ATLANTA — The most striking feature of the 2008 Chrysler Town & Country is the optional Swivel-N-Go middle-row seats that turn around to face the third row.

There's even a table that goes between the mid and rear seats.

While that might be the attention grabber, the Town & Country overall is special because it takes the stodginess factor out of minivans and actually creates a cool vehicle.

There are five models of the Chrysler minivan and its sibling, the Dodge Grand Caravan. They offer a range of storage options and seating configurations that bring a new level of versatility to the minivan category.

Also, in addition to the really cool Swivel-N-Go system, check out the satellite TV option.

This lets you entertain the kids with Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network as you're cruising down the highway.

So, no need to worry about hauling along DVDs that they've already seen a dozen times and are getting bored with.

But, if they must view the old standbys, you're free to bring them and play them too.

Sure, SUVs and crossovers have gotten more love from the public than minivans in recent years, but a look inside and test drive of the Town & Country reminds you of why minivans became popular in the first place.

They get better gas mileage than SUVs, and even give some crossovers a run for the money in this department.

The tester, a Limited model with a 4.0 liter V-6 that makes 251 horsepower and 259 pounds-feet of torque, has EPA ratings of 16 mpg city, 23 highway. But our tester outperformed that, getting about 18 and 25.

Also, when it comes to versatility, this kind of minivan holds the edge over most SUVs and crossovers. Not only do you get the Swivel-N-Go with the table, but you can fold the seats down for cargo capability, you get the sliding doors on both sides for easy exit and entry and you get spacious seating in each row.

It's a little like having the best features of a truck, an SUV and an RV rolled into one.

Whether you're a mom ferrying kids to school and practice, a shopper who likes to snatch up sizable items at yard sales and home improvement stores, or even a business person who needs a vehicle to serve as an office on wheels, you've got to appreciate that kind of utility.

What about luxury and additional amenities?

Got it.

The Limited model features leather-trimmed seats in the first two rows.

It also comes with a standard rear back-up camera.

For safety, check out the electronic stability control, antilock brakes and roof-mounted side curtain air bags.

For convenience you're sure to enjoy the sliding console in the middle of the front row, which lets you take drive-through fare and slip it back to your hungry passengers.

If you and your passengers are thirsty, you also get a bunch of cupholders.

The test drive model, which had pretty much everything on it, was kind of pricey — $39,785.

But fret not. If you want a really nice minivan, you can get an entry level version, the LX, starting at $23,190. Step up to the Touring model, and you're starting at $28,430.

Rob Douthit writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. E-mail: rdouthit AT ajc.com

 

© 2008 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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