Minivans offer roominess, convenience, versatility and fuel efficiency. There is no more sensible choice for a family with more than a couple of children. Chrysler was the first into this market and, long after other manufacturers have left it, Chrysler remains, with the Chrysler Town & Country and the Dodge Caravan. Of the two, the Town & Country is generally more upscale, and Chrysler bills the Town & Country as the ultimate family friendly vehicle.
The 2010 Chrysler Town & Country is offered with three V6 engines. The base engine, a 3.3-liter V6 or 175 horsepower, doesn't offer much in the way of either power or fuel efficiency. The 3.8-liter V6, with 197 horsepower, is adequate for around-town duty, but the best choice is the available 4.0-liter V6 and its 251 horsepower. This engine is more competitive with the V6 offerings from other manufacturers, and it moves the T&C nicely.
The Chrysler Town & Country offers a smooth ride and an SUV-like view of the road. But it's a big vehicle, however, and is not nimble. There will be noticeable body lean in the turns and the ride can feel floaty at highway speeds. The Honda Odyssey and Nissan Quest are more car-like and sportier to drive.
On the other hand, the Town & Country's entertainment and seating options are the best in the class, matched only by the Dodge Grand Caravan. The standard 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. In addition, there is a handy well behind the third row that offers lots of storage space even with the seats up. The Swivel 'n Go option is great for family trips; the second row turns to face the third row with a table in between, making it an activity center for the kids. There are also many entertainment choices.
For 2010 there are only minimal changes: The driver and front passenger seats have active head restraints, a rear obstacle detection display is in the Vehicle Information Center, and the 4.0-liter V6 has a revised final-drive ratio which improves fuel economy.
The Town & Country is a great vehicle for families that need to haul kids and cargo on a regular basis. It's also easier to drive and maneuver than a full-size SUV, will fit in the garage, and is reasonably fuel-efficient.
The Chrysler Town & Country is offered in one long-wheelbase body style, and its size is comparable to several competitors. The Nissan Quest, Kia Sedona, Honda Odyssey, and Toyota Sienna are all within a few inches, plus or minus, in overall length. Cargo room is comparable as well.
The Town & Country's styling is somewhat boxy, with a pronounced front end that offers a hint of an SUV-like appearance. The roof is wide at the top, also contributing to the boxy look.
The snout features a large grille with ties to other Chrysler products. The body sides have a clean, simple design. 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.
The Town & Country's competitive advantage can be found on the inside. While ambiance and materials quality are not tops in the class, thoughtful features are.
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 UConnect Tunes/GPS 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.
Buyers can opt for UConnect Tunes or UConnect GPS, the latter adding a navigation system with voice activation and real-time traffic. Both systems have a 30-gigabyte hard drive to hold music, pictures, and, with the navigation system, navigation map information. Both systems are capable of holding thousands of songs.
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, but we'd still like the steering wheel to telescope.
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 the 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 pushed 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.
The rear seating solutions are better yet. All Town & Country models have a deep well behind the third row, which is a great place to 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.
The popular Stow 'n Go setup has second-row bucket seats that fold into the floor. The front seats must be moved fully forward to allow the second-row seats to fold into the floor and folding the seats requires two hands and a little dexterity, but it's hard to argue with the result. When not in use for the seats, the under-floor bins can be used for storage.
With the second- and third-row seats folded, the Town & Country has a flat load floor, an impressive 140.1 cubic feet of cargo volume, and enough space to fit a 4×8-foot sheet of plywood.
The optional Swivel 'n Go seating also uses second-row buckets. These seats can rotate 180 degrees via a lever at the base of each seat to face the third row. A removable table is also provided that can be installed between the second and third seating rows. The table is stored under the floor and is fairly easy to access. The Swivel 'n Go feature also has the under-floor storage bins, but the seats don't fold into the floor. This type of table has been used in campers for years, and now it works well in a minivan.
If you want to use your van to haul cargo, the Stow 'n Go setup is your best option. Swivel 'n Go, on the other hand, is the choice if you use your van for a lot of long trips with the family.
The Town & Country offers single and double rear DVD entertainment options. The single screen is available only in the LX model and is located in the second row. The double screen version adds a second screen for the third row. Both are available with Sirius Backseat TV. The TV has three channels, all aimed at kids: Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon. Four sets of headphones are provided, and with the dual-screen system, one screen can be tuned to TV while the other can play a DVD. Front passengers can listen to the radio while rear occupants watch a DVD or TV, and with the car in Park, front passengers can watch TV or a DVD on the dashboard screen.
The Chrysler Town & Country is tall, heavy and long, and it drives like you'd expect, given those characteristics. Drive it hard into a turn and it prefers to keep going straight rather than reacting quickly to steering inputs. Turns and changes of direction prompt copious body lean. In a word, the Town & Country feels cumbersome. Still, it never feels like it's going to tip over.
The steering is somewhat vague. It has enough play on center to keep the vehicle moving straight if the driver should inadvertently jerk the wheel. 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.
The Town & Country's best engine is the 4.0-liter V6 of 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 six-speed automatic transmission to provide decent passing response. With the 4.0-liter V6, the Town & Country has EPA fuel economy ratings of 17 mpg City and 25 mpg Highway, which should be considered as quite good for a vehicle of this capability. Properly equipped, the Town & Country is rated to tow up to 3800 pounds with the 4.0, enough for personal watercraft or a small boat.
The available 3.8-liter V6 makes 197 horsepower, and it offers plenty of pep for daily commutes and most needs. Teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission, this powertrain is fairly responsive, 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 is EPA-rated at 16 mpg City, 23 mpg Highway.
The base 3.3-liter V6 makes 170 horsepower and uses a four-speed automatic. While the EPA fuel economy numbers of 17 mpg City and 24 Highway are respectable, it is only slightly more economical than the 3.8 and not as good as the 4.0. Besides, 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 Blind Spot Monitoring system uses radar sensors to detect vehicles in the van's blind spots and warns the driver with lights in the side mirrors or a driver-selectable chime that sounds like the seat belt chime. It works well, but like similar systems offered by other manufacturers it can sometimes give false readings. It's still important to look before you change lanes.
The Rear Cross Path system is activated when the van is in reverse. It uses radar sensors to detect vehicles crossing behind the Town & Country and warns the driver with lights in the side mirrors and that same chime. The system won't detect small objects, like pedestrians, so it's still important to proceed slowly. It does, however, detect vehicles up to 20 meters away, and is programmed to recognize the speed of oncoming vehicles and alert the driver only if they are traveling at a speed that could lead to an accident (in other words, stationary and very slow moving vehicles probably won't register). We like this system. It works well and is especially useful in parking lots.
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 car-like ride, sporty handling, or state-of-the-art engines will be best served by the Japanese competitors. But for family-friendly features, it's tough to beat the Town & Country.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report from Chicago.