Curbside Capsule: 2012 VW Routan SEL – The Orphan That Caravaned From Town to Country

(First Posted August 27, 2013)  The Volkswagen Routan is a “badge-engineered” version of the Gen 5 Chrysler Town & Country / Dodge Grand Caravan minivan, and around 58,000 units were sold in the US during its run from 2009-2012. Production ended in July, 2013, with most of the final vehicles going for use internally within VW. A mere 10,500 Routans were purchased in 2012, out of a total of nearly 600,000 minivans sold in the US that year – the car was originally projected to sell 45,000 units annually, but the Volkswagen brand apparently isn’t quite that flexible.

It definitely meets the CC definition of an orphaned car – so what possessed us to recently buy one?

First off, we weren’t even in the market for a replacement for our 2005 T&C, as we normally aim to keep our cars ten years or 200,000 miles (whichever comes first). But in casual conversations a couple weeks ago, I had two different people – unprompted – mention that they loved their Routans and felt they were much nicer than the T&C. When a third coworker mentioned he thought 2012 was the last model year for the Routan, I decided to do a little investigation.

That’s the Routan instrument panel on the left, GC in the center and T&C on the right. The Routan has a much lighter/brighter feel to the interior, and the overall materials, fit and finish are generally nicer than those found in its cousins. Switchgear and controls are identical, however. I personally feel VW did a nice job restyling the grill and tail, as the emphasis on horizontal lines keeps the vehicle from looking so tall and ponderous. While the 3.6l/6 speed automatic drivetrain is identical to the Chrysler, the Routan suspension is tuned for a firmer ride (it’s *significantly* less wallowy than our 2005 T&C) and the unique-to-Routan seats are pretty comfortable (with prominent bolsters and full leather). Despite the nicer fit, finish and materials, however, other touchpoints on the van  painfully remind you of its Chrysler roots – and it comes across as “very nearly a Volkswagen” in the end.

Even with all that “added value” that was “engineered” into the van, we never would have considered buying one new (due both to the premium price and the ‘badge-engineered’ stigma) – the poor sales numbers confirm that other VW faithful felt the same. But then I discovered that current prices are steeply discounted for the “unpopular” 2012s now coming off lease, and at that point, it seemed foolish to wait two more years to replace our current van.

So we took the Beetle up to Chicago last Friday to look at a pair of Routan SELs, and decided on buying this program car (originally leased by a VW employee at the Chattanooga, TN Jetta plant) with only 8,100 miles and a price tag a full $17,600 below sticker. says a similarly-equipped 2012 T&C “L” with the same mileage would run about $3,600 more at a dealer. And that’s why it sometimes pays to buy an orphan.

I doubt I’ll ever think of it as a “real” VW, but I know we’ll enjoy it for the next decade or so, and Son No. 2 will certainly be thrilled to get our ’05 T&C since his ’84 Mustang L is pretty much on its last legs. So for now, we have three generations of Chrysler minivans in our driveway, and I’ve come full automotive circle, as I once again own a Volkswagen Van.