Volkswagen’s Attempt at a Minivan Was Doomed From the Start
Although one of the most iconic models in the Volkswagen brand’s history is a van, it’s not a brand typically associated with minivans in the 21st century. However, VW sold a minivan called the Routan in North America from 2009 to 2014.
The Volkswagen Routan was a disappointment for fans of the company and it failed to stand out as a practical choice for families. Let’s examine the history of the Volkswagen Routan and what went wrong.
The Volkswagen Routan wasn’t around for long
The Volkswagen Routan was one of the brand’s first forays into developing vehicles specifically for the United States. Rather than developing its own family vehicle from scratch, VW collaborated with DaimlerChrysler, a partnership that started in 2005.
The result was a reskinned Chrysler Town & Country minivan built in Canada and sold only in North America as the Volkswagen Routan. The interior of the Routan was slightly different from its Chrysler counterpart, and it got sportier suspension and steering, but those factors weren’t enough to make the Routan competitive.
The Routan came out in the same model year as the original Volkswagen Tiguan, a compact SUV intended to compete with the likes of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Before that, the closest thing VW had to a family vehicle was the Touareg, which was infamously priced more like an Audi than a Volkswagen. This was right around the time midsize three-row crossovers like the Chevy Traverse started coming out and getting popular, but instead of going that route, VW hedged its bets on a minivan.
A combination of poor timing, confusingly high pricing, and a failure to stand out in a segment with well-established leaders led to an early grave for the Routan.
The Routan was the antithesis of what makes VW great
The Volkswagen Routan was a half-hearted attempt to expand the German brand’s presence in the United States market. However, American enthusiasts love the VW brand because of its European roots. Volkswagen is something different. It’s a German marque that isn’t a luxury brand and offers Americans a taste of the distinct character of European cars we don’t typically get here.
The Routan was a very non-VW vehicle. It was just a Chrysler minivan.
Volkswagen eventually figured out that midsize three-row crossover SUVs have effectively replaced minivans as America’s family vehicle of choice. The Volkswagen Atlas SUV came out for the 2018 model year, and it got everything right that the Routan got wrong.
The Atlas had the distinctive character of a German vehicle with an upscale interior, a conservative design, and a more fun-to-drive nature than its rivals. It achieves all of this while offering class-leading third-row legroom making it one of the most family-friendly options in its class. The Atlas is what the Routan should’ve been.
Will Volkswagen ever make another minivan?
We’ll probably never see a traditional minivan from Volkswagen in the U.S. like the ones sold by Honda, Toyota, Kia, or VW’s old dance partner, Chrysler. However, the Volkswagen ID. Buzz is coming to our shores in 2024.
The ID. Buzz is an electric van with spacious three-row seating. But we expect that most of its owners will use it as a fashion accessory more than a serious family vehicle.