Pros: Lots of standard luxuries, handy one-touch folding seats, good value relative to other fancy minivans.
Cons: Mechanically identical Dodge Grand Caravan is far cheaper, optional touchscreen is becoming dated.
The 2012 Chrysler Town & Country is proof that even in the car business, a lemon can be made into lemonade. When the current T&C debuted a few years back, you see, it was a shell of its current self, featuring crude drivetrains and one of the lowest-quality interiors in recent memory. But then Chrysler got back on its feet, and the company became determined to fix its broken products-not on the next-generation model, or even next year, but now. So the 2011 Town & Country received a thorough rejuvenation, including a fresh interior and a new V6. It was finally the well-rounded product that it should have been from the beginning.
We've now had a full year to contemplate Chrysler's reinvented minivan, though, and a few doubts have started to creep in. We wonder, for example, whether tech-savvy folks will resent Chrysler's aging touchscreen interface or wish for more of a whiz-bang entertainment system than its basic flip-down nine-inch screens. We also question whether it's worth paying serious money for the Town & Country when you could skip the fancy trimmings and get the very similar Dodge Grand Caravan for a song.
But there's clearly a market for luxurious minivans, and the T&C undercuts the loaded-up Japanese models by thousands without feeling cheap. Forget the bitter taste from before, minivan fans. The reinvented Town & Country is just pleasantly tart.
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Chrysler Town & Country is offered in three trim levels: Touring, Touring L and Limited. Even the base Touring is chock-full of niceties, including 17-inch alloy wheels, a power driver's seat, power-adjustable pedals, tri-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, leather upholstery (for the first and second rows), Stow 'n Go fold-flat rear seats, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a six-speaker audio system and a 6.5-inch touchscreen interface with a rearview camera, USB/Bluetooth connectivity and 30 gigabytes of digital music storage.
The Touring L receives standard rear parking sensors, a blind-spot monitoring system and eligibility for a variety of upgrades, including extra-luxurious second-row captain's chairs, dual rear entertainment screens and a power-folding third-row seat with power recline.
The Limited gets knick-knacks like keyless entry with push-button ignition, a leather and wood steering wheel, a navigation system, the dual-screen entertainment system and an exclusive nine-speaker, 506-watt audio system. Some of the fancier models' features are optional on lesser T&Cs.
The Town & Country's leather-trimmed front seats are a pleasant surprise in a minivan, delivering firm, well-shaped support. We're torn about the dashboard, though, because while it's immensely nicer and better-constructed than it used to be, we don't find it significantly more appealing than the Grand Caravan's dashboard, which represents a much lower starting price. As usual, the Town & Country's gauges are easy to read at a glance, and its controls are ergonomically sound-except for the touchscreen, more on which is below.
Second-row comfort is excellent, especially with the optional captain's chairs, which are like having an extra set of front seats in the middle row. If you need to stick some adults in the third row, don't worry. There's a decent amount of room back there. Cargo capacity, facilitated by the signature Stow 'n Go fold-flat seats, measures 33 cubic feet behind the third row, 83.3 cubic feet behind the second row and 143.8 cubic feet behind the first row-about average for a minivan, and ridiculously huge for anything else.
We appreciate all the standard technology items in the Town & Country, including USB/Bluetooth connectivity and the 6.5-inch touchscreen. That touchscreen, however, is past its prime, guilty of rudimentary graphics and sometimes unintuitive operation. Don't take our word for it-Chrysler has begun to phase this system out in vehicles like the 300 sedan, where it's been replaced by a stellar 8.4-inch touch-screen that's more like an iPad. Due to packaging constraints, the Town & Country's older interior couldn't accommodate the new display, so it soldiers on with the 6.5-incher. On the bright side, this smaller touch screen includes tons of hard-drive space for your digital music, a feature that's not included with its replacement.
We should also mention the Town & Country's rear-seat DVD entertainment systems-yes, that's a plural. The Touring model comes standard with one flip-down nine-inch screen for both the second and third rows to share, while the Touring L and Limited are eligible for a second flip-down screen. That should be enough to entertain the kids on long trips, but other vans are starting to push the envelope on this front, most notably the Sienna with its 16.4-inch split-screen rear monitor.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Town & Country is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that's rated at 283 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a six-speed automatic. This isn't the most refined drivetrain you'll find in a minivan, but it's wholly competent, and the V6 even feels quick at times. Full loads rarely present a problem, though you may notice that the V6 is a bit soft at low engine speeds. Fuel economy is about average at 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway.
The 2012 Chrysler Town & Country comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front-side, full-length side-curtain).
In government crash-testing, the Town & Country received an overall rating of four stars out of five, including four stars for frontal impacts, five stars for side impacts and four stars in the rollover test. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety deemed the Grand Caravan "Good"-the highest possible rating-in every category.
The Town & Country lacks the world-class rigidity of the latest Japanese minivans, so there's some unseemly shimmying and shaking on rough pavement. We love the hushed, smooth highway ride, though. In the handling department, there aren't any real surprises, but the steering is more precise than expected, giving the Town & Country a sense of maneuverability that's absent from some vans.
Other Cars to Consider
Honda Odyssey - The recently redesigned Odyssey boasts an impressive technology suite and comfy accommodations, but its dull dynamics and odd styling are question marks.
Nissan Quest - Based on a Japanese-market van, the Quest is taller and narrower than the rest, but it's also got the nicest interior and an eager V6.
Toyota Sienna - Also recently redesigned, the Sienna offers the unusual option of a 4-cylinder motor, but the engineering highlight here is Toyota's peerless 3.5-liter V6. The Sienna also offers a novel split-screen entertainment system that allows two kids to do their own thing simultaneously.
The available second-row captain's chairs are very nice, but we'd rather pick up an entry-level Touring for its $30,000-ish base price. Did you see all those standard features? It's a lot of van for the money, even with the much cheaper Grand Caravan likely right next door on the dealer lot.