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Chrysler is the old-timer among minivans, having launched its first group way back in 1984. Since then, Chrysler and Dodge minivans have gone through a succession of generations, making many improvements but retaining the body style's practical virtues. Long considered the vehicle of choice for suburban families, minivans have lost favor in recent years, and many former owners have turned to crossover SUVs. Still, for anyone who appreciates sensible motoring, with plenty of space for passengers and cargo, a minivan is hard to beat; and Chrysler's long-lived luxury version remains among the top contenders.
Chrysler is celebrating the three-decade run of its minivans for 2014, marking the occasion with special 30th-anniversary editions of both the Town & Country and the closely related Dodge Grand Caravan. Among other extras, the 30th Anniversary Edition includes 17-inch aluminum wheels with polished faces, 30th Anniversary badges, and availability of Granite Crystal Pearl Coat paint.
Otherwise, Town & Country carries over to the 2014 model year unchanged. The last complete redesign was for the 2008 model year. The 2011 Chrysler Town & Country featured revised styling, a new engine, an upgraded suspension, and a reworked interior.
All 2014 Town & Country models have the same engine: a 3.6-liter V6 that generates 283 horsepower. This places Chrysler in line with the fine V6s offered by the competition, including the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg City/Highway, on par for this category.
Today's Town & Country sits lower than it did a few years back, and its suspension is stiffer, to make it more controlled. The ride is quite smooth, with no evidence of wallow or float. Town & Country S furthers this with a sports suspension.
Town & Country's entertainment and seating options are among the best in the class, roughly matched by the related Dodge Grand Caravan. Stow 'n Go seating with second-row bucket seats is standard. These seats tuck nicely into the floor, and when they're up, the floor bins offer extra storage space. The rear seats fold into a well behind them, allowing a perfectly flat, voluminous rear storage area. With the third-row seats up, the storage well provides space for groceries and other small cargo. Many entertainment choices are offered, too, including rear-seat TV, DVD or DVD/Blu-Ray players, a powerful stereo and iPod connectivity. While the dashboard is mostly plastic, so are those in most rivals. Since the 2011 interior revisions, the look is more elegant, the materials are richer, the gauges look better, and soft-touch door tops are used.
The Town & Country is a great vehicle for families who need to haul people and cargo on a regular basis. It offers a lot of interior utility. It drives nice with controlled handling.
Town & Country Touring ($30,765) is well equipped with leather-trimmed upholstery; air conditioning with three-zone automatic climate control and an interior air filter; cruise control; a tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; 8-way power driver's seat with lumbar adjustment; Stow 'n Go second-row bucket seats with underfloor storage; split-folding third-row seat; power-sliding side doors; power locks and windows; power heated mirrors; remote keyless entry; auto-dimming rearview mirror; rearview backup camera; 6-speaker AM/FM/CD/DVD/MP3 stereo; SiriusXM satellite radio with 12-month subscription; auxiliary audio input jack; 6.5-inch touch screen; 30-gigabyte hard drive with music storage; power rear quarter windows; universal garage door opener; 115-volt power outlet; roof rack with stow-in-place crossbars; power rear liftgate; fog lights; automatic SmartBeam headlights; and P225/65R17 tires on alloy wheels.
Town & Country Touring L ($33,995) adds an 8-way power front passenger seat, remote starting, second- and third-row manual sunshades, power folding exterior mirrors, auto-dimming driver's side mirror with in-glass turn signals, blind-spot assist, parking assist, security alarm, and rain-sensing wipers.
Town & Country 30th Anniversary Edition ($34,165) is similar to Touring L, but adds special fender badges, black Alcantara suede seat-upholstery inserts with Nappa leather bolsters, third-row power folding seats, a driver's convenience group, and 17-inch aluminum wheels with polished faces.
Town & Country S ($31,195) includes heavy-duty all-disc brakes, a sport performance suspension, black chromed grille, automatic headlights, manual-folding mirrors, and 225/65R17 tires on polished aluminum wheels with black pockets.
Town & Country Limited ($41,295) is loaded, featuring such extras as Nappa leather upholstery with suede inserts; a navigation system; a 506-watt, 9-speaker audio system; USB port; keyless access and starting; high-intensity-discharge (HID) headlights; heated front and second-row seats; heated steering wheel; and an auto-dimming mirror with memory in-glass turn signals.
Option packages include a Trailer Tow Group ($895 or $995) with heavy-duty engine and transmission cooling, load-leveling rear suspension, and a trailer wiring harness; Entertainment Package for Touring L ($995) with a second-row 9-inch DVD/Blu-Ray entertainment screen, USB port, 115V outlet and wireless headphones; and Media Center 430N ($895 or $995) with Garmin navigation, SiriusXM Travel Link, a 40GB hard disc drive, CD/DVD/HDD/NAV radio, and 6.5-inch touch screen. Entertainment Group 1 ($1,300) is specifically for the S model. A Driver Convenience Group ($430) for Touring L includes heated first- and second-row seats, power-adjustable pedals, a heated steering wheel, and remote proximity keyless entry. A Safety Package for Touring and S ($1,695) includes rear park assist, rain-sensitive wipers, automatic high-beam control, a tire-pressure display, and Blind-Spot/Rear Cross Path detection.
Standalone options include a sunroof for Touring L ($995), second-row bucket seats ($320), load-leveling rear suspension ($290), UConnect Web ($650), and second- and third-row sunshades ($100).
Safety equipment includes dual-stage front airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags, front side airbags, active front head restraints, ABS with brake assist, traction control, tire-pressure monitor, traction control, a rearview camera, and electronic stability control. Also available are rear park assist, Blind-Spot Monitoring, and Rear Cross Path detection.
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.
Recent styling revisions made it look a little better. Up front, the hood was new, as was the grille and front fascia, which added a chrome strip above the lower air intakes. The grille adopted a new corporate look that also appeared on the Chrysler 300 sedan. Along the sides, the Town & Country got new chrome moldings and available bright polished 17-inch wheels with a different design and painted pockets. At the rear, the glass had more curvature, and a standard roof spoiler aided aerodynamics. The rear added LED taillights, a bright metal step pad, and a chrome trim to strip echo the front end. Visually, the Town & Country has not changed much since those revisions took place.
Each Town & Country includes a roof rack with crossbars that stow in place, to aid aerodynamics when not in use. S editions get a black chrome grille, Chrysler winged badges, black rear steps, 17-inch aluminum wheels with polished faces, and blacked-out headlamp bezels.
Gauges are large and easy enough to read. They use black faces with white numbers and chrome trim. Fully calibrated, the instruments feature nice red pointers and light blue outside markers.
A simple information display sits between the speedometer and tachometer. The instrument panel positions a trip computer between the tachometer and speedometer, which helps make for a useful design.
Mounted on the upper dashboard, the shifter is a bit of a reach. It has a gated design, and take a bit of effort to operate.
The radio/entertainment/navigation system is mounted high on the center of the dashboard for easy access. With any of the systems, 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 sits low, making it a possible distraction if trying to use it while driving (never a good idea, of course!). The gearshift is easily accessed without taking up room, as it's mounted between the radio and instrument panel.
All radios come with a 30-gigabyte hard drive to hold music files plus GraceNotes music identification. The base radio can hold about 6700 songs, while the higher-end radio can hold about 4250 songs because some of the space is devoted to navigation map information. The first step-up navigation system is an integrated Garmin unit, and the high-end nav system has voice recognition, Sirius Travel Link and Sirius Traffic. Songs can be ripped from CDs, and music and pictures can also be downloaded from thumb drives via a standard USB port.
The steering wheel contains controls for the trip computer, phone, audio system, cruise control, and, when ordered, navigation system. The trip computer controls are especially welcome. The steering wheel telescopes as well as tilts, making it easier to find an ideal seating position. You can even order a heated steering wheel, which is welcome on cold winter mornings.
The center console is integral instead of removable. It has a deep storage area, a pair of cupholders and a covered shallow tray. A higher-end version has a tray that can be opened from the rear, allowing parents to pass items back to kids. Bottleholders are built into each front door.
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. Headroom is plentiful, and leg space will only be lacking for the tallest drivers. The driver's seat is comfortable, though its cushion is on the harder side, compared to some.
Space also is bountiful in the second row, which is reasonably comfortable, though not as appealing as the buckets in most competitive minivans. The second-row bucket seats don't slide forward and back, but the back folds forward and the seat tips up to allow access to the third row, all with the pull of a lever.
The third-row seat will fit three kids or two adults with room that's par for the class. The third row folds into a well behind it, either manually or by power, to create a flat load floor. With the seat up, the well provides great storage for groceries, with 33 cubic feet of space. Overall interior and cargo volume is class competitive. With all the seats down, Town & Country has a spacious 143.8 cubic feet of cargo volume and can accommodate a 4x8 sheet of plywood. There's still 83.3 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
Finally, the Town & Country has a number of entertainment features in addition to the radios. It offers single and dual rear DVD entertainment options. The single screen is located in the second row. The dual-screen version adds a screen for the third row. With the dual-screen system, one screen can be tuned to TV while the other can play a DVD or video game. Front passengers can listen to the radio while rear occupants watch a DVD or TV. For additional connectivity, Chrysler offers Uconnect Web, a mobile wi-fi router, as a Mopar accessory.
Even though plenty of improvements have been made to Chrysler's minivans over the years, the basic driving experience remains remarkably similar to that of earlier models, dating back as far as 1996. That was the year when Chrysler dropped the original square-box profile, in favor of a larger, more rounded look.
For shoppers who lean toward minivans, or are at least considering the possibility, that sense of familiarity is a benefit, not a detriment. Chrysler served as the benchmark for minivans for a long time. Even though others caught up, on various levels, Town & Country is still a potent force in this increasingly-uncrowded field.
The Chrysler Town & Country is tall, heavy and long, which makes it a bear to handle in tight quarters and on winding roads. On the plus side, it's much better controlled than pre-2011 models were, with less body lean. Retuning the suspension that year, and lowering the ride height by an inch, made an appreciable difference.
The Town & Country still leans a bit in turns but not annoyingly so, and it gathers itself promptly enough. The steering is reasonably quick and direct, with satisfying road feel. Steering is hardly sports-car quick, and it requires a bit more effort than might be expected in a minivan; but it does inspire confidence. All told, handling falls in line with the Honda Odyssey, which is widely considered the sportiest minivan.
Town & Country occupants can expect a generally smooth and comfortable ride, with easy recovery from imperfections in the pavement. Chrysler's minivan 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, and the suspension tweaks eliminate any floaty sensation. Still, it's not as smooth as the Toyota Sienna, which delivers an almost luxury car feel.
Overall, performance from the 3.6-liter V6 is class-competitive. It's smooth and quiet, offering decent punch from a stop, and with enough energy in reserve for passing and merging. However, it doesn't feel as powerful as the 283-horsepower figure would suggest. That's odd because this same engine feels stronger in the rear- and four-wheel-drive Jeep Grand Cherokee. The 6-speed transmission doesn't seem to communicate well with the engine, or react very well to the driver's right foot. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg City/Highway.
On the road, the Town & Country cruises quietly, thanks to the smooth engine and ample sound-deadening measures. The Town & Country also features a couple of available safety features that are worthy of note.
The Blind Spot Monitoring system uses radar sensors to detect vehicles in the van's blind spots and warns the driver via lights in the side mirrors or a driver-selectable 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 we found it especially useful in parking lots.
Chrysler Town & Country is quiet, reasonably powerful, well controlled, nicely appointed inside, and comparatively fuel-efficient. Town & Country is one of the most family-friendly minivans on the market. Bonuses include unique and handy seating and storage features, as well as entertainment options. Pricing is comparatively high, but Town & Country is among the nicest and most luxurious of minivans.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report from Chicago. James M. Flammang reported on the 2014 Town & Country, also from Chicago.
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