Back in 2005 people had kids and needed vehicles to carry those kids. VW also had nothing to sell people who had kids and wanted to carry them. So it shopped around for someone who would sell them their kid carrier and found Chrysler willing. So they struck up a deal; VW would get all the engineering of their Town and Country/Caravan but VW would rebadge, slightly modify and “rebrand” the interior and “add german engineering”....
In 2008 my father in law bought one, a gray SEL, primarily because he wanted a van and he liked the seats. He takes good care of the car, keeps up on service and despite using it as a work truck as well as a family hauler you would be hard pressed to find any Caravan with as clean and kept up interior and exterior. Its also been a fairly reliable vehicle for him, taking he and his wife cross country several times without much issue outside of abnormal brake and tire wear.
Fast forward to 2018 and this 99,100 mile example has been my ride for the week. My Land Cruiser (pictured in the background of the picture above) has been in my garage awaiting a replacement radiator and hasn’t been drivable and my father in law offered this for the week. He’s a wonderful man and I will always be grateful for his kindness so its with great respect and apologies I write this review.
Its all still together and working. Thats, about it. it feels hard, cold and cheap literally everywhere you touch and the chyrsler switchgear is starting to lose its positive click action. The seats are...poor. I mean they are still together but the “leather” is just thick vinyl and it feels it. The dash was given soft touch material, some VW switchgear is present and a few design details were given VW lip service.
Speaking of seats, Chrysler didn’t give VW Stow n Go or Swivel N go. Just Lug n go. They have seat heaters that half work though, so there’s that.
Good effort trying to graft a german face to this wholly American body
Its the SOHC 4.0 with 251 hp at 6000 rpm and 259 lbs-feet at 4000 rpm
It sounds pretty good, if a little coarse, its been dead reliable and it has a nice fat torque curve.
Throttle calibration is GARBAGE though. like so
Nothing on tip in, then furious wheelspin a fraction further into the throttle. The engine has a lot of torque, a linear curve would have worked great, but they badly front loaded it to feel “peppy”
...Where to start. Technically a 6 speed, though its ratio spread was really a 5 speed at best
First was crazy low at 4.127, but 2nd and 3rd were spaced so close together (2.842/2.284) its hard to wonder what the benefit was. There were 2 4th gears, one for going up the ladder (1.452) and one for coming down (1.57). It also had a 5th and 6th, but who cares.
Its a notoriously unreliable transmission and not well loved. This is what it feels like
You hear it whine, its jerky and thunks. Its not broken, its always felt like this.
It drives worse than you expect. When I test drove a Land Cruiser 200 series last winter I found myself going faster than I thought, everywhere I went. This is the opposite of that. I FEEL like I’m going too fast, then I look down and Im going below the speed limit. Im on eggshells driving this car.
It has the brakes of a studabaker...and original one
And did I mention it goes through pads like candy? Rear first for some reason.
Steering is connected to the front and it has okay steer ahead, but zero feel except for torque steer.
The Routan got “VW tuning” and when it was new the suspension wasn’t bad. it is now.
It generally feels like twice its mileage to drive. Again remember this is a well cared for example with mostly highway miles.
It does okay on the highway, maybe 20-22 but I looked at the long term average on the trip computer and it read 16. Wanna know what my long term average for my taller, heavier, V8 powered, Permanent 4wd 5 speed brick (gx470) is? 16.1 Its also older with more miles.
It chomps through brakes and tires, and its had a little trouble with its cooling system early on. Aside from that and the rear seat heater connection failing...and the mechanism for the power rear sliding door failing, its been pretty good. That being said it FEELS like its about to become expensive. An automotive engineer family member of mine and I were talking once about cars and I asked him about Chrysler, “they make some really interesting cars...” he told me “...to bad they all fall apart about 80,000 miles in.”
As someone with a lisence plate plaque that reads “my other car is a prototype” I feel like I have to take his word for it, but really do I? Is it really a secret that mid 2000's Chryslers are all going to fall apart? Its a shame really, because they really do make some interesting cars.
What do you expect me to write here? Its a VW/Chrysler joint project from the darkest periods in either manufactures recent history (excluding anything diesel related). Though it has to be said that its been reliable and its served me well while my reliable Toyota has been under the knife awaiting parts. That Toyota, however, its twice its age and with 3x its mileage and it lives a much harder life...did i also mention it drives better?