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The Chrysler Town & Country is a luxurious minivan with an innovative seating design that adds greatly to its versatility. The Town & Country combines the practical features of the Dodge Caravan with a higher level of equipment and style. A choice of models is available, ranging from a short-wheelbase Voyager replacement to the leather-upholstered Limited, but all are powered by smooth, responsive V6 engines and all ride smoothly and quietly.
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.
The Town & Country Limited delivers enough performance to exercise domination on busy freeways in Los Angeles. Response from its 3.8-liter V6 allowed us to work through high-speed traffic with five adults aboard, while its handling permitted easy passing on the winding sections in the hilly country outside Pasadena. Yet the ride was smooth and comfortable, even on rough city streets and bumpy big-city freeways. Drinking a hot cappuccino while driving can be done without fear.
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.
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