This “job” of mine has some perks. I may not get paid, but I do have the wonderful opportunity to receive and test out samples, all to share with our readers. So in June, after sharing my ever-lasting search for a new car, I was offered a week of testing the VW Routan.
Most people (even the FedEx delivery guy) did a double take when they saw the Routan in my driveway. What amazed them wasn’t that I had become a minivan mom, but that VW makes a minivan. About 80% of the folks I came in contact with while driving (or parking or admiring) this hot new car weren’t in the loop. It often took me reminding them that Brooke Shields had done an ad campaign for the Routan to get that spark of remembrance to glisten in their eyes. (Though not really sure for the FedEx delivery guy if it was the campaign or just the mention of Brooke that brought out the glisten.)
Past the hump of surprise and recollection, I was bombarded with questions that a non-car-freak wouldn’t often know: what’s the HP? What platform is it made on? etc. Of course, I did my research and quickly learned that its not made on another VW platform, but it shares a plant (and, apparently, body) with Chrysler’s Town & Country. As far as the horse power and all the statistical info, I wasn’t too into that research, you can find it on the VW Routan website.
How’s the drive? We (my husband and I) were absolutely thrilled driving the Routan. The highway and side road pick-up are equally impressive. Driving this minivan we weren’t left trudging behind, but easily caught up and surpassed fancy race cars. It took turns and corners beautifully and bumps hardly bothered us. And the braking system, as well as slippery-control, were top notch (which are super-important to a family in living in the northeast, what with the snow of the winter and our crazy rainy spring.)
Perks and bonuses: Keep in mind, my current car is a 2004 Honda Pilot which I adore. But at nearly 6 years old, it misses out on a lot of luxury. No sunroof. No nav. No satellite radio. And no DVD player. So I have to shout to the world that we were spoiled with the Routan. And then some. My son actually cried when they took the DVD playing car away. He flat out (for the first 20 minutes of our next roadtrip) refused to hold a DVD player on his lap because “the white van” had a DVD player in the ceiling. And my husband is now requesting a satelite radio for his car fo the holidays. My favorite perk (and there are a lot of options) were the electric pedals. For a driver who barely measures 5’1″ (and I’m being generous) but has a huge growing baby belly, moveable pedals were delightful. And, perhaps, will be a requirement on any future car I drive. Other optional favorites:
- auto doors and rear hatch
- auto start (would have loved that last winter in the snow!)
- auto folding back row seats (a huge bonus–this is what first sparked my interest at the Philly Auto Show last January)
- cargo room. I could easily fit 2 travel-sized strollers with room for luggage or a bike, and that’s with all the seats up. With the just one seat down in the back row there’s room for suitcases, strollers, coolers and bikes. And, with the back-row down, just about anything else you want to stow.
More Routan Love: No one wants to shell out $25-35,000+ and then be stuck with maintenance charge after maintenance charge. And VW already has an excellent, low maintenance reputation, but it still helps to know that your first 3 years or 36,000 miles are scheduled maintenance cost free with their Carefree Maintenance plan. That’s an extra breath of fresh air, even with the windows up.
My husband’s dream of the satelite radio presented a challenge for me. I’m so used to a regular digital radio that I had to relearn the whole listening system. Once I did, however, I got how much he loved it. And it was more than just the hundreds of awesome stations that Sirius offers. The actual digital, large screen system was just so modern, cool, and, yes, fun. We could play different music in the front and back and it has outlets for USBs and for ipods and MP3s. It even has a digital picture frame, like the one you gave to Grandma on Mothers Day. Just add your pictures through the USB and watch them scroll through (don’t watch when you’re driving, of course). And the stereo sound system so far trumped that of our Pilot that it can’t even be measured in Trump’s universe.
Gas. Its pricey. And I hate paying for anything. With my SUV I usually fill up every 5 days or so when driving my regular routine. So driving the VW Routan through my regular routine was a decent measure to compare. Sure, the Routan is new and the SUV has over 70,000 miles, but in 7 days, I never had to fill-up. And this was a regular week (with a couple extra drives to test it out). When the week ended I still had about a quarter tank left. So testing out the Routan didn’t just give me a great experience… it helped my weekly expenses.
So, what didn’t you like? There wasn’t much that we couldn’t work with because, really, it is a fantastic vehicle. However, the huz and I griped when we drove with the the DVD player down. There are actually 2 DVD players that come down from the ceiling. One in the 3rd row, one in the 2nd. The 3rd row was fine, no problem. That’s because it was higher than the 2nd row’s player. You have to see it to “get it” but the ceiling in the ”way back” sits about 2 inches higher than the 2nd row ceiling. Also, the DVD player is bigger than other cars. Which is nice. Except that the 2nd row DVD player created a blindspot when using the rear view mirror. And that’s not good on a roadtrip. And we happen to do a lot of road tripping.
It was mentioned above as a ‘favorite’ option, but there was a problem with the auto doors. If a child was in the way of the door closing, the door had to hit it hard to reverse and not close. We tested this (the huz and me, not the kids) several times with our arms and legs (and once, accidentally, with my head). If the door hit a mobile barrier that moved with it, at all, it kept closing. One actually had to push back against the door to get it to reverse its function. Which means that for it to reverse on a child, the child has to practically be smushed in the door area to not have it reverse.
Town & Country, huh? I sent the huz to the local Chrysler dealership to compare. The bodies of both cars are extremely similar. But in the interior of the minivans lay mass differences. Of course, its a matter of preference, and we were testing the top of the line Routan with all the perks and bonuses (above), but we felt more style, a better feel and, yes, luxury, existed in the Routan than in the T&C. (We didn’t test drive the T&C so if Chrysler would like to offer me a week to test out their minivan to compare, I welcome the opportunity!)
In sum. I didn’t cry giving the Routan back to Volkswagen, though I feared I would. While I miss the ease of getting in and out of the car, and all of the auto and electrical bonuses (and my husband desperately begs for a satelite radio), I had a smooth transition back to the SUV. In both cars I sit high on the road (a bit of the Napolean complex, I’m sure.) With 2 kids I still don’t feel the need for a minivan. Yes, there are luxuries to driving one (again, the auto-everything) but the SUV is suiting me just fine.
The huz and I do miss the power of the engine as well as its ability to stop on a dime. The Routan is engineered beautifully and drives so simply, I can easily see teaching a new-driver in this car. It responds to your every tap, prick and press. Just like I love “driving” a one-handed stroller, I adore driving an easy car.
Baby’s due in about less than 30 days. So for now, I’m still not a Minivan Mom. Its not necessary for my current lifestyle. However, in about 60 days when I inevitably change my mind, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be a Routan Mom.
Julie Pron is the mom of nearly 3 children and is anything but a auto authority. In addition to Car & Caboodle, she writes for a carload of blogs including Just Precious, Mommies with Style and Popshopology.