Pros: Potentially a good value; nicer interior and better handling than Chrysler counterparts.
Cons: Quivers over bumps; cheesy navigation system; higher trim levels offer questionable value.
What's New: The Routan hasn't changed a bit. The 2013 models are carryovers from last year.
The first thing you need to know about the 2013 Volkswagen Routan is that it's not really a Volkswagen. Although VW did a decent job of disguising it, the Routan is a Dodge Grand Caravan underneath. But here's the second thing you need to know: That's not necessarily a bad thing. The Dodge recently received a thorough freshening, so the Routan is based on a pretty solid van.
Indeed, the Routan hits most of the right notes for minivan shoppers. There's seemingly endless room inside, even for adults in the third row. Nifty storage features abound, although Dodge elected not to share its innovative Stow 'n Go second-row seats with its German partner. Under the hood, the Chrysler-sourced Pentastar V6 delivers good power and competitive fuel economy. And Volkswagen's designers did what they could with the Grand Caravan's basic dashboard, adding better materials and a more refined look overall.
Now, let's get down to brass tacks. Is the Routan as satisfying as the Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest or Toyota Sienna? No. It's not quite in that league. But the Routan does have a point in its favor, and that's price. Since VW's minivan experiment hasn't exactly been a sales success, Routans should be available at steep discounts across the country. The Routan might not be a real Volkswagen technically, but it's certainly a real bargain at thousands less than the competition.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 Volkswagen Routan is a 7-passenger minivan that's offered in three trim levels: S, SE and SEL.
The entry-level S starts with 16-inch steel wheels, heated exterior mirrors, tri-zone manual climate control, a leather-wrapped tilt-only steering wheel, four-way manual front seats (no height adjustment), fold-flat second-row captain's chairs with in-floor storage tubs, a third-row folding bench with foldable headrests, cloth upholstery, cruise control, dual glove boxes, power rear quarter vents and a 6-speaker sound system with an auxiliary input.
The SE adds 17-in alloy wheels, power sliding doors, adjustable pedals, a trip computer, an 8-way power driver seat with adjustable lumbar, heated front seats, leatherette upholstery, rear sunshades, Bluetooth, and a six-CD/DVD changer. The Rear Screen Entertainment package contributes a power tailgate, a 9-in flip-down video screen with headphones and remote, a rearview camera, and a hard-drive-based touchscreen audio interface with satellite radio and an optional DVD-based navigation system.
The SEL adds different 17-in alloys, automatic headlights, a sunroof, tri-zone automatic climate control, remote start, keyless entry with push-button ignition, leather upholstery, heated second-row seats, a power-folding third-row seat, and an iPod interface. Optional are second- and third-row 9-inch video screens with an additional DVD player.
The top-of-the-line SEL Premium includes yet another style of 17-in alloy wheels, a blind spot monitoring system, driver memory functions, woodgrain interior trim, eight-way power front seats, and a nine-speaker, 560-watt sound system.
The Routan's standard cloth front seats lack VW's typical firm support, but the leatherette and leather upholstery add notable resilience. Volkswagen's interior design gurus have been let loose on the dashboard, and the result is indeed higher quality than what you get in the Routan's Chrysler platform-mates; however, we still see too much Grand Caravan in this dashboard for comfort. The gauges are easy to read at a glance, and the controls are generally ergonomically sound, but the Chrysler-sourced optional touchscreen leaves something to be desired (see Technology, below).
Second-row comfort is very good, as the standard captain's chairs are like having an extra set of front seats in the middle row. However, the Routan's second-row seats lack the versatility of Chrysler's Stow 'n Go seats, which apparently got lost in the translation to German. Passenger space in the third row could be better, but it's adequate for kids, and even adults can get comfortable back there for short trips. Cargo capacity measures 32.3 cu-ft behind the third row, 83 cu-ft behind the second row, and 144.4 cu-ft behind the first row--typical for a minivan but far more than in any SUV.
The Routan is rather thin on standard high-tech features, lacking both Bluetooth and iPod connectivity unless you step up to considerably more expensive trim levels. Also featured on these loftier models is a touchscreen stereo interface with hard-drive music storage, a USB port and available navigation. That might sound like a killer combo, but this interface is actually a Chrysler-sourced unit that's well past its prime, memorable for its crude graphics and sometimes unintuitive operation. Tellingly, Chrysler has been phasing this system out in its latest cars, replacing it with a new touchscreen interface that has a larger screen and friendlier graphics. At least the Routan has the distinction of being the only Volkswagen product with USB connectivity.
Also noteworthy are the two different rear seat DVD entertainment systems. The first comes with one flip-down screen for both the second and third rows to share, while the more advanced system includes a second flip-down screen. Your kids will likely approve of either, though other vans have moved ahead on this front, notably the Sienna with its enormous 16.4-in split-screen rear monitor.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Routan is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that's rated at 283 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a 6-speed automatic. The V6 makes some unrefined noises at times, but it packs a satisfying high-end punch, even if it's a bit soft off the line. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at an adequate 17 mpg city/25 mpg hwy.
The Routan comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes and seven airbags (front, front-side, driver knee and full-length side curtain).
The government hasn't crash tested a Routan lately, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Routan its highest rating of Good in every category.
The Routan isn't blessed with world-class structural rigidity, so it quivers more over broken pavement than the Japanese competition. The highway ride is quite pleasant, though, thanks to good noise suppression. Volkswagen has added a sportier tune to the Chrysler-sourced suspension, so body motions are a bit more disciplined in the Routan, but don't expect miracles; the Routan still handles a lot like a Grand Caravan, which means it has unexpectedly precise steering but plenty of body roll in corners.
Other Cars to Consider
Honda Odyssey: The recently redesigned Odyssey boasts an impressive technology suite and comfy accommodations, but its dull dynamics and odd styling are question marks.
Nissan Quest: Based on a Japanese-market van, the Quest is taller and narrower than the rest, but it also has the nicest interior and an eager V6.
Toyota Sienna: Also recently redesigned, the Sienna offers the unusual option of a 4-cylinder motor, but the engineering highlight here is Toyota's peerless 3.5-liter V6. The Sienna also offers a novel split-screen entertainment system that allows two kids to do their own thing simultaneously.
Our advice is simply to get the nicest Routan you can find. Real-world pricing is so volatile on this model that the suggested retail prices don't really mean much. You might be able to get a luxurious SEL for a song, so shop wisely.