Friday, May 22, 2009

Routan clan: VW makes a nice family hauler

Sure, the minivan market might not be what it once was, say 20 years ago before the SUV invasion.
But it's still a viable segment.
Otherwise, why would Volkswagen jump back into it, right?
In the 1960s and '70s, VW was of course known for its Microbus, sort of the official vehicle of the hippies. 
It also was the precursor to what we call minivans today.
Now, the 2009 VW Routan is the German brand's family hauler, and VW likes to tout it as the "Volkswagen of minivans."
So is it?
Yeah, pretty much, if being the VW of minivans means it has a handsome design, well-thought out interior and a little fun-to-drive quotient.
The Routan is based on the Dodge Grand Caravan, which is not a bad model to follow if you're building a minivan.
Design-wise you get a little sportier front end on the Routan, and the dashboard controls are well-placed and easy to use.
The standard engine is a 3.8-liter V-6 that makes 197 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
That power plant, found on the S and SE trim levels, certainly provides adequate power.
But if you want to juice it up a bit, you can go to the 4.0-liter V-6 that makes 251 horsepower. It is standard on the SEL trim level.
The 4.0-liter actually offers better fuel economy than the 3.8: 17 mpg city, 25 highway, versus 16 and 23.
VW also likes to tout the Routan's "German-tuned" suspension, which is designed to make it more responsive and enjoyable to drive.
While the driving dynamic is not quite in the class of VW's cars, it's not too bad, especially for a minivan. The ride is smooth and poised and handles different road scenarios nimbly.
But with minivans, it's the cabin that counts, and this one delivers nicely in that area.
One of the most convenient features is the power-folding third row seat, which provides easy access to the cargo area.
And speaking of cargo, how about 144 cubic feet of storage if you take out the seats?
Both side doors slide, and have windows you can roll down. 

All seats would meet the approval of Goldie Locks: not too firm, not too soft.

In the S trim level, you get a second row folding bench seat standard, but at other trim levels there are removable captain's chairs that fold forward. 

The third row can fold into the floor or recline and face the rear, in case you want to do some tailgating. 

Very clever touch.

 Another clever touch is the flip down mirror up front that lets a mom or dad who is driving take a glance at the kids in the back without having to turn around. 

Families that buy minivans for convenience are also usually concerned about safety, and the Routan does well in that area too.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives this VW five stars, the top rating, in frontal and side crash tests.

Driver, passenger and side curtain airbags are standard, as are electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes.

 Pricing isn't too bad on the Routan, with a base S model starting at around $25,000. 

But when you get into the higher trim levels and add all the bells and whistles, such as navigation and rear entertainment system with premium sound, you can push up into the $38,000 neighborhood.

The Routan is a very nice family hauler that defies the image of minivans as stodgy and boring. 

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