2008 Chrysler Town & Country Ltd.Posted on July 30th, 2007
Swivel and go
By Nina Russin
Call me a geek, but I love minivans. On the practical side, minivans hold lots of people and lots of gear: as much or more than most sport-utility vehicles. My friend, Kathy Graham, rolls her Harley into the back of her Dodge Caravan and drives it to races. The Caravan has second and third-row seats that stow in the floor, producing a large tall cargo area. Needless to say, putting a couple of bicycles in back is a non-issue.
Minivans get better fuel economy than most sport-utility vehicles because they’re more aerodynamic. They’re not as good for off-road driving or towing, but they can easily navigate the occasional dirt or gravel road.
Minivans also tend to float under the radar. Did I mention that I’m a geek with a lead foot?
Chrysler invented the minivan: the first models rolled out in 1983. While other manufacturers have introduced formidable competitors to the segment, Chrysler and Dodge are the brands people buy most. The first driver’s side sliding door, sliding overhead bins, integrated child booster seats, and Stow ‘N Go seats that fold into the floor are a few of the reasons why.
The fifth-generation Dodge and Chrysler minivans begin shipping to dealers this month, with nationwide availability in September. A more powerful V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, Swivel “N Go seating and a second-row table that stows in the floor should wet the appetites of buyers looking for a living room on wheels.
Chrysler invited a group of journalists and their families to experience the new minivans in San Diego. Attendees ranged from toddlers to senior citizens. The drive route was equally diverse: a mixture of freeways and twisty canyon roads through mountains to the east, gridlock traffic and sparsely populated rural byways.
I drove the Chrysler Town & Country Limited with my husband Rob serving as navigator. The Limited is the plushest grade among the new Chrysler offerings. Our car featured the new four-liter V6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission, seventeen-inch wheels and tires. Options included the Swivel N Go second-row seats, DVD entertainment system, Sirius back seat TV and a power-folding third row seat that collapses into the floor.
Hot rod kitchen
The Swivel N Go seats turn the back of the minivan into a family kitchen. The second-row seats swivel 180-degrees and lock into the rear-facing position. It’s a simple operation. A strap to the outside of the seat cushion releases the seat so that it can pivot to the rear. The seats meet the same federal safety regulations in both forward and rear-facing positions.
Our minivan had leather trim, but available YES essentials fabric might appeal more to people with active lifestyles. The stain and odor-resistant fabric is perfect for those of us who shed several gallons of sweat on an average morning.
A table that stows under the floor mounts in between the second and third-row seats. It works like a beach umbrella. A pole locks into pins on the floor of the minivan, and the tabletop mounts on top of it, swiveling and locking into a second pin-mount. Chrysler’s kitchen on wheels also features two DVD players with separate inputs over the second-row seats, and a third screen in back that plays three channels of Sirius satellite radio. To think: when I was a kid, I counted license plates.
Unlike the Stow N Go system, the Swivel N Go seats don’t collapse into the floor. Still, there’s plenty of cargo space with the third-row seats tumbled into the floor, and the second-row seats folded flat or pivoted backwards. A roof rack is standard on the Limited grade.
The third-row power seat that collapses into the floor also flips back for the Sunday tailgate party. The upgrade tens-speaker surround sound system is standard on the Limited model, with Sirius satellite radio. The power rear liftgate makes the back seat easy to access for passengers, and saves the person loading cargo the effort of digging for keys with armfuls of gear. A button on the D-pillar closes the liftgate.
There are large cup or bottle holders outboard of the third row seats, with storage trays large enough to hold small electronic devices. There is a twelve-volt power point and a 115-volt inverter in the C pillar, in case someone wants to plug in a computer.
Front and rear climate controls ensure that all passengers ride comfortably. Though the temperatures in San Diego aren’t as hot as they are in Phoenix, the areas close to the desert got up to about 100 degrees. It was easy to cool down the car and maintain a comfortable temperature.
The power front seats are easy to adjust. Drivers have eight power adjustments and power adjustable pedals on the Limited grade, with a standard tilt steering column. The mirrors are easy to adjust for good visibility around the car. A rear back-up warning system includes a rear-view camera, eliminating blind spots to either side and below the rear window.
Cup and bottle holders are abundant, in the center console and in all four doors. The gearshift is on the instrument panel to the right of the gauges, clearing up floor space for additional storage. A large, two-piece glovebox keeps valuables out of sight.
An overhead storage bin holds sunglasses and flips down to serve as a conversation (kid-watching) mirror. An overhead console adds additional storage, and slides back to the second row.
Power to spare
The new four-liter engine has plenty of power for accelerating into traffic or climbing steep grades. The power was so good that I almost forgot I was driving a minivan. The six-speed automatic transmission is seamless: there is very little shift shock. Because of its weight, the car has a tendency to push or understeer, especially when descending a grade and cornering. I found myself fighting the wheel when I was going through some of the canyon grades. To be fair, I was driving pretty aggressively: faster than most people with a van full of kids would.
Fuel economy is 16/23 miles-per-gallon city/highway using the stricter 2008 standards. Buyers who want to spend less at the pump should opt for the smaller 3.3-liter engine, which averages about a mile-per-gallon more. The 3.3-liter engine is also flex-fuel compatible: it can run on up to eighty-five percent ethanol.
Standard disc brakes stop the car quickly and evenly. The independent front suspension and twist-beam rear axle provide a comfortable ride for all passengers. Stabilizer bars keep the car flatter in the corners. Steering is soft, but not excessively so. The car goes where the driver puts it. I never had that disconnected feeling that comes from power steering with too much assist.
A towing-prep package raises the towing capacity to 3600 pounds, meeting our ALV standards. Vehicles equipped with the towing prep package have self-leveling shock absorbers, making it easier to climb and descend steep grades.
The under-floor storage means sacrificing ground clearance on all of the models. Clearance is six inches: a good off-road vehicle has at least eight. That makes the minivans less than ideal for boulder or root-strewn trails. Graded dirt roads or moderate amounts of snow shouldn’t be a problem.
Lifetime powertrain warranty
The minivans come with a new lifetime powertrain warranty: an industry first. The new warranty applies to all Chrysler and Dodge vehicle sold after June 26, with the exception of SRT cars, the Dodge Sprinter, rental or diesel cars. The warranty protects the owner against any powertrain failures caused by the factory. Coverage is limited to the first registered owner or lessee.
Pricing for the Town & Country Limited begins at $35,670. Cost for the test car was $39,510, including a $730 destination charge. Town & Country minivans are rolling off the assembly line at Chrysler’s St. Louis, Missouri plant.
Base price: $35,670
Price as tested: $39,510
Horsepower: 251 Hp
Torque: 259 lbs.-ft.
0 to 60: N/A
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: No
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 16/223 m.p.g. city/highway
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