2010 Volkswagen Routan Highline
2010 Volkswagen Routan Highline. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2010 Volkswagen Routan

In my profession as a test driver, occasionally the right vehicle comes along at just the right time. My wife’s grandmother passed away at the beginning of April, and in the process of settling her estate, my mother-in-law had to find some way to move her mother’s belongings out of her apartment, most likely to be donated to a benevolent association, or, preferably, to someone who could use a bunch of old but well-cared-for furniture.

Enter this week’s Volkswagen Routan tester, which I picked up a couple of weeks after grandma’s passing. My mother-in-law had been calling around for a week and half to women’s organizations, looking for someone who could use the furniture. She struck gold on a Friday, when she was put in touch with someone about to begin their new life back in the community, and who would be very grateful for what we had to give: a queen-sized bed frame, mattress and box spring, a loveseat and wingback chair, two bedside tables, a six-drawer dresser, and a few other odds and ends.

2010 Volkswagen Routan Highline
2010 Volkswagen Routan Highline. Click image to enlarge

Great! We had a place to take the furniture and a way to get it there, but the question was whether it would all fit in one go; our start and end points were almost clear across town from each other, so having to make two trips would mean a very long day.

There was a brief moment of panic when I realized that the mattress, box spring and headboard wouldn’t fit inside the van. I was thankful, then, for the Routan’s roof rails and cross bars, which allowed us to tie the mattress and box spring to the roof, with the headboard sandwiched in between. The rest of the load was drama-free: the dresser fit crossways behind the front seats, with the loveseat, chair and tables in back, and a bunch of smaller odds and ends squeezed in wherever they would fit. One load, one trip and a lot of time saved.

You’re forgiven if you’d never heard of the Routan before this; VW sold 1,500 of them in all of 2009, compared to about 43,000 Grand Caravans and Town & Countrys combined. This van was added to VW’s line-up in late 2008 after the company’s research showed that 15 per cent of VW owners had left the brand to purchase a minivan when their needs dictated a larger vehicle. Still, the company must have suspected that they wouldn’t sell Routans in the same numbers as Chrysler moves its Dodge Grand Caravan and Town & Country, so rather than design its own van from the ground up, VW partnered with Chrysler to base a van on the American platform.

2010 Volkswagen Routan Highline
2010 Volkswagen Routan Highline
2010 Volkswagen Routan Highline. Click image to enlarge

The Routan shares most of its makeup with the Chrysler and Dodge vans, but on the outside, only the roof and door panels are shared, to create a van distinctive enough to set it apart from its domestic siblings. Its powertrain choices are limited to one: a 4.0-litre V6 and six-speed automatic that also serves the Chrysler Town & Country and is the uplevel choice in the Dodge Grand Caravan.

Rated at 251 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque, it’s a strong motor, but not terribly refined. Most surprising is how much the engine vibrates at idle, or, more specifically, how much of that vibration is transmitted into the cabin. It’s a sensation one normally only gets in inexpensive four-cylinder cars, not an upscale van.

Acceleration is brisk, but the engine never sounds like it’s having a good time. This transmission is one I’ve noted before for how it bangs off great up-shifts in hard acceleration and downshifts readily for passing manoeuvres, yet often feels clumsy and unsophisticated in normal driving. The Routan’s fuel consumption ratings are 12.2/7.9 L/100 km (city/highway); I averaged 14 L/100 km in city driving.

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