"It would be hard to find someone that doesn't have a Volkswagen story," says Bret Scott, product manager for the Volkswagen Routan. It's true. Just mentioning that I test-drove the Routan, VW's newest van, was the opening for a friend's sordid memories of camping out in her van in Mexico. I'll leave out the details.
The Routan is the latest in a 50-year heritage of Volkswagen vans. The first model, the Volkswagen Type 2, also known as Transporter, was introduced in 1950. Based on the Beetle, Type 2's were built from 1949 to 1967 and were known as split-window buses or "splitties." Buses built after 1967 are called "bay window models."
The 2009 Routan (rhymes with futon) does not incorporate any of the original funkiness of the iconic VW bus, but it does have plenty of large windows.
"Clearly we went away from the design theme of the old bus, but we needed to fulfill today's requirements," notes Scott. "We had a decision to make. We knew that there were a lot of fans of the old VW and the key there was the ability to haul a lot of people. We consider our vehicles a place where people congregate."
They've got that down. The spacious cabin feels like a greenhouse with lots of windows -- the second row has oversized power windows, the third has latch windows and the three rows are so well spaced, you can maneuver around without squeezing. The awesome-factor is the set of push-button controls in the cargo area that allows you to flatten the third-row seats, fold them halfway down or turn the seats around to face the rear in minutes.
The dashboard -- no Beetle bug flower bud vase and no support for a "splittie" window -- is spare but user-friendly. For example, the automatic gear shift is to the right of the steering wheel, which leaves plenty of places to put your handbag or backpack up front.
The power? Excellent. Fast on the highways and on hills and extremely easy to maneuver on winding roads. The Routan SEL model comes equipped with a 4.0-literL V-6 with 251 horsepower and a six-speed transmission.
The 2009 Routan SEL has a long list of standards: pull-up sunshades on the second and third rows, eight-way power driver's seat, premium leather seats with first and second-row heated seats, second-row captain seating with reclining feature, steering wheel audio controls, heated mirrors, front and rear 12V outlets, grocery bag and purse hooks on rear back seats, nifty push button LED reading lights in every row, dual-power sliding doors, three-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and hip 17-inch alloy wheels.
With the 2009 Routan, Volkswagen also lives up to its creative advertising. When I asked why VW picked actress/model Brooke Shields for the advertising campaign, Scott replied, "We like quirky advertising and her portfolio of work lately seemed to hit the market that we hope to attract."
With that, he directed me to their website: ww.vw.com. Click on Routan and you'll find the Routan BabyMaker3000. The gig is that you can download jpegs of two people and morph them together to get a tongue-in-cheek image of what their baby would look like. I thought it was so super cool that I showed it to my daughter, 15-year-old Jenna. "That's gross!" this outspoken teenage replied. But right now, she's not in VW's baby-making target audience.
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2008