A luxury car disguised as a minivan.
by Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-chief
Base Price (MSRP) $24,880
As Tested (MSRP) $29,365
If what you really want is a luxury car, but family demands call for a minivan, then you've come to the right place. With comfortable seating (available in leather, of course) for up to seven people, power everything, a responsive engine, and a smooth ride, the Chrysler Town & Country makes you feel like you're driving an refined, upscale vehicle. Yet it offers practicality without the excessive weight and bulk of a sport-utility vehicle. Getting in and out is easy with a low, flat floor and chair-height seating, and you don't need to be a Houdini to climb into the third row. It even fits in the garage.
Chrysler completely redesigned the Town & Country for 2001. The result ranks among the best minivans on the market. The interior is versatile with seats that fold and remove. Powerful V6 engines deliver crisp performance. The ride is smooth and quiet. And it's wrapped in an attractive design.
New features available for 2002 include adjustable pedals, DVD video and remote audio for the rear seats complete with wireless headphones, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
For 2002, the Town & Country line has been expanded to four trim levels: LX, a new EX, LXi, and Limited. It also comes with a choice of front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. Chrysler positions them as seven distinct models.
All are built on a long wheelbase, making the Town & Country among the biggest minivans on the market.
With one exception, they all come with a 215-horsepower 3.8-liter overhead-valve V6. The base LX front-wheel-drive model comes with a 3.3-liter overhead-valve V6 that produces 180 horsepower. They all come with four-wheel antilock disc brakes.
Retail prices range from $24,880 for the LX FWD to $37,660 for the Limited AWD, loaded with leather, all-wheel drive and other features. Chrysler's Town & Country Limited feels like a luxury vehicle that happens to be a minivan. In between is a broad range of models to fill varying needs and price ranges.
A new EX ($26,175) comes with popular convenience features, such as a power-up and power-down rear liftgate, a passenger-side power-sliding door, a removable power center console, AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo with six speakers, split 50/50 roller seats, second-row bucket seats, a power eight-way driver's seat, and three-zone temperature control. It also adds traction control and 16-inch tires and aluminum wheels.
LXi ($29,175) adds automatic temperature control, an air filtration system, dual power sliding doors, a universal garage door opener, an electroluminescent instrument panel, and other features. Color-keyed lower bodyside cladding distinguishes it as an uplevel model.
Side-impact airbags are standard on the Limited, optional on other models ($390).
In addition to the Town & Country line, Chrysler also markets the Voyager, which is built on a standard wheelbase minivan and offers a strong value. (See separate NewCarTestDrive.com review of the Voyager line.)
Form follows function in the minivan world, so they are not the first category we think of when we think of stylish designs. In spite of this, the Town & Country presents a sleek, solid stance. It looks aerodynamic in profile, with a raked windshield, rising roofline and beltline, and fast D-pillar with canted rear window. Crisp, formal creases have replaced the smooth forms of the 1990s. Pronounced wheel arches complement sharp character lines that flank the integrated grille. For visual stability, rear styling cues give the Town & Country a weighty appearance that makes it look wider and not as tall. Huge taillamps use clear red lenses and jewel-like reflectors.
There's nothing mini about this minivan. The Town & Country is about the same length as the biggest minivans on the market. It measures 200.5 inches long and 78.6 inches wide. The Town & Country stretches across a longer wheelbase (119.3 inches) than the Chrysler Voyager (113.3 inches). By comparison, the Honda Odyssey is 201 inches long on a 118-inch wheelbase; the Oldsmobile Silhouette measures 201.4 inches on a 120-inch wheelbase; and the Ford Windstar stretches 201 inches across a 120.7-inch wheelbase.
Dual sliding doors are, of course, standard on all Town & Country models. A right-side power sliding door comes standard on the EX and dual power sliding doors are standard on LXi and Limited models. These sliding doors can add considerable convenience to your daily life, particularly for those of us who often find ourselves with armloads of stuff. Press a button on the remote transmitter and the door slides open; press the button again and it slides closed and seals. From the second-row seat, the power sliding door can be opened and closed by pressing a button; it can also be opened manually. A child safety lock switch hidden away on the trailing edge of the door can be engaged to prevent opening the sliding door from inside. The power doors work particularly well when managing children and armloads of stuff. Pulling on the outside lever opens the power door manually, with just slightly more effort than opening a regular manual door. Our LX came with a power sliding door on the passenger's side and a manually operated sliding door on the driver's-side; the manually operated door is easy to operate, smoothly sliding open and closed with the pull of a nicely designed lever. The outside door handles are comfortable, easy to operate and well designed; they impart a feeling of quality in looks and operation. Power sliding doors in various combinations are available as options on models that don't offer them as standard equipment.
An available power rear liftgate adds further convenience when picking up groceries or supplies: Press a button on the remote control and the rear liftgate opens or closes automatically-great for those all-too-frequent times when you're walking up with an armload.
The Town & Country is a comfortable place to spend some road time. It provides seating for up to seven people, and all positions are roomy and comfortable. That's something that can't be said for a lot of sport-utility vehicles. Cupholders are available at each seat and the rearmost passengers each get their own storage console, though the plastic lid is flimsy. Seat belt anchors are height-adjustable in the front and middle rows.
A low floor makes getting in and out through the side doors easy. Caesar the 170-pound English mastiff puppy, which requires a ramp to get into an SUV, stepped easily and without hesitation through the side door to get into the Town & Country. Judging by his expression, this is one of his favorite vehicles.
Access through the rear hatch is a bit higher, however, and he'd need a ramp there. Loading groceries through here is no problem, though. Plastic grocery bags can be looped onto special hooks on the backs of the rear seats. There's a fair amount of space behind the third row, which is not true of the Voyager and other standard-length vans. An optional cargo organizer on the floor behind the rear seat opens to provide a bin for six grocery bags; and it is adjustable.
We found the second-row bucket seats and third-row split bench easy to remove. All or any one of the four seats can be popped out and rolled away in three quick steps, providing a wide variety of seating and cargo configurations. Reinstalling them takes a little more practice, as you need to learn how to line them up before snapping them into place. Each seat is heavy enough that care should be exercised when lifting it off the garage floor. The seats can also be folded down to form a continuous load floor for 4x8-foot sheets of plywood and other large items.
There are many features available, in addition to the power doors, designed for those of us who always seem to be dealing with armloads of stuff: A headlamp-off time delay lights the way when coming home in the dark with a load of groceries. Auxiliary outlets, two up front and one amidship, provide convenient power for gadgets. Four serious coathooks make picking up the dry cleaning a more elegant chore. Three dome lights illuminate the cabin well. An available overhead console houses power switches for the rear hatch and sliding doors along with compass and outside temperature readouts. Power window switches include the rear quarter windows. Dark tinting on the side windows provides privacy.
A center console houses a cellular phone holder, power outlet, storage tray, light, tissue holder, and a map holder. The console is removable and can be placed between either the front or middle seats.
Small buttons make the audio system a challenge to learn and use while driving and the column shifter blocks the driver's view of the volume knob and seek button; steering wheel audio controls are available on selected models and should eliminate this problem. Cruise controls were conveniently located on the steering wheel of our LX. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls were functional, but rudimentary, on our LX, with his and hers sliders for temperature control. (Automatic temperature controls on LXi and Limited models are nicer.) A separate knob controls the rear fan. Handsome and straightforward analog instruments use black on white graphics that reverse at night. A digital odometer doubles as the trip odometer when a button is pressed. Turn signal indicators and warning lights are in a thin hooded panel above the instruments.
Lots of glass makes for good visibility all around, though the thick A-pillars hamper front three-quarter vision. Rearward visibility is greatly enhanced with big side mirrors, though third-row headrests block the rear-view mirror somewhat.
Driving the Town & Country is pleasant and enjoyable. It rides smooth and feels very stable at highway speeds. It handles competently and seems surprisingly nimble for its size. 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 new steering system and a rigid structure have raised the Town & Country's handling prowess to that of the leading minivans.
Our LX came with the base 3.3-liter V6. It delivered 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 and makes itself be known under full throttle.
Wind noise is minimal. Chrysler engineers worked hard to ensure carrying on a conversation inside the Town & Country is easy and pleasant. And they were successful. Special gaskets, re-engineered suspension attachments and other measures have resulted in a quiet cabin when cruising along at 70 mph.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the Town & Country quickly and without drama. Heavier duty brake rotors and new brake calipers improve braking performance, durability, and enhance pedal feel over previous-generation models. Having ABS as standard equipment is good as it helps the driver maintain steering control in an emergency or panic stop.
An available traction control system ($175) on front-wheel-drive models reduces front wheelspin on slippery surfaces. Even better is the all-wheel-drive system, which redirects power to the tires with the best grip; all-wheel drive is a smart option for drivers who live in the Snowbelt or in the Pacific Northwest where it rains a lot. An automatic load-leveling system is available that automatically trims the Town & Country to a level ride height, nice when towing.
The Chrysler Town & Country is among the best minivans available. Chrysler wrote the book on minivans and the Chrysler Group has sold more than 9 million minivans since 1983; it continues to dominate the market, outselling GM and Ford by a two-to-one margin, and outselling Honda by nearly four-to-one.
This new Town & Country shows why. It's roomy, comfortable, practical, powerful and nimble. Order the Limited model and add the word luxurious to that list.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.