2011 Chrysler Town & Country Review

Much improved, but also much harder to justify

2011 Chrysler Town & Country Review

Chrysler’s having a tough time of late convincing customers that its latest efforts really are improved. But given how poorly designed and built the automaker’s products have been over the last decade, it isn’t all that surprising. Trying to get a current Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna owner to even set foot in a similarly equipped Town & Country without resorting to flat-out bribery will be, ahem, challenging.

FAST FACTS

1. Upgrades include a restyled exterior, an upgraded suspension and a complete overhaul of the interior with a new dash, instrument cluster and better quality materials.

2. A new 3.6L Pentastar V6 gets 17/25-mpg, equal to the old 4.0L engine but with significantly more power at 283-hp.

3. Advanced safety features include a blind spot monitoring system, rear parking sensors, a back-up camera and a rear-cross path system to warn of oncoming cars or pedestrians.

4. Pricing ranges from $30,160 to $38,660.

That will be frustrating both to Chrysler Corp., itself and the dealers since the improvements made to the 2011 T&C are worth crowing over. Beyond the big box itself, nearly everything inside and out is new, refined, tweaked and massaged to bring Chrysler’s people-mover squarely into the 21st century.

CABIN GETS THE MOST NEEDED, AND THE MOST SIGNIFICANT UPGRADE

Like its Dodge Grand Caravan cousin, the plusher and more luxurious T&C gets a new front grille, bumper and lower fascia that incorporate chrome and satin metal touches to mimic the revised 200 sedan. The rear looks all-new too, with a chromed scuff plate, re-profiled tailgate and LED taillights. The T&C also takes ideas from Subaru’s Outback of all places; the roof-rack’s cross-rails tuck into the main rails until you need them, providing both a cleaner look and less aerodynamic drag than fixed ones.

Although the silhouette hasn’t changed, these efforts are enough to trick the eyes, although the standard 16-inch wheels – and even the 17-inchers on mid- and upscale models – look too small for the vehicle’s size.

But any minivan’s raison d’etre is hauling people and their stuff in relative comfort and safety. The ’11 T&C takes ‘relative’ out of the equation. Gone are the sharp-cornered dash, console and door cards, replaced with soft-touch plastics, and higher-quality controls. That dashboard used to be made of seven separate pieces bolted, clipped and screwed together, which was cheaper but squeaked and rattled only months after purchase. Now it’s only one molded unit, cutting down on noise and improving future happiness too.

The front seats are supportive, the major controls are well thought out, including the steering wheel, HVAC and analog clock. The only complaint comes from the now-aging touch-screen stereo, Bluetooth and (optional) Garmin-based navigation unit. The graphics are embarrassing and uConnect has been bested by Ford’s excellent SYNC system for dealing with voice commands and hands-free operation.

The Stow ‘n Go second-row seats are now larger and much more comfortable, but still fold into the floor in a packaging miracle, while the third-row remains largely the same. Cargo room hasn’t changed, but still offers 33 cu-ft with all rows in use, 83 cu-ft with the rears folded flat, and 143 cu-ft in cargo-van mode. Perfect for hauling big dog kennels or full sheets of plywood from the home-improvement store.

PLENTY OF SAFETY FEATURES

The safety side is bolstered by standard ABS, traction and stability control, and brake assist, along with multi-stage airbags, blind-spot monitoring and a rear-cross path system to warn of oncoming cars or pedestrians. Rear-parking sensors and a back-up camera round out the package.

Moving under the skin nets just as many changes. The most noticeable is in the engine bay, where a modern 3.6-liter PentaStar V6 has replaced the ancient 3.8-liter and 4.0-liter lumps. Horsepower is now up to 283 and there’s 260 lb-ft of torque too, a significant upgrade. The standard six-speed automatic transmission helps it deliver 17-mpg in the city and 25-mpgon the highway. Acceleration is strong and smooth too, and the six-speed doesn’t hunt for gears on winding roads. A far cry from the rough and tumble paint-shakers from before.

The suspension has been tweaked and re-tuned as well, with larger shocks, standard Michelin tires, and the whole van rides about an inch lower than before. Even with the standard weight- and fuel-saving electric power steering, response is pretty good. There’s obviously still some lean, but Chrysler’s done an admirable job of finding the ride/handing balance. It’s a tad softer than the Dodge GC, but that’s more fitting of the T&C’s luxe vibe.

CHRYSLER’S UPGRADES COME AT A COST – TO YOU

The price of entry? A not insignificant $30,160 for the Touring model, which seems to have crossed the psychological barrier customers have for Chrysler products. Its mechanical twin, the Grand Caravan, runs from $24,000 to $30,600, so the T&C is being positioned firmly as a step up from the Dodge without much price overlap. The Touring-L adds a few more convenience features, like rear-seat air conditioning, power adjustable pedals, manual window shades, and remote start, along with 17-inch wheels, for a $2,000 premium.

However, the top-line Limited runs within a whisker of $40K, losing whatever value proposition it used to have against the Japanese competition. A loaded Sienna is only a few hundred more, while the top-line Odyssey tops out at $43,000. Even with the added dual video screens, heated steering wheel, HID headlights, and keyless entry and ignition, Chrysler doesn’t have the reputation for quality and reliability yet to start charging those prices relative to the competition.

THE VERDICT

So functionally and aesthetically, the 2011 Town & Country is a win for Chrysler, but will certainly be hampered by the company’s very aggressive pricing scheme. Best to wait for the inevitable rebates.

RELATED READING

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Review

2011 Toyota Sienna: First Drive 2011 Honda Odyssey Review – First Drive

2011 Nissan Quest Review

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