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2010 Volkswagen Routan: Not your father's Microbus

Joint American-German design features power, comfort features
by: JAIME VALDEZ, Don't let the Volkswagen badge fool you – the Routan is actually a Chrysler minivan that drives like a German roadcar, which is not a bad deal.

The 2010 Routan has everything the original Volkswagen Microbus lacked.

The Routan's engine is in the front, not the back. It is water-cooled, not air-cooled, meaning the Routan has heat. And since both available engines have six instead of four cylinders, they each have enough power to climb a hill with ease.

The Routan also drives like a car, not a school bus. It comes with a six-speed automatic transmission, air-conditioning and side-curtain air bags. Options include leather seats and dual electric sliding doors.

In fact, the Routan is not even entirely German. It was developed with Chrysler, which sells versions as the Town and Country and the Dodge Grand Caravan.

For all these reasons, the Routan will never become a cultural icon like the Microbus, which came to symbolize the free-spirited 1960s. Its simplicity, lack of creature comforts and versatility appealed to hippies, surfers, campers and the earliest version of soccer moms.

At the same time, the Routan will always be easier to live with - especially during the kind of wet and windy days that threatened to blow Microbuses off the road.

Yes, the Routan is further proof that Volkswagen is no longer the quirky car company that produced the air-cooled Beetle and the Rabbit GTI of the 1980s, the first of the real pocket rockets. Heck, Volkswagen is even dropping the retro New Beetle. Most of its products now seem like downsized Audis and BMWs these days.

Except that Audi and BMW don't make minivans, which creates the market opening the Routan is trying to fill. Despite its American roots, Volkwagen has done its best to give the Routen a European feel. The suspension is firmer and the steering is tighter than either of the Chrysler versions, giving the Routan a sportier feel on winding roads. All passengers commented on how well it rode.

Volkswagen has not succeeded in completely remaking the interior, however. The leather seats in our test model where comfortable and supportive. But much of the interior plastic was below Volkswagen current standards.

Chrysler's engineering work well when it comes to interior space, however. As the inventor of the original minivan in the 1980s, the American car manufacturer has always done a good job of providing a large amount of space in a relatively small package. Although it has grown over the years, the Chrysler minivan is still smaller - and therefore easier to drive and park - than some of its competitors.

Routan drivers also benefit from a high seating position that offers good views of surrounding traffic and the road ahead. And the dual side sliding doors in our test model made it easy for passengers to enter and leave the vehicle. The Routan lacks Chrysler's handy fold-in-the-floor second-row seats, however. And like all seven-seat vehicles, the back row is best for children.

Our test model was equipped with the base 3.8-liter V6 engine. Although some reviewers have described it as underpowered, we found the 197 horsepower more than adequate in all normal driving situations, including freeway passing. It was a little noisy under hard acceleration, however.

Strangely enough, the EPA says the optional 4.0-liter V6 gets slightly better mileage than the base engine, even though it is rated at 251 horsepower. That may be the only quirky thing about the Routan - a green reason to buy a bigger engine.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2010 Routan.

• Manufacturer: Volkswagen.

• Class: Minivan.

• Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

• Style: Five-door, four passenger hatchback.

• Engines: 3.8-liter V6 (197 hp, 230 lb ft); 4.0-liter V6 (251 hp, 259 ft-lbs).

• Transmissions: 6-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 17/25 (as tested).

• Price: Beginning at $26,500.