The flagship Town & Country Limited is in many ways a luxury vehicle, and it is in many ways a very intelligent choice of vehicle. The Limited model comes loaded with leather upholstery, GPS navigation, dual power sliding doors, and a power rear liftgate. DVD entertainment, hands-free communication and other convenience features are available by checking options boxes.
Standard in all but the base model is a system of second- and third-row seats called Stow'n Go that fold flush with the floor, perfectly flat, opening up more than 160 cubic feet of cargo space. That's substantially more than what you'll find in any sport-utility vehicle, including the behemoth Chevrolet Suburban. You don't even have to remove the headrests to quickly and easily fold the seats flat and out of sight.
Open the seats up, and they provide comfortable seating for up to seven people. Convenience and safety features abound in the Town & Country cabin. 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.
Stow'n Go and other features and general competence make the Touring and Limited models a solid choice among the newer designs from Toyota, Honda, Nissan, GM and Ford. The Town & Country is certainly a more sensible choice than a sport-utility for moving people around. Properly equipped, it can tow up to 3800 pounds, enough for personal watercraft, an ATV, a light boat and other small toys.
After benefiting from significant revisions for 2005, the Town & Country forges into the 2006 model year with few changes.
Chrysler Town & Country ($20,925); LX ($25,275); Touring ($27,755); Limited ($35,630)
Take a moment to view the Town & Country in profile and you may more fully appreciate its aerodynamic design. Its raked windshield, rising roofline and beltline, and fast D-pillars framing canted rear windows help it slip through the air. Pronounced wheel arches complement sharp character lines that flank the integrated grille. The rear end is designed to make Town & Country look wider and not as tall as it really is. Huge taillamps feature clear red lenses and jewel-like reflectors. It's a nice look, marred only by a black piece of trim below the rear bumper for the Park Assist system that looks tacked on.
There's nothing mini about today's minivans, and the Town & Country is no exception.
The power sliding doors on both sides are particularly useful when you find yourself herding children while carrying two armloads of gear. Press the appropriate button on the remote transmitter twice and the door slides open; press it twice again and it slides closed and seals. Pulling on the outside lever opens the power door manually, with just slightly more effort than opening a regular manual door. Once inside, the power sliding door can be opened and closed by pressing a button conveniently located for second-row passengers. That may seem far too fussy for those in a hurry to get out (and almost all passengers are almost always in a hurry to get out), so the door can be opened manually just like any sliding minivan door. In short, everything works intuitively so training sessions for your passengers should not be needed. 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 base and LX come with manually operated sliding doors, which are still easy to operate, smoothly gliding 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 on all vehicles, but they are not.
The available power rear liftgate makes loading groceries and other cargo easier. Press a button on the remote control and the liftgate opens or closes automatically. You'll quickly appreciate this feature for those all-too-frequent times when you approach the van with an armload and you'll truly appreciate after experiencing this situation when it's pouring down raining.
The seats in our Limited model were upholstered in light-colored leather with suede-like inserts. The material is soft and appears durable. The seat bottoms are nicely finished on all sides; some manufacturers don't upholster the inboard side panels, which leaves an unattractive, unfinished look that you don't notice until after you've bought the vehicle. Attractive sycamore wood and satin-silver trim warm the cabin.
Chrysler's Stow 'n Go is the most convenient seating system 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, completely out of sight. Very few seats fold perfectly flat and no one else (except Dodge) has a second row that does this. It's a flexible system as well. 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.
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 from the ground directly through the rear and side doors of the Town & Country.
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 secured onto hooks, providing well-designed bags to keep your melons from rolling around. Another net can be hung between either the second-row or front-row captain's chairs. Hooks on the backs of the seats are useful for hanging 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 an easier chore, and the hooks fold away when not in use; few manufacturers do coat hooks this well. Three dome lights illuminate the cabin. 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 tinting on the side windows provides privacy. A center console houses a cellular phone holder, power outlet, storage tray, light, tissue holder, and a map holder. The console i
Driving the 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.
It's also relatively quiet, even at high speeds. Chrysler says the 2005-06 models are 16 percent quieter than previous editions. Wind noise was reduced by using 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.
The four-wheel disc brakes that come on the long-wheelbase models stop them quickly and without drama. Heavy-duty brake rotors and calipers ensure strong braking performance, plus durability. We liked 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, which comes standard on the Limited, reduces front wheelspin on slippery surfaces.
The 3.8-liter V6 that comes on Touring and Limited models is rated at 205 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. Both numbers are down slightly for '06, from 215 and 245 last year, but it isn't the engine that's changed, only the way that horsepower and torque are measured. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recently revised its test procedures, and the manufacturers who adopted the new procedures this year are stuck with smaller power figures; manufacturers who haven't switched will likely feel this pain next year. So keep this in mind if comparing with other manufacturers. What's important to remember is that the engine itself is as strong as ever, even though its strength is now measured more conservatively.
The 3.8-liter is considerably more powerful than the 3.3-liter V6 that comes on base and LX models, whose ratings of 180 horsepower and 210 pound-feet haven't changed (because it isn't using the new measuring system). Both are pushrod-overhead-valve V6s with two valves per cylinder rather than newer, overhead-cam, multi-valve designs, but they are solid engines.
For its part, the 3.3-liter V6 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. The 3.3-liter is rated 19/26 city/highway mpg by the EPA. It's also a flexible-fuel engine, so it can use E85 ethanol. The 3.8-liter engine is rated 18/25 mpg City/Highway by the EPA. Both engines allow the Town & Country models to be certified as low-emissions vehicles in all 50 states.
Chrysler Town & Country is among the best in a field of great minivans. Its Stow 'n Go seating design makes it more versatile than the competition. This isn't the newest minivan on the market, 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.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough is based in Southern California.