2009 VW Routan Highline
2009 VW Routan Highline . Click image to enlarge

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First Drives:
2009 Volkswagen Routan by Grant Yoxon
Competitors:
2009 Chevrolet Uplander
2009 Chrysler Town & Country
2009 Honda Odyssey
2009 Nissan Quest
2009 Toyota Sienna

Manufacturer’s web site
Volkswagen Canada

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2009 Volkswagen Routan

Surrey, British Columbia – A new Volkswagen minivan, the first since the 2003 Eurovan, is certainly good news. Better yet, a base price of just $27,975 makes the Routan one of the most affordable seven-seat minivans in Canada with an import nameplate. Even back in 2003 the entry price-tag on a Eurovan was over $40,000. On the other hand, if you are a VW purist and were expecting a modern remake of the legendary “microbus” — it’s not the Routan.

The Routan comes with a 4.0-litre V6 engine that can churn out 253 horsepower and a class leading 259 ft.-lb. of torque. It’s mated with a standard six-speed automatic transmission that sends drive to the front wheels.

Those specifications may have a familiar ring if you own a Chrysler Town & Country (T&C) minivan, with which the Routan shares its drivetrain and chassis architecture. The Routan rolls out of a Chrysler Canada minivan plant in Windsor, Ontario. That said, the Routan’s body design and interior fittings are all VW, as is its suspension and steering.

2009 VW Routan Highline
2009 VW Routan Highline . Click image to enlarge

The Routan’s two-bar chrome grille and big VW emblems on both the front and the rear leave no mistake about its family identity. The only body panels shared with the T&C are its side doors. The rear of Routan is more rounded and attractive.

Good handling and driving dynamics are expected of a Volkswagen: the Routan’s sport-tuned suspension has stiffer spring rates and firmer shocks than the Chrysler van. VW also sprinkled some of its “Euro magic” dust on the steering to give it a more positive feel and a tighter turning circle.

Pricing and equipment

The four trim lines of the Routan are Trendline ($27,975), Comfortline ($33,975), Highline ($39,975) and Execline ($49,975) and all come with a common powertrain.

2009 VW Routan Highline
2009 VW Routan Highline . Click image to enlarge

Standard features in the Routan are particularly generous, and include a three-zone climate-control system (driver, passenger, rear), dual power sliding side doors, front and side curtain airbags (all three rows) and an electronic stability-control system called ESP.

Optional entertainment features include a dual-screen DVD rear-seat entertainment system – video-game systems can be plugged in and each screen can show something different – and a multi-media system with a 30-gigabyte hard drive that can hold thousands of songs or pictures.

The Comfortline adds alloy wheels and second-row captain chairs; the Highline is the leather-upholstery version with sunroof; and the Execline adds even more power and high-tech features, including a navigation system.

Interior impressions

Inside, the Routan offers seating for seven in three rows, plus 930 litres (32.8 cu. ft.) of cargo space behind the third row. The Routan’s cargo space swells to a cavernous 2,400 litres (84.8 cu. ft.) when the folding third-row seat disappears into the floor. The second-row seatbacks can also be folded flat or removed if even more space is required for long items. When the second-row seats are removed there’s a perfectly flat floor that can take a standard size (four-by-eight-foot) sheet of plywood or other such building material.

2009 VW Routan Highline
2009 VW Routan Highline . Click image to enlarge

The Routan doesn’t offer either the Stow ’n’ Go or the Swivel ’n’ Go seating systems that are available in the T&C. Instead, VW has fitted bigger and more comfortable second-row seats. It does, however, have the two large under-floor storage boxes behind the front seats.

The Routan’s dash-mounted shift lever is a little different, but a practical use of space. The Routan dash also comes with not one, but two gloveboxes. The dash instrument panel has simple and easy-to-read white-faced gauges with black numbers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S. has awarded the Routan a best-in class safety rating, with a maximum five-star rating for frontal collisions and side impacts. A low centre of gravity also allowed the Routan to earn a four star rating for resistance to rollover.

Driving impressions

A high seating position gives the driver an elevated view of the road ahead – a nice advantage in traffic situations. My Highline version of the Routan came with bucket style leather seats with thick side bolsters and a fold-down inside armrest.

2009 VW Routan Highline
2009 VW Routan Highline . Click image to enlarge

Even with a firmer suspension, the Routan ride is a comfortable one. Its long wheelbase gives it a limo-like quality that’s great for high speed cruising. The trade-off is agility and low-speed manoeuvrability. Then again, when you’re tall, heavy and long that’s not really a surprise.

Despite a big V6 and a 2,096 kg (4621 lb) curb weight, the Routan provides surprisingly decent fuel economy. It’s rated at 12.2 L/100 km (23 mpg) in the city and 7.9 L/100 km (36 mpg) on the highway. That’s a little easier on fuel than a Chrysler Town & Country with the same engine — I don’t know how VW did it.

The 253-hp engine has gobs of torque available when you press on the gas pedal, so the Routan can move very smartly from a standstill. It’s an engine that’s designed to pull and haul stuff (or people) so it’s well suited to a multi-passenger vehicle with colossal cargo capacity like the Routan.

Verdict

Why reinvent the wheel? The VW variant of the world’s best-selling minivan allows the all-new Routan to be offered at an attractive and highly competitive price.

Pricing: 2009 Volkswagen Routan Highline

Base price: $39,975
Options: None
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,575
Price as tested: $41,650
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2009 Volkswagen Routan

    Related articles on Autos
    First Drives
  • 2009 Volkswagen Routan by Grant Yoxon
    Competitors
  • 2009 Chevrolet Uplander
  • 2009 Chrysler Town & Country
  • 2009 Honda Odyssey
  • 2009 Nissan Quest
  • 2009 Toyota Sienna

    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Volkswagen Canada
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