by Kevin Ransom
Luxury-sedan comfort in a spacious minivan.
Base Price $26,360
As Tested $35,000
Chrysler invented the minivan in the early 1980s. Ten years later, it invented the luxury minivan, the Town & Country. As we begin the new millennium, the Town & Country continues to set the pace for the minivan pack, whether we're talking about styling, comfort, spaciousness or ride quality.
In fact, the Chrysler Town & Country's refinements and amenities are so plentiful that it can square off with many luxury sedans. And that includes ride quality, because the Town & Country purrs along like a sedan.
Chrysler offers varying minivan configurations to suit different types of buyers. Until this year, Chrysler has always given buyers a choice among three nameplates -- Chrysler Town & Country, Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan. But the Plymouth nameplate has been retired, so the Voyager lives on as the Chrysler Voyager.
New colors for 2000 are bright white, bright silver, patriot blue, inferno red and shale green.
Chrysler's Town & Country and Voyager and the Dodge Caravan come in many different trim levels. Voyager and Caravan are available in both long- and short-wheelbase versions. Town & Country is based on the long-wheelbase chassis. (For 2000, Chrysler has dropped the short-wheelbase SX from their Town & Country stable.)
Town & Country is available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It comes standard with a long list of luxury features. The Limited edition offers even more high-end comforts: leather seats with suede accents, a rear bench seat with center armrests and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
Three Town & Country editions are available for 2000: LX, LXi and Limited. Now that the LX is the entry-level model, the trim-level distinctions between the LX and LXi are greater than in years past. Retail prices for front-wheel-drive (FWD) models: LX ($26,360), LXi ($28,415), Limited ($34,265). Retail prices for the all-wheel-drive (AWD) models: LX ($29,525), LXi ($31,590), Limited ($36,640).
Our Limited came equipped with two options: a $125 seven-passenger seat-configuration option that includes center-row quad seats and a child seat, and the ashtray and lighter for another $20. Adding in the $590 destination charge brings the price up to $35,000.
A 3.3-liter Flex Fuel V6 engine, which can use gasoline or ethanol, is standard on the LX and LXi-except in California, New York, Massachusetts or Vermont, where it is not available. A 3.8-liter V6 is optional on the LXi front-wheel-drive model, standard on the LXi all-wheel drive edition, and standard on the Limited. The four-speed automatic transmission is standard on all models, and all-wheel drive is optional on the LX, LXi and Limited.
The Town & Country rides on a 119.3-inch wheelbase, and is 199.7 inches long. The LX and LXi weigh in at 4,045 pounds, while Limited tips the scales at 4,189 pounds. All-wheel drive adds another 300 pounds.
The Limited's sporty visage is, at once, elegant and slightly imposing. A steeply raked windshield blends into the sloping hood, finished with a sweeping grille and winged Chrysler badge. Rounded corners, sculpted body panels and understated side moldings add to the its imposing look, particularly in dark colors.
The Limited comes with a high level of standard equipment: anti-lock brakes, traction control, dual-zone air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control, heated power eight-way front seats with memory, easy-out rear seats with rollers, adjustable driver's-seat lumbar support, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, keyless entry, overhead console trip computer, power garage door opener, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, rearview mirror with automatic day-night feature, AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo with equalizer, extra sound insulation and 16-inch cast aluminum wheels.
Side-door beams and dual airbags are standard and the driver gets a Next-generation airbag designed to deploy less forcefully in an accident. An accident response system unlocks the doors and turns on the interior lights whenever an airbag deploys.
We can't say enough about how much we love the sliding doors on both sides of the Town & Country. They improve access considerably. The two-sided access means you don't have to walk around to the passenger side to fetch an impatient toddler. Heated leather front seats (standard on the Limited and optional on the LXi) are a big plus in Michigan and other chilly regions.
For hauling smaller loads, the seat backs can be folded down yielding enough room for the proverbial sheet of plywood. For bigger loads, the back seats can be removed, and the center-row bucket seats can be quickly unlatched and pulled through the sliding side doors. A firm yank on a lever pops the third-row bench seat up onto a set of wheels, allowing it to be rolled backwards and removed via the tailgate. However, you'll need another person to do so, because they are not light.
The front seats are plush and comfy, and provide a panoramic view of the road ahead. There's copious headroom and legroom, whether you're in the front seats or the second-row seats. Getting into the back seats is easy, and those seats are quite comfy. The rear bench can seat two adults or three children.
The Town & Country is one of the most spacious minivans on the market, with 163.4 cubic feet of cargo space. By comparison, GM's extended minivan family, the Chevrolet Venture, Oldsmobile Silhouette and Pontiac Montana, offer just 156 cubic feet. The Honda Odyssey, which made headlines for its size, offers just 141.1 cubic feet.
The Town & Country feels firmly planted in corners and stable at high speeds. Chrysler tuned the suspension to ride like a sedan. Its rigid chassis makes it feel solid, an important benefit in a taller vehicle, whether it's a minivan or a sport-utility.
The Town & Country's rack & pinion power steering impressed us with its responsiveness in quick lane-change maneuvers. The road-noise issue--long a problem with all minivans--was abated when Chrysler redesigned the Town & Country in 1996. So the Town & Country delivers a ride that's more serene than most minivans. And it rivals many sedans when it comes to interior quietude.
Our Limited test model was powered by the 3.8-liter V6, which produces180 horsepower at 4400 rpm and 240 foot-pounds of torque at 3200 rpm. The 3.8-liter engine, the brawniest one offered in Chrysler's minivan stable, is absolutely our favorite. The smaller 3.3-liter engine, which puts out 158 horsepower and 203 foot pounds of torque, certainly provides enough boost for the short-wheelbase Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Voyager, but we recommend the 3.8-liter engine for the longer, heavier Town & Country models.
The 3.8-liter engine packs more than enough thrust when accelerating from a dead stop. The extra horses were definitely appreciated in freeway merging and passing situations. Brakes are a special concern on larger vehicles because you may be carrying a heavier load and some very important passengers. The Town & Country addresses those concerns by coming to an assured, firm stop, with no grabbing or fading.
If roominess and practicality are your chief concerns, there is a dizzying array of minivans available. But the Chrysler Town & Country answers the call for those who see no reason why roominess and practicality can't come with comfort and luxury.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.