Chrysler has been in the minivan game longer than anybody else in North America and while its domestic competitors have chosen to exit the market, the Pentastar concern (at least in the short term), remains committed to the segment.
|1. All Chrysler Town & Countrys come with V6 engines and six-speed automatic transmissions.
2. Base 175-hp V6 engines get 17/24 mpg, while the 3.8L and 4.0L V6s get 16/23 mpg.
3. Pricing ranges from $26,415 to $36,855.
4. Blind Spot Monitoring and Cross Traffic alert system are included as part of a $515 Safety Group package.
5. The braking system was upgraded on all Town & Country models for 2009.
The Chrysler Town & Country first debuted for 1987 as a more up-market version of the Dodge Grand Caravan and has remained in the lineup ever since. For 2008 both the T&C and its Dodge counterpart were completely redesigned, with new sheetmetal and the first six-speed automatic transaxle to be installed in a minivan.
For 2010 there are minimal changes, the most notable being strakes added to the hood, plus minor equipment and trim shuffles. Three trim levels are offered, LX, Touring and Limited, with three different engines – a 175-hp 3.3-liter V6 (that’s E85 capable), a 3.8-liter V6 with 197 horses and new (from 2008) 4.0-liter unit with 251 horsepower.
Compared to it’s 2001-07 predecessor, the current Town & Country is blockier and more ornate. In fact, it almost looks like a replacement for the 1991-95 version (instead of the later jellybean models) as the squared-off nose, fairly steep windshield and angular lines smack of early ’90s sensibility.
Quality control and workmanship has been a hit and miss affair with Chryslers for decades, but as far as our sample Limited model went, fit and finish on the Town & Country is better than most, with narrow, fairly even panel gaps, better quality exterior trim than it’s predecessor and glossy paint.
In this day and age of monochromatic exteriors, it’s also nice to see some brightwork on an American vehicle, though on the Town & Country it’s fairly restrained and tasteful, just enough to let the world know, you’re driving something a bit more than the run of the mill base Dodge Caravan. Rear doors and a tailgate that open automatically also hint that you’ve ponied up a bit of extra cash for your latest minivan purchase.
YOUR PICK: STOWABLE OR SWIVEL CHAIRS
Moving inside, much like the exterior, this van has a chunky feel to it. The steering wheel, dash and switchgear feel blocky and fairly solid, much in the idom we’ve come to expect from Chrysler in the last few years. The one notable item is the shift lever. Instead of being placed on the steering column, it’s mounted on the dash, Nissan Quest style. Perhaps it was done to add a bit of Euro chic to this most American of minivans, but to our eyes it just seems a little odd.
The front captain’s chairs are fairly supportive and in back Chrysler’s famed Stow ‘n’ go seating continues, allowing both the second and third row seats to disappear completely into the floor, resulting in a cavernous 141 cubic feet of cargo space should you need it. The best part is that the rear seats fold into the floor automatically, via the touch of a button on the inside sail panel. Although not fitted to our sample tester, a $225 Swivel ‘n’ go seating option with second row captains chairs that turn around and a folding table is available, though like many things in life, you can’t have your cake and eat – the swiveling seats aren’t stowable.
Keeping the kids occupied on extended trips is a must for parents and Chrysler has responded by offering a dual screen DVD system (second and third rows) that includes Sirius/XM satellite TV, wireless headphone sets (which were all the rage among our back seat riders) and a three zone climate control system, ensuring everybody remains comfortable on the journey.
Chrysler has also fitted its MyGIG multimedia system with satellite navigation and Sirius real-time traffic updates, plus a built in back up camera. The optional Blind Spot Motoring and Cross Traffic alert system, with orange indicators that flash in the side view mirrors to warn of approaching vehicles and nearby objects was also handy, though some times it seemed to have trouble differentiating between vehicles that were close or further away, depending on the angle one was reversing.
On the whole, we didn’t find the center stack mounted navigation/entertainment system as easy to use as some others, but the traffic alert feature did prove very useful on our scheduled commuter routes.
On the road the Town & Country behaves a lot like a traditional American land yacht. The suspension tuning is supple and over rough surfaces it tends to float. It’s not likely to result in seasickness, but the ride is softer than many Chrysler products of recent vintage. It’s also quiet –we detected very few squeaks or rattles – credit that to greater use of sound deadening and the softer suspension settings, compared with its Caravan and Routan cousins.
In the corners, perhaps in typical family truckster fashion, the T&C displays noticeable body lean and front understeer, but it’s a predictable handler and steering is actually quite direct – under most normal driving situations this is one minivan that still manages to equate itself rather well. Although front-end dive is quite noticeable, the brakes themselves are fairly responsive, even from repeated panic stops, though make sure the kids are firmly strapped in, should you find yourself in such a situation.
The 4.0-liter V6, as fitted to our test victim is quite gutsy all things considered – there’s plenty of torque on tap, making overtaking light work and the six-speed automatic is smooth shifting, even under wider throttle openings. Chrysler offers a towing package on the T&C and from our observations; the 4.0/six-speed powertrain combo should prove well suited. However, despite the extra cog over it’s predecessor, our observed fuel economy really wasn’t that great, we were struggling to get 15 mpg in town and 21 on the highway, even at moderate cruising speeds, though tipping the scales at close to 4,700 lbs, perhaps that isn’t too surprising. Chrysler officially rates the 4.0-liter V6 (as well as the 3.8-liter model) at 16/23 mpg (city/highway), with the smaller 3.3-liter V6 pegged at 17/24 mpg.
Chrysler has sought to price the 2010 T&C fairly competitively and across the board, the current models have a MSRP that’s quite a few dollars less than their ’09 counterparts. The base LX model starts at $26,415, the mid-level Touring at $29,720 and the range-topping Limited at $36,855. Throw in dealer discounts and incentives, along with a high level of feature content and that makes this minivan a very attractive buy, especially against the likes of the Honda Odyssey, which comes with much less standard kit and balloons in price once you start adding options.