The king-maker of midday, Oprah Winfrey will give away Volkswagen Routan minivans on her popular television program this summer. In 2004, The Oprah Winfrey Show gave away 276 Pontiac G6’s, making a massive media splash in the process. Promoted as making dreams come true, many winners faced with taxes on their winnings were not able to keep their cars. Presumably, the smaller-scale VW promotion will go smoother. (There are reportedly two Routans up for grabs, and neither will look like the "O Edition" here made up from our test Routan.)
But does a free car mean it is a good car?
Nope. The Pontiac G6 scores 49 out of 100 in our tests. Its token “high” is the controls. “Lows” include just about everything else: Noise, sloppy at-the-limit handling, steering, braking, ride, fit and finish, seat comfort, turning circle, and reliability.
Of course, this is a different year and different vehicle. The Routan is built by Chrysler, with limited modifications to its Town & Country/Dodge Caravan minivans. The T&C Limited scores 64 in Consumer Reports testing, and it is not recommended due to predicted reliability being much worse than average. (See our video review.)
The VW version is distinguished with a more familial grille, a soft dash top, and retuned suspension and steering that gives it a slightly more responsive and taut feel. However, the result is less than convincing. While we have not completed testing on our Routan, the Chrysler engines in other minivans are a bit noisy and not particularly fuel efficient. The cleverest elements from the platform -- the second-row seats that fold into the floor known as "Stow and Go" or the "Swivel-and-Go" seating—are absent from the Routan. Although the large bins under the floor that the seats stow in are still very useful for storage.
Volkswagen is banking on the Oprah effect to goose minivan sales and raise awareness. And it is probably a safe bet. (Unless, of course, Oprah is the touch of death: Pontiac is about to be put to pasture…)
In the first six months of 2009, the Town & Country has sold 43,737 units, according to Automotive News. The Dodge Caravan is close at 41,747. Volkswagen sales are just a fifth that at 8,290, a figure that is less than half the total produced. Before reading into the comparison, the Routan has outsold the Eos, Golf/GTI, New Beetle, Passat, and the Rabbit— only the CC and Jetta outsell it in VW’s lineup. (Links in this paragraph go to model overview pages, where online subscribers can review ratings, pricing, reliability, and road tests.) Comparing the before and after sales will be complicated by the impact of Chrysler idling the manufacturing plant for weeks during its bankruptcy proceedings, thereby reducing supply to better match demand. That said, I’m still curious…
While Oprah can be seen at many times as the champion for the underdog, there is no mistaking this relationship—VW ads and “sponsorship” make it apparent.
Be skeptical of celebrity endorsements. And do your own research on your next new or used vehicle, trusting independent sources such as Consumer Reports that are free from advertiser influence. If you can find them.
Also read: "Word jumble–How should Volkswagen spell Routan?"