This is a great time to be shopping for a new minivan. Ford, Toyota and Nissan launched all-new models for the 2004 model year and GM and Honda are introducing all-new models for 2005. To counter this, Chrysler has added more than a dozen new features to its Town & Country models, including an innovative new seating setup. And the price of entry has been dropped with the addition of two value-priced models.
Chrysler's new second- and third-row seats fold perfectly flat, flush with the floor, revealing more than 160 cubic feet of cargo space. That's substantially more than what's available in any sport-utility vehicle, including the behemoth Chevy Suburban. The Town & Country's seats are quickly and easily folded flat without having to remove the headrests. To accommodate the new seating system, Chrysler's engineers redesigned the Town & Country's underbody and designed a new fuel tank, exhaust system, parking brake cables, and rear climate control lines, and modified the rear suspension.
When the seats are in place, they provide comfortable perches for up to seven passengers. Storage bins and cargo nets assist with carrying groceries. Curtain air bags designed to provide full-length coverage for all three rows of seats are available, though they're not standard equipment.
The Town & Country offers a responsive engine, smooth, quiet ride. The luxurious Limited model comes with leather upholstery, upscale appointments, and dual power sliding doors and a power rear liftgate. GPS navigation, DVD entertainment, hands-free communication and other features are available for increased convenience. The Town & Country remains a solid choice in spite of new minivans from other manufacturers, and it makes a lot more sense for moving people around than an SUV.
The base Town & Country ($20,330) is a short-wheelbase model, an apparent replacement for the discontinued Voyager. It comes equipped with air conditioning, power windows, tilt steering column, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/cassette, and dual sliding doors. Standard upholstery is cloth. The new Stow 'n Go seats are not included, however, and the second row is a bench seat. Anti-lock brakes are optional; rear drum brakes are standard.
The LX ($24,770) is a base model built on the same long wheelbase used by the rest of the models. It's equipped similarly to the base model, but gets the Stow 'n Go seating system, a CD changer, heated power mirrors, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and upgraded interior and exterior trim.
The Touring model ($27,070) steps you up to traditional Town & Country convenience features with dual power sliding doors, power liftgate, three-zone temperature control, upgraded audio, upgraded interior trim, eight-way power driver's seat, improved interior lighting, overhead console with trip computer, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and speed control, tire-pressure warning system, universal garage door opener, roof rack, 16-inch wheels and tires, and traction control.
The Limited ($35,070) is a luxury model that comes standard with leather-trimmed upholstery, upgraded interior trim, heated seats, GPS navigation, air filtering, removable center console, power door locks, upgraded exterior trim, fog lights, automatic headlamps, Park Assist, power adjustable pedals, 16-inch wheels and tires, and a memory function for the radio, driver's seat and mirrors. It also comes standard with curtain airbags.
Loads of options and packages should ensure buyers will be able to come up with the perfect combination of features on the model they want. Leather upholstery is optional for the Touring model and is packaged with three-zone temperature control, the deluxe overhead console, and power seats ($2,100).
Side-impact airbags, curtain airbags, and ABS are optional on several models.
The Chrysler Town & Country looks aerodynamic in profile, with its raked windshield, rising roofline and beltline, and fast D-pillars framing canted rear windows. Pronounced wheel arches complement sharp character lines that flank the integrated grille. Rear-end styling tends to make Town & Country look wider and not as tall as it really is. Huge taillamps feature clear red lenses and jewel-like reflectors. The black piece of trim below the rear bumper for the park-assist looks tacked on.
There's nothing mini about today's minivans, and the Town & Country ranks among the largest. All but the base model are built on a long wheelbase.
Power sliding doors on both sides add convenience when moving passengers. They're particularly useful when you find yourself herding children while carrying two armloads of gear. Press the button on the remote transmitter twice and the door slides open; press it twice again and it slides closed and seals. From the second-row seat, the power sliding door can be opened and closed by pressing a button; it can also be opened manually. A safety lock switch hidden on the trailing edge of the door can be engaged to prevent a child from opening the sliding door from inside. The power sliding doors can be fussy when passengers are in a hurry to get out, however, and they usually are. Pulling on the outside lever opens the power door manually, with just slightly more effort than opening a regular manual door.
Some models come with manually operated sliding doors, which are easy to operate, smoothly sliding open and closed with the pull of a nicely designed lever. The outside door handles are comfortable, easy to operate and well designed; they impart a feeling of quality in appearance and operation. All door handles should be this good, but they aren't.
A power rear liftgate is available that adds convenience when picking up groceries or supplies. Press a button on the remote control and the liftgate opens or closes automatically. It's great feature for those all-too-frequent times when you approach the van with an armload.
The seats in our 2005 Limited model were nicely finished in light-colored leather with suede-like inserts. The material is soft and appears to be durable. The seat bottoms are nicely finished on all sides; some manufacturers don't finish the inboard side panels and that leaves an unattractive, unfinished look that you don't notice until after you've bought the vehicle. Attractive sycamore wood and satin-silver trim warmed the cabin.
Chrysler's new Stow 'n Go seating system is the best on the market. The second and third rows of seats fold flat into the floor leaving a perfectly flat platform for cargo. Folding and unfolding the seats is a quick three-step process. Pull one strap to drop the seatback, then pull two other straps to tuck it into the floor. This leaves a perfectly flat platform. Very few seats fold perfectly flat and no one else (except Dodge) has a second row that does this. The system is also flexible. The third row is split and either or both of the second-row captain's chairs can be stowed. So, for example, you could stow the right one-third of the third-row bench and the right-hand second-row seat for loading something long, while still leaving seating for yourself and three or four passengers. Alas, the front passenger seat does not fold down, so you may want to secure that kayak to the roof rack. All of the long-wheelbase Town & Country models come standard with Stow 'n Go.
Our 16-year-old third-row tester said getting into the third row was a little awkward, but she didn't appear to have that much trouble, routinely choosing to walk between the second-row captain's chairs rather than flipping the seats out of the way as Chrysler intended. Once back there, she said the seating was very comfortable. She then put on her headphones and that was the last we heard from her.
The low floor makes getting in and out through the side doors easy. Caesar the 160-pound mastiff requires a ramp to get into an SUV, but he stepped easily and without hesitation through the rear and side doors of the Town & Country without such assistance. The low load height also makes loading cargo easier, and the Town & Country can carry more stuff and bigger items than any SUV. There's a fair amount of cargo space behind the third row. When the seats are in place for passengers, there are wells behind the third-row seats that are perfect for groceries. A pair of cargo nets can be hooked onto hooks, providing well-designed bags to keep your melons from rolling around. Another net can be secured between either the second-row or front-row captain's chairs. Hooks on the backs of the seats are useful for hooking plastic grocery bags and other items. There's also space in front of the center console for a purse or tote bag. When it comes to moving combinations of people and stuff, the Chrysler Town & Country has no peers.
Many other features add day-to-day convenience. A time delay switch leaves the headlights on while you walk from the van to your door. Auxiliary outlets, two up front and one amidships, provide power for gadgets. Four big coat hooks make picking up the dry cleaning a more elegant chore, and the coat hooks fold away when not in use; few manufacturers do coat hooks this well. Three dome lights illuminate the cabin well. An available overhead console houses power switches for the rear hatch and sliding doors, along with compass and outside temperature readouts. The rear quarter windows are power operated. Dark ti
All in all, driving the Chrysler Town & Country is pleasant and enjoyable. It rides smoothly and feels very stable at highway speeds. It handles competently and is surprisingly nimble for its size. Its power-assisted steering is light, making it easy to maneuver and park in crowded lots, and the front air dam isn't so low to the ground that it scrapes on curbs. Careful suspension tuning, a recently redesigned steering system and a rigid structure have raised the Town & Country's handling prowess to that of the leading minivans.
We found our Limited model quiet at high speeds. Chrysler says the 2005 model is more than 16 percent quieter than previous models. Wind noise has been reduced on 2005 models by incorporating triple door seals, molded gaskets, a more aerodynamic roof rack, and a spiraled antenna. Carrying on a conversation inside the Town & Country is easy and pleasant.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the Town & Country quickly and without drama. Heavy-duty brake rotors and calipers ensure strong braking performance, durability. We like the pedal feel and found the brakes easy to modulate in stop-and-go traffic. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) help the driver maintain steering control in an emergency or panic stop. Traction control reduces front wheelspin on slippery surfaces.
The 3.8-liter V6 that comes on Touring and Limited models is rated at 215 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque. It's considerably more powerful than the 3.3-liter V6 that comes on base and LX models, which is rated at 180 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque. Both are overhead-valve, push-rod V6s with two valves per cylinder rather than newer, overhead-cam, multi-valve designs. The 3.8-liter engine is rated 18/25 mpg City/Highway by the EPA, while the 3.3-liter is rated 19/26. Both are rated as low-emissions vehicles in all 50 states. The 3.3-liter V6 is a flexible-fuel engine, so it can use E85 ethanol.
The 3.3-liter V6 that comes on base and LX models delivers lively acceleration; we felt like we had plenty of motor to jackrabbit away from standstills or pull off that big pass. The engine is smooth and quiet when cruising, although it makes itself known under full-throttle acceleration.
Chrysler Town & Country is among the best in a field of great minivans. Its new Stow 'n Go seating design makes it more versatile than the competition. This isn't the newest minivan design, but effective updates and attention detail allow it to stand its ground against stiff competition from Toyota and other manufacturers.
The Town & Country is roomy, comfortable, practical, powerful and nimble. Order the Limited model and you can add the word luxurious to that list.
Model Line Overview
Specs as tested