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Routan is right on
Partnered with Chrysler, VW hits the mark with new minivan

October 9, 2008

We haven't seen a VW van in Canada since the company pulled the Eurovan off the market a few years ago. Large and practical but quirky, Eurovan wasn't a big seller here since Canadian drivers found it difficult to warm up to the European look and feel of this large van. It wasn't "North American" enough for our tastes since it drove more like a truck, and not like the many car-like minivans offered by other manufacturers.

Fast-forward to 2008 and VW is getting back into the North American minivan market with the 2009 Routan. Available only in Canada, the US and Mexico, Routan is nothing like the Eurovan, and so similar to the minivans we're used to driving here in Canada that you'd almost swear it must have been designed and built by a North American carmaker.

Wait a second ... it was designed and built by a North American minivan maker. In fact, the new VW Routan is built by Chrysler in its Windsor, Ont., plant. What's more, many of the parts found on Routan have been pulled off Chrysler's minivans. No wonder Routan looks and feels so much like the minivans Canadians have become used to.

So why would a European brand like VW ask Chrysler to build a minivan?

VW is not new to the minivan market. Besides the Eurovan mentioned above, the company also makes minivans for the European market. But those vans are too European for our tastes (read: too small), so VW thought it best to introduce a new model here in North America with the aid of a minivan icon.

Since Chrysler invented the minivan and still leads the market with its Town & Country model, VW couldn't have chosen a better partner with which to work. Rumour has it that Routan has been in the works for a number of years and that talks initially began with Chrysler back in Germany when the company was still part of the Daimler- Chrysler family.

VW says Chrysler designed the Routan, VW adapted it and made changes, and now Chrysler builds it.

How does this collaborative partnership work? For starters, the engine and six-speed automatic are both from Chrysler. The 4.0-litre V6 powerplant with 251 hp and 259 lb.-ft. of torque (same numbers as on the 2009 Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan), is the only engine available on Routan here in Canada (American Routan buyers can opt for the 3.8-litre engine).

What does that mean to the Routan buyer? Two things -first, the power and torque numbers are just perfect. Routan offers enough of both for great manoeuvring on the highway, as well as for towing needs. The engine is generous and the transmission very smooth. Second, the engine sounds, and the tranny feels, so much like a Town & Country that you'll forget you're driving a VW.

The U-Connect hands-free phone system, navigation system, radio and double-screen rear entertainment system are also all Chrysler, as are the in-floor storage bins and some of the gauges. VW says they weren't out to reinvent what was already working. So the best of what Chrysler has to offer remains on Routan, and VW improved what they felt didn't work with their brand identity.

The suspension, for instance, has been switched out and the new "Eurotuned" suspension is tighter, offering a sportier ride. The steering, seating and body panels are also from VW, so the Routan has the mass and size of the Chrysler product, but with a definite VW look and feel. VW carefully chose all interior materials, trim and colours, and made sure that the fit and finish reflects VW's standards.

The result: A large North America minivan that offers a definite European driving experience.

The Routan isn't offered with Swivel 'n Go or Stow 'n Go seats. Nor does it come with the nifty picnic table offered on some Chrysler models. But you do get three rows of very comfy seats, all of which have more of a European look and feel that those offered on Chrysler products.

The interior is bright and inviting, and although some parts have been pulled out of Chrysler's minivan, the dash is significantly different, offering a more edgy and aggressive VW look.

LINK:The Whig Standard - Ontario, CA
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