Thursday, November 18, 2010

2010 Volkswagen Routan - Is "German Minivan" an Oxymoron?

I drove the 2010 Volkswagen Routan last week on a sunny, warm November day. I don't see many Routan's around Marin County, but was curious about a minivan that touts "German engineering." It really did drive with more pep and response than the other minivans I've tested, but I wasn't impressed at all with the looks.  Both outside and in the Routan was very American. It all depends on your minivan priorities... 

  • Responsive handling
  • Quiet inside the cabin with a smooth ride
  • 13 cup holders
  • Captain's Chairs standard in 2nd row
  • Auto-fold 3rd row seats
  • Lower rear bumper for easier loading of heavy items
  • Sirius Satellite Radio for 1 year free
  • Free scheduled maintenance for 3 years or 36,000 miles

Elvis in a Minivan
We live in a beautiful part of the world with great driving roads. In fact, many car commercials are filmed in Northern California. There are great country roads with just the right amount of grade, curves and straightaways coupled with beautiful vistas of redwoods, vineyards, cows and the Pacific. I was in Santa Rosa, CA after leaving the kids with my in-laws so I stopped by the Hansel Prestige Volkswagen dealership. I was fortunate to find Larry there, an older Elvis-loving, Wrangler-wearing salesman. What a great find at a VW/BMW/Subaru dealer! 

Larry set the radio to Sirius 13 and directed me to drive along these fun narrow and bumpy roads that took us near Sebastopol. We avoided busy Highway 101 (mainly because traffic was stopped), but I did get the Routan up to 60 MPH on a straight stretch between Sebastopol and Stony Point Road. Larry is a great no-nonsense, cut-the-crap kind of guy and he let me drive and ask the questions. He didn't try to sell me on exciting features and let the Routan speak for itself. Which was fine when we were moving, but once we stopped this van definitely needed someone to talk it up.

The <yawn> Interior
I thought the Routan was a bore to look at. First of all, I'm not a fan of white paint on cars (shows dirt and gets lost in blizzards), but this one in white looked especially cheap. And I'm really not a fan of light colored or two-tone interiors (light beige & gray here). One kid puts a foot on the seat or door and now you've got something to clean up. No, thank you. I really don't want to know how dirty my car is. Maybe dark paint and darker interior would look better -- something to think about when you go shopping. I also noticed on the VW website that most of the photos of the exterior are taken from a low angle, which apparently is the most photogenic angle.

I found issues with the comfort as well. Not from the ride itself: the bumps were mellowed and there wasn't much noise from the road or engine, but the seats weren't all that comfortable. I don't know how comfortable a long road trip would be. I drove the SEL Premium with a Rear Seat Entertainment package and Navigation, so it was tricked out with all the bells and whistles ($42,500-range). There were 2 DVD screens (one for the 2nd row and one for the 3rd), 13 cup holders, captains chairs in the second row, sun shades, a moon roof, remote start, back-up camera (with poor image), power adjustable pedals for the driver, and power fold third row seats. I do love those movable pedals and power fold seats -- very short-person friendly.

There is a storage well under the feet of the second row passengers that would be really handy for beach trips, or hiding purchases from the kids or spouse. (Something on my mind since I took the kids to Costco yesterday and tried to hide gifts from them. It didn't work and now my daughter has 3 new Webkinz and my son has Looney Tunes DVDs.) There is airline-style lighting and vents for the two rows which is handy and may allow the kids to find lost pencils more easily while you're driving.  According to the VW website the 2nd row seats come out easily and the third row seats flip up and over for tailgating. 

A Good Drive, But...
I did like driving this 4.0 Litre V6. I didn't use the manual shift mode, but it was easy to reach and would make trips up into the hills more fun and with less smoke from the brakes. This van is a weird juxtaposition of great handling and ho-hum interior. An odd Volkswagen and Chrysler combo.

I understand why VW made this vehicle, but I don't think they should have. I would recommend they add an optional 3rd row to the Toureg and build a true camper van again. Maybe the Eurovan with great camping features would be a great seller now that people are thinking more independently about their vehicle purchases. (And to please the campers out there, VW has an integrated tent accessory you can buy.) Last night I found a Mercedes-Benz minivan on the Mercedes International website, the Viano. It has a camper option designed with Westfalia which you'll remember from the early Vanagon camper days. I don't know about plans to bring the Viano to the U.S., but I find it intriguing.

I love Volkswagens. Even after four years of driving a Vanagon around in college and either freezing or boiling, I still encourage people to test drive a Volkswagen before they make any final decisions. And I will continue to do so. The Routan isn't high on my list of recommended minivans, but it's definitely worth a drive.

Photos courtesy of Hansel Prestige and My thanks to Larry and Hansel Prestige for their generosity and time. 

(c) Copyright 2010-2016. Erika JN Fish. Car Mama. All Rights Reserved.

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