard never had anything to be ashamed of… And the same goes for the German version.

The Volkswagen’s seats are different from those of the T&C and VW tells us they are more comfortable. It appears that a lot of emphasis was placed on the seats in the second row, which would perhaps explain why the excellent Chrysler Stow ‘n Go system was not kept for the Routan. Comfort was favoured over utility. On the other hand, the cavities where the seats go in the T&C are being transformed into storage bins under the floor of the Routan. These seats do not fold down into the floor but it’s possible to remove them, with a few four-letter words and just as many scratches on your fingers’ joints. You end up with a very large cargo area but it’s a lot less efficient than with Chrysler’s Stow ’n Go. There are no major mechanical differences, although the suspensions have been made firmer and the steering ratio has been revised for greater precision.


When I got behind the wheel of the Volkswagen Routan, I admit that I didn’t feel a lot of difference between this vehicle and a Town & Country, although it had been ages since I last touched the T&C. In a happy coincidence, I had the chance to drive a Town & Country a few kilometres in the same week, thus I was better able to judge the differences between the two vehicles. Although VW would have you believe that you’re driving a Town & Country Sport, it’s nothing of the sort. Sure, the changes made to the suspensions improve the ride without affecting comfort, there is less roll and the minivan seems to grip the road better. But since this test drive took place in the middle of winter, more tests are needed to properly evaluate the vehicle handling. The steering is more precise but, above all, it gives back a minimum of information, unlike the T&C. And are the seats more comfortable? Yes, but you’ll only notice the difference on long-distance trips. Maybe bundled up in a huge winter coat isn’t the best time to judge the comfort of a seat frozen by the -26 degree temperature...

A well-adapted engine

Just like the T&C, the Routan has only one engine, the 251 hp, 4.0-litre V6 with 259 lbs.-ft. of torque, which is perfectly fine most of the time, but with seven adults on board, their bags and a trailer at the back, I got the feeling that the horses were really sucking wind. Let’s not forget that this vehicle weighs 2096 kilos. The six-speed automatic transmission does a remarkable job, although its manual mode doesn’t make for a sportier ride. This gadget is only used when the time comes to tow in mountainous regions. It was so bitterly cold the week of our extended test drive that the car washes were closed when we were doing the photo shoot, and with good reason! Contrary to the 13.8 litres recorded by the on-board computer, over that week of bitter cold our Routan Execline guzzled 14.9 litres every hundred kilometres. In any case, both figures are a far cry from the 12.2 litres recorded by Transport Canada.

Oh, how we love the winter...
The driving position is high, which makes for excellent visibility, no small feature when you consider the vehicle’s dimensions! If only the rear-view camera didn’t get dirty so quickly in winter. Our winter test drive also taught us that the Pirelli Scorpion tires bite into the snow with gusto and the heating system turned out to be well suited to our climate, quickly warming up the driver one early, minus-thirty degree morning. We should also mention that the various buttons on the dashboard, and there are a lot of them, are hard to use while wearing big gloves, and that the carpeted foot-rest will probably be a most unpleasant colour by the time the spring arrives.

Routan or Town & Country?

Consumers are no fools. Sure, the Routan is more aesthetic and dynamic than its counterpart from Chrysler, but the fact remains that the prices offered by Chrysler are almost unbeatable, which should undoubtedly hurt sales of the Routan despite its own low overall price. As for the three- to four-year resale value, it should be higher with Volkswagen especially if the situation doesn’t improve at Chrysler.

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