In addition to the new seating arrangement, the 2008 Chrysler Town & Country gets a new engine choice, a 4.0-liter V6 that is more competitive with the V6 offerings from other manufacturers. The 4.0 moves the T&C nicely, while the carryover 3.8-liter V6 is adequate for around-town duty. The base engine is a 3.3-liter V6. With the redesign, Chrysler has dropped the short wheelbase body style.
On the road, the Town & Country offers a smooth ride and an SUV-like view of the road. The Town & Country is a big vehicle, however, and it is not nimble. It is prone to body lean in turns and the ride can feel floaty at highway speeds. The Honda Odyssey and Nissan Quest are more car-like and sportier.
The Town & Country's entertainment and seating options, however, are the best in the class, matched only by the Dodge Grand Caravan. The available Stow 'n Go seating tucks the second-row seats nicely into the floor, and when those seats are up, the floor bins offer storage space. The rear seats fold into the floor on all models, allowing a perfectly flat, voluminous rear storage area that can accommodate items such as couches, 4x8-foot sheets of plywood, and most any other item you might need to transport. In addition, there is a handy well behind the third row that offers lots of storage space even with the seats up.
The new Swivel 'n Go option will be great for family trips. The second row turns to face the third row with a table in between. It will help keep the kids entertained with games of checkers, a place to draw, or any number of other possibilities. And if that's not enough, the Town & Country offers single and dual screen rear DVD entertainment systems, plus newly available Sirius Backseat TV with three kid-friendly channels. The dual screens allow different viewing options for kids that can't agree on what to watch. And for the adults up front, Chrysler's new MyGIG hard drive radio stores up to 1600 songs.
Overall, the 2008 Town & Country does what a minivan should. It is a great vehicle for families that need to haul kids and cargo on a regular basis. And the seating and entertainment options will prevent a lot of the fights that inevitably accompany road trips. Pricing can exceed $40,000 with all the options, so carefully consider which you'll need and use before you buy.
Chrysler Town & Country LX ($22,460); Touring ($27,700); Limited ($35,670)
Even with those larger dimensions, the 2008 Town & Country's size is comparable to several competitors. The Nissan Quest, Chevrolet Uplander, Kia Sedona, Honda Odyssey, and Toyota Sienna are all within two inches, plus or minus, in overall length. Cargo room is comparable as well.
The Town & Country's new styling is boxier than that of the outgoing model, with a more pronounced front end that, like the Chevy Uplander, offers a hint of an SUV-like appearance. The roof is wider at the top, also contributing to the boxier look.
The snout features a large grille heavily influenced by that of the Chrysler Sebring and Pacifica. The body sides have a clean, simple design, as the last model's side strakes have been eliminated. The rear liftgate is available with power operation, which is handy, but the rear glass doesn't open separately, which isn't. Chrome accents on the front and rear fascias, door handles, belt molding, and mirrors lend an upscale appearance.
First the mundane. Hard plastic dominates the dash and doors. The only padded surfaces are found on the captain's chairs' fold-down armrests, and they are an unimpressive looking rubberized material. The gauges are easy to spot and the various controls are clearly marked.
The radio and/or MyGIG system is set high on the center of the dash for easy access. With either system, the controls are easy to use, but those on the right side are a bit of a reach for the driver. The CD/DVD changer is also set low, making it a possible distraction to use while driving. The gearshift is mounted between the radio and the instrument panel. It's an odd position, but it works and there is an electronic gear readout in the instrument cluster.
The MyGIG radio is available as the MyGIG Multimedia Infotainment system, which includes a navigation system with voice activation, or as the MyGIG Entertainment system, which does not have a navigation system. Both systems have a 20-gigabyte hard drive to hold music, pictures, and, with the Infotainment System, navigation map information. Chrysler says the Infotainment System version can hold 1600 songs; it can hold almost twice as many without the navigation system.
Front-seat room and comfort are typical for a minivan. The front captain's chairs afford an upright driving position with an SUV-like view of the road. There is plenty of head room, and leg room will only be lacking for the tallest drivers. A tilt steering wheel and available adjustable pedals should help most drivers tailor a comfortable seating position.
The clever features start with the storage solutions. Chrysler provides two glove boxes and some cubbies in the center stack for small items storage. A total of 13 cupholders are found throughout the van, so the whole team has a place to put their A&W root beers after the little league game. The standard console has four integrated cupholders and a small storage bin. The premium center console is more impressive. It has four cupholders and a small bin on top. This top level slides back to reveal a larger storage bin below it. The lower bin also slides back. With both layers slid back, the top level moves back a total of 21 inches, which allows parents up front to prepare lunch for the kids and pass it back in a safe manner. The premium console is also removable so you can make good on your threat to go back there when the kids need to be forcefully separated.
The rear seating solutions are better yet. All Town & Country models have a deep well behind the third row, which is a great place put groceries so they won't slide around. With the rear seats in place, there is an impressive 32.3 cubic feet of cargo room. All models have a 60/40 split folding third-row bench seat that folds into the floor. Three straps are attached to the back of each seat and they're marked 1, 2 and 3. To fold the seats into the floor, first pull strap 1, then pull strap 2. You have to give strap 2 a good yank and help the seat along with your other hand. It can require leverage that some moms might not have. Strap 3 pulls the seats back up. A better option is the power folding third row seat, which can be set to four positions, including what Chrysler calls the tailgating position. In this position, the seatbacks act as seat bottoms and the bottoms act as backs facing the rear of the van for those parking lot tailgate parties at sports functions.
Chrysler offers three seating options for the second row, and integrated child seats can be ordered for the second row in any configuration. Standard seating in the LX model includes a removable second-row bench seat with covered storage bins in front of the seats. The Stow 'n Go setup, which is standard on Touring
The steering is somewhat vague. It has enough play on center to keep the vehicle moving straight when you inadvertently jerk the wheel while spinning around to yell at the kids. The Town & Country is in no way sporty. The Honda Odyssey and Nissan Quest are considerably more fun to drive.
The ride quality, on the other hand, is quite good. The Town & Country irons out most bumps well, and only the sharpest of ruts will crash through to give the passengers a start. The long wheelbase helps prevent larger humps from causing up and down motions. However, it can feel somewhat floaty at highway speeds. While certainly comfortable, the Town & Country isn't as smooth as the Toyota Sienna, which has an almost luxury car feel.
Recognizing that its engine choices weren't competitive with the best in class, Chrysler made some improvements. First and foremost is the addition of the new 4.0-liter V6 as standard equipment on the Limited model. The 4.0-liter makes 251 horsepower, which puts it in the ballpark with the V6s offered by Nissan, Honda and Toyota. The 4.0 gets the Town & Country moving nicely from a stop and teams with a new six-speed automatic transmission to provide decent passing response. With the 4.0-liter V6, the Town & Country has EPA fuel economy ratings of 16 mpg City and 23 Highway. Properly equipped, the Town & Country is rated to tow up to 3600 pounds with the 4.0, enough for personal watercraft or a small boat.
The 3.8-liter V6 is a carryover engine, but for 2008, it gets a six-speed automatic instead of a four-speed. The 3.8 makes 197 horsepower, and it offers plenty of pep for daily commutes and most needs. Teaming the 3.8 with the six-speed automatic makes it more responsive than in '07 models, but the problem still lingers that this engine is just not as modern and powerful as many others from the competition. The 3.8-liter V6 has the same EPA ratings as the 4.0.
The base 3.3-liter V6 makes 170 horsepower and uses the old four-speed automatic. While the EPA fuel economy numbers of 17 mpg City and 24 Highway are respectable, they are little better than the bigger engines and the 3.3 is overmatched in this large vehicle.
On the road, the Town & Country cruises quietly, especially with the 4.0-liter V6. All of the engines can intrude on conversation under full throttle, but tire noise and wind noise generally don't.
The Chrysler Town & Country, and its sibling, the Dodge Grand Caravan, are the most family friendly minivans on the market, if not the best driving. The many unique and handy seating and storage options make them worth a look. Drivers hoping for a carlike ride, sporty handling, or state-of-the-art engines will be best served by the Japanese competitors.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report from Chicago.