2011 Volkswagen Routan SEL Premium car review: Yes, it’s a Volkswagen minivan

2011 Volkswagen Routan SEL Premium

2011 Volkswagen Routan SEL Premium

“I didn’t know Volkswagen makes a minivan.”

They don’t.

“Then why is there a VW logo on the grille of that minivan.”

Because it’s a Volkswagen.

“But you said Volkswagen didn’t make a minivan.”

That’s right. Volkswagen doesn’t make a minivan. This is the Volkswagen Routan. It’s built in the same factory that puts together the Dodge Grand Caravan and the Chrysler Town & Country. In fact, like those two Chrysler Group minivans, the Routan is another version, the same chassis, the same powertrain and the same tricks inside and out. It’s all, says Volkswagen, with “German engineering and outstanding value” and the “soul of a Volkswagen.”

2011 Volkswagen Routan SEL Premium interior

The 2011 Volkswagen Routan SEL Premium is equipped similarly to the top models of the Chrysler Town & County.

German engineering? It’s not Volkswagen’s. Whatever German that’s technical expertise in the Volkswagen Routan is leftover from Chrysler Group’s temporary dalliance with Mercedes-Benz, though Chrysler extensively modified and updated the suspension for 2011.

The Routan is a substitute for Volkswagen’s own minivan sold in Europe and once sold here as the Eurovan, at least until 2003 when VW finally threw in the towel on a vehicle that was exceedingly roomy for its size but too expensive and too plain inside for America’s competition.

So instead of yielding the field completely, VW struck a deal with Chrysler to repackage America’s favorite minivan, the Grand Caravan/Town & Country and call it the Volkswagen Routan. And that’s object in question.

Like its American cousins, the Routan comes off the same assembly line as the GC/T&C and shares all the major components of the pair. When the Chrysler duo got the outstanding new Chrysler 3.6-liter V-6 that (for good reason) has become standard for the entire minivan line, replacing last year’s multiple choices with the all-new engine that does everything, from power to fuel economy, better than all of last year’s engines. The new 3.6 makes 283 horsepower and 260 lb/ft of torque while matching the best (and biggest) of the prior choices in its EPA fuel consumption, rated at 17 city/25 highway (we averaged 18.3 mpg in mixed driving in a hilly test area). That’s due in part, of course, to the six-speed automatic that’s standard with the new engine.

As mentioned, the suspension was reengineered  for the GC/T&C chassis, and the Volkswagen Routan benefits from the changes while adding a few spins of its own, VW able to make chassis tuning changes for a more VW feel. Top trim levels of the Routan (SEL and SEL Premium) are upgraded to Nivomat self-leveling ZF Sachs rear air suspension. Standard on the Routan S and SE trim levels are heavy-duty rear shocks with coil-over springs “that remain firm under heavy braking under heavy loads while keeping the occupants comfortable even through bumps in the road.”

2011 Volkswagen Routan 3.6-liter V-6

The 3.6-liter V-6 in the 2011 Volkswagen Routan makes more horsepower without giving up fuel economy.

The Routan was given a new look, varying most noticeably from the Chrysler sibs with the taillights and a front end configured to VW’s family design. High-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps are standard on the SEL Premium.

Like its American counterparts, the Volkswagen minivan has a new one-piece dash for better fit and easier assembly. The VW doesn’t change the componentry, however, the Routan even getting a version of the Chrysler UConnect connectivity package for phone and music.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.