The inventor of the original minivan teams up with the king of the modern minivan.
You know the automotive world has turned upside down when Volkswagen, the company credited with inventing the original minivan, attaches its logo to a North American-designed-and-built people mover.
The resulting Chrysler-made Volkswagen Routan is set to give the German automaker its first such conveyance since its slow-selling EuroVan departed following the 2003 model year.
For a while, it appeared that VW would recreate a little retro-magic of its own when it displayed a concept van a few years back with styling that emulated its successful Beetle-base effort from the early 1950s. The company instead chose to outsource the project. Chrysler, the most successful minivan builder ever since it revived the category 25 years ago, was a logical and willing partner.
But why have the Routan join the minivan parade at this late date? Haven’t these seven-passenger rigs seen their best days? Perhaps. While minivan sales have declined of late and their are fewer players in the game (both Ford and General Motors have folded their cards), there are still plenty of dedicated category customers out there who would never consider driving anything else.
Volkswagen hopes to grab a slice of this smaller pie by incorporating European (firmer) ride and handling characteristics, up-level interior fit and finish plus its own front- and rear-end design, slightly altered bodywork into Chrysler’s proven platform and layout.
The finished product, while not exactly original, is certainly pleasing to the eye. The Routan’s nose has the familiar grille design that can also be spotted on VW’s Touareg and Tiguan sport utes. As well, Routan-specific wheel designs are a bit sportier than the rims employed on the Chrysler Town & Country or Dodge Grand Caravan.
Inside, VW has selected its own premium seat coverings and cabin trim that further differentiates its bus from that of Chrysler. Not included, however is Chrysler’s second-row Swivel ’n Go (with folding table) and Stow ’n Go second-row seats (that fold into the floor).
It would have been interesting if Volkswagen had dropped one of its powerplants for the Routan. Instead, it chose to stick with two of Chrysler’s top-tier V6 engines.
ntry-level S and SE trim levels are fitted with a 197-horsepower 3.8-liter V6, while the top-flight SEL gets a 253-horsepower 4.0-liter V6. Chrysler’s price-leader 175-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 was excused from Routan duty.
Both engines direct power to the front wheels by way of six-speed automatic transmissions.
Base Routans are equipped with the expected air/cruise/tilt content plus power locks and heated outside power mirrors and a basic sound system.
The mid-range SE adds tri-zone air conditioning second-row captain’s chairs, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, steering-wheel audio controls and overhead console. Also part of the SE package are power-sliding side doors, premium instrument cluster and a six-speaker audio system.
Top-end SEL customers will further enjoy tri-zone climate control, power liftgate, leather seat coverings, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated first- and secondrow seats and power adjustable pedals.
On the option block are very bright xenon headlights with fog lamps, remote starting system, backup warning, dual nineinch roof-mounted video screens and touchscreen navigation.
So, there’s nothing routine about the Routan, but time will tell if it will set the minivan crowd heading for this upscaleoriented Chrysler in Volkswagen clothing. VW has set a lofty sales target of 40,000 units for the Routan’s initial year, but short of a sudden minivan resurgence and/or competitor meltdown, that number could prove elusive.
In the meantime, for anyone in the mood for a Chrysler-built family hauler that delivers the goods with a slight German accent, you have found your ride.