In full disclosure, I didn't expect much from the 2011 Volkswagen Routan. My mindset going into this test drive was VW excels at making affordable sporty cars like the GTI and that cute Eos, not family cars. Furthermore, the Routan is a Volkswagen-ized version of the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country, two minivans that are often overshadowed in features and performance by their Japanese competitors like the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey.
After a week with the Routan, however, my mindset changed. The Routan has some natural cache to give it buoyancy in the market thanks to the incomparable Volkswagen branding strategy over the years. It also stands out because it has a particularly spacious cabin, is a flex-fuel vehicle (a good thing or useless, depending on your point of view) and offers a lot of family-friendly features at a family-friendly price. It's not high on interior style and the exterior looks like your standard minivan should, but it's competent and offers a little VW fun for the whole family.
The 2011 Routan now includes a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that's the same as what's in the Grand Caravan and the Town & Country. This engine is a plus for the Routan as it's more powerful and more fuel efficient than before. It won't jump out of the starting gate — aka your garage — nor will it provide you with agility on the highway, but it will steadily carry you wherever you need to go.
The Routan recently competed in Cars.com's Ultimate Minivan Shootout against the Odyssey, Sienna, Town & Country, Grand Caravan and Nissan Quest. Read more here.
The Routan's base S trim starts at $26,930; my test car, a midlevel SE, cost $35,570.
From the side and rear, the Routan bears a resemblance to its cousins, the Grand Caravan and Town & Country. However, the Routan's front offers a glimpse of Volkswagen pizzazz with the VW logo, sloping grille and headlights that are reminiscent of other VWs. At the end of the day, the 2011 Routan looks like a minivan does and should. This is a car built for family functionality.
Of course, all this practicality makes things easy for families with small children. The step-in height is a breeze, even for people like my 2-year-old who are less than 40 inches tall. She got in and out of this minivan without any problems at all. The power sliding doors and power liftgate, which are optional on the base trim but standard on the SE and higher trims, offer additional conveniences for families. Heated power side mirrors and roof rails complete the package.
The new 3.6-liter V-6 engine delivers 283 horsepower, which is enough for how you'll use this minivan. When it comes to fuel, the 2011 Routan SE is flexible. You can fill her up with regular unleaded gasoline or E85 ethanol. With regular gas, the Routan gets an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg city/highway. The car came to me with a full tank of regular fuel and I averaged 22 mpg doing what felt like a lot of city driving. Not bad. With E85, the Routan gets 12/18 mpg. The purported benefit of the E85 option is that your carbon footprint and overall fossil-fuel consumption will be diminished via the use of ethanol-based fuel.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
The Routan's minimalist dashboard with its black-colored plastic and metal-looking trim isn't exactly eye-catching, but it does put the focus on the sheer spaciousness of the car's interior. Even though there are plenty of nice features inside, there's an openness and distinct lack of clutter that's refreshing. Headroom, legroom, shoulder room and plain-old room to move around are abundant.
In addition to having a spacious cabin, the Routan also has comfortable seating. The driver's seat is eight-way adjustable and both front seats are heated. The captain's chairs in the second row are great for child-safety seats or adult passengers. While the leatherette upholstery won't ever be mistaken for luxury Italian leather, it is practical for families because it cleans up in a cinch.
Storage space for the thirsty and hungry is plentiful in the 2011 Routan. There are 13 cupholders, with six in the front center console area alone. The sliding doors are also equipped with bottleholders, and the third row boasts three cupholders of its own. There are two glove boxes and plenty of other roomy cubbies throughout the cabin. The rear cargo space is ample enough to hold a stroller, a week's worth of groceries and some baseball gear with room to spare. The second-row captain's chairs are removable and foldable, and the third row, which is split 60/40, folds flat into the floor. There's also gigantic storage bins in the floor of the second row should you need extra space.
The built-in sunshades for the second- and third-row windows are a nice touch and something I might expect in a pricier car. The same can be said for the two-screen entertainment system that cost an additional $2,020 on my test car. The second and third rows each have a roof-mounted screen of their own, something that engrossed my children completely. The kids watched more than their average amount of movies during the week we had this car. The two screens are surrounded by two roof-mounted compartments that are meant to store the wireless headphones, but they could also be used to store DVDs or small books.
The front row's touch-screen that showcases the navigation system, the backup camera and controls the entertainment system is clear and easy to operate. Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port and hard disk are also part of the standard system.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The 2011 Volkswagen Routan gets high marks for safety, receiving the top score of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact and rear crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It hasn't undergone a roof-strength test.
The Routan is armed with an arsenal of standard safety features such as all-disc antilock brakes, front-wheel drive, an electronic stability system, traction control and seven airbags, including side-impact airbags in the front row, a driver's knee airbag and side curtains for all three rows.
Somewhat shockingly, the lower Latch anchors — all three sets of them — are easy to use and access. I wasn't surprised by this because I'm a former Jetta owner. I kept the Jetta for my early years of marriage and then motherhood; impressively, the car also fit my mom (of one) lifestyle perfectly. One of the main reasons I kept it as long as I did was it had fabulous Latch anchors. They were so easy to access that they called out for use, and they never once caused me any frustration or scraped hands.
The Routan's Latch anchors are much like those of my Jetta of yesteryear. For a car company that's only overtly been in the family-car business for a handful of years, Volkswagen is paying attention in the right places. So many manufacturers get this wrong, yet the few that get it right — VW and Mini to name a select few — are not what would be considered traditional family-car companies. Thank you, Volkswagen, for keeping it cool and getting it right.
There are three sets of anchors — one set in each of the second-row captain's chairs and one in the third row. If I had my druthers, the third-row anchors would be positioned on one outboard side or the other. As it stands now, the Latch anchors are slightly off-center of the third row, which makes placement of the seat awkward for any adult trying to get their child in or out of that row. Find out how the Routan did in MotherProof.com's Car Seat Check here.
Get more safety information about the 2011 Volkswagen Routan here.