Weidel on Wheels: Routan makes the minivan a fun vehicle to drive

By: Jeffrey Weidel
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While I’m no fan of the minivan, one has to admit that the 2011 Volkswagen Routan is a pretty nice vehicle. Put the Routan’s same essentials in a sport utility vehicle body and no one is worried about the stigma of driving around in a vehicle designed for the “soccer mom.” It’s a bit ironic that 40 years ago the folks at Volkswagen were getting major kudos for the “Beetle Bus,” a great camping vehicle that became the “hippy” transportation of choice in the 1960s and ’70s. Volkswagen now produces a far superior product in the Routan, but yet doesn’t get anywhere near the notoriety for it that the hippy van received. However, the Routan and minivans in general still deliver. These family-friendly vehicles are still the smartest design when it comes to space for passengers and cargo. The 2011 Routan is a seven-passenger minivan that replaced the VW Eurovan when it was discontinued in 2003. The Routan was unveiled in 2008 and serves as Volkswagen’s answer to the Dodge Grand Caravan and the Chrysler Town & Country. While most agree the Routan is an improvement on the two aforementioned vans, part of the problem is taking on the two industry leaders — the highly regarded Honda Odyssey and Toyota Siena. The 2011 Routan is essentially unchanged from last year’s model. It did add a new, more powerful 3.6-liter V-6 engine to the lineup this year, the same one that now powers the Dodge and Chrysler minivans. The exterior differs from the Grand Caravan and Town & Country thanks to a sloping grille, rounded headlights and a few other facets. The new engine does make a noticeable difference when powering up the foothills on a recent day trip. All Routan models now feature a robust 3.8-liter, V-6 engine with 283 horsepower. It goes 0 to 60 in 8.3 seconds, which is not bad for a minivan, yet still a half second slower than either the Sienna or Odyssey. Although the Routan is a large vehicle, it still handles nicely and has strong maneuverability. It corners well and provides a comfortable ride that isn’t too bothered by bumpy roads or uneven surfaces. Minivans are ultimately judged on their interior and the Routan receives solid marks in this department. This VW features wide chairs that are comfortable for long drives or short trips around town. The second row provides a roomy ride for even 6-footers (the optional sunroof can cut that down a little) and the third row bench will easily accommodate two adults. Cargo space rates high as well. Drop down the third row — which is an easy chore — and the Routan becomes a good hauler. But note that second row seats need to be removed to achieve a flat floor. __________ 2011 Volkswagen Routan SE Price: $34,750 Power: 3.6-liter, V-6 engine with 283 horsepower Mileage estimate: 18 mpg city; 26 mpg highway Standard features include: Power rear-vent windows; tilt-only steering wheel; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter; rear air-conditioning controls; second-row captain’s chairs; six-speaker sound system with CD player and auxiliary audio jack; traction and stability control; roof rails