For the record, my kids loved the 2009 Volkswagen Routan. They liked the electronic sliding doors with push-button operation. My oldest was intrigued by all the storage compartments and finding things to put in them. (I'm pretty sure if we tested the Routan in the summer, there would have been frogs and snakes hidden in all of them.) They loved packing loads of friends into the Routan, and they naughtily giggled all the time, most likely laughing at who placed their boogers where.
This Momma, however, was complacent about the entire minivan experience. Like an arrogant teenager, no matter how fabulous the features and gizmos the Routan threw at me, I couldn't help but respond with a signature apathetic roll of the eyes and shrug of the shoulders.
The Routan, really a rebadged Chrysler Town & Country, had many of my favorite things, such as heated seats and a cargo door that opened and closed with the push of a button. It had great visibility from every angle and an optional backup camera for an even safer view. It had more cupholders than you could imagine and a place to install a ceiling-mounted DVD player in each row. But, alas, it did not have what I was really hoping it would - agility and a little fun-to-drive character. With a 251-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 engine, the Routan driving experience was as plain vanilla as you can get, and it felt exactly like what it is - a big, heavy box. It was difficult to zip into parking spaces and also hard to gauge its width.
Gas mileage was neck and neck with all the other minivan competitors at 17/25 mpg city/highway. The 20-gallon tank lasted through a week's worth of errands and school shuttling easily.
Based on the Routan commercials and VW's youthful, fresh approach to every car it delivers, I was disappointed with this one. I expected to be surprised and to have comments like, "Wow, leave it to VW to really ace the minivan. Finally, someone gave this family classic some character." But not yet. Apparently, the race to the "cool" minivan is still under way, and it's anybody's guess who will win that trophy.
My Cala Lilly White Routan was ... shiny. And clean. Sorry, I'm kind of grabbing at straws here since the Routan - and most other minivans - seem to be, well, square.
The Routan wasn't as high off of the ground as some SUVs, so I was hoping for some easy entry for my littlest guy. But he still had to climb in one knee at a time.
I did like the automatic doors, which made it easy to get the kids in and out when my hands were full. But as soon as they realized the doors were electronic, they immediately started arguing with me over who would get to press the buttons!
Speaking of buttons, the Routan has another favorite of mine, the power liftgate. You could open and close it with the key fob, the button on the liftgate or with buttons under the center stack. Very cool!
The Routan also had a rear lip spoiler just over the rear window and a signature VW front end to keep its look consistent with the likes of the Jetta and Passat. In the back, a flat rear bumper and droopy, downward-sloping taillights made the rear look like it was fixed in a frown.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): None
I will admit that the organizer in me started to get excited when I stepped into the Routan. I immediately noticed a place for my purse on the floor between the center console and the center stack (see photo gallery). In the second row, deep storage bins in the floor were easily concealed by the floormats. These bins were so large, I am pretty sure you could fit a small child or a piece of carry-on luggage in each of them, a wonderful bonus when traveling with the fam. (I was only kidding about putting a kid in there.)
One feature that I really liked was the "conversation mirror," which popped down from the first-row overhead console. This mirror looks back at all your passengers and allows the driver to see who stole the cookie or who hit whom first. Finally, we truly can have eyes in the back of our heads!
The Routan did offer a little luxury on the inside, too, with leather upholstery and a light beige color, creating a soft and calming atmosphere. If you find yourself feeling a little too calm, you can pop into the second-row captain's chairs, each of which fully recline, and catch some Z's. The second-row seats fold down easily and have hard seatbacks that could easily be used as tables.
The third row offers a variety of options. Several buttons in the cargo area allow you to choose a seating configuration. If you want the entire third row down, press a button, and it neatly folds into the floor. You could also opt to have just one side up and the other down.
In the far reaches of the cargo area, I was pleased to find that the floor is sunken quite a bit, allowing for plenty of storage space even when all three rows are used. I suppose it is this kind of utility that I am supposed to get excited about, and I think if I owned a Routan for a long time, I would certainly find necessities to fill all the bins and find the perfect seat configuration for my family. In the Routan's favor, it really does allow for many of the comforts you would normally expect only at home. With comfy seating, a video screen (if you opt for that package or add the DVD players later), plenty of room for storing snacks, favorite toys and must have-blankies, the Routan blurs the line between minivan and RV.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
The Routan fared well on crash-test ratings by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, scoring the agency's top rating, Good, on both front and side impacts. The Routan has yet to be tested for roof strength. The Routan also includes advanced multistage front passenger airbags and front and rear side curtain protection airbags for all outboard seating positions in all three rows. The Routan also comes with standard stability and traction control and antilock brakes.
The Routan comes equipped with three full Latch connectors - two in the second row and one in the third row to accommodate more than the standard two car seats or boosters. I was perplexed by the location of the third-row Latch hook because I couldn't determine whether it was meant for the center or the outboard seat. I asked a Chrysler rep - being that VW's and Chrysler's minivans are similar - and was told the metal hooks between the seatback and seat cushion of the third row should be used in the outboard driver's side position. I wish I could have the car back for a second to see if our Latch-equipped boosters would actually clip nicely into to that spot; to me, it looked like the booster would have to straddle the seat-belt buckle to make it fit into place.
Automated warnings for just about anything that can go wrong with a vehicle (oil pressure, brake fluid, water temperature, bulb failure) help keep you safe in the Routan. Other warnings can improve your driving; I liked the turn-signal warning, which alerts the driver when you have forgotten to flip the signal off. Nice!
In Diapers: It's a minivan! You can even fit multiples in rear-facing infant seats in this one.
In School: Plenty of seating for school-aged kids, carpoolers, plus a friend or two.
Teens: It doesn't score high on the cool factor, but it'll get teens and their friends to the movie theater and back.