Chrysler Town & Country
Are there any more ignored and humdrum automotive products in most people’s minds than the K-car and minivan from Chrysler? It was 30 years ago that the humble K-car platform was used as the basis for a new, smaller, front-wheel-drive van. The first Caravans and Voyagers from Dodge and Plymouth back in 1984, were nicely sized boxes on wheels with either a four or imported V6 engine and they sold like beer at a Harley rally. Oh, and incidentally, they saved the Chrysler Motor Company.
And the Chrysler minivans have been the gold standard ever since. GM and Ford have taken wildly aimed potshots at the market leaders for years. Remember the Astro? How about the Lumina that looked like a dust buster that had enjoyed conjugal bliss with an anteater. Then there was the first generation Ford Aerostar followed by the Windstar superceded by the Freestar. The public took a look, yawned and continued to buy Chryslers.
But now, Ford and GM have given up, Toyota and Honda have overcome their early, miserable attempts at a minivan and produced the Sienna and Odyssey. The Koreans have gotten into the act with competitive entries. Meanwhile the latest from Chrysler, the Caravan and Town & Country, are as lovely as ever. So how do they compare to the competition?
The quick answer is, very well indeed. The 3.6-liter V6 with its 283 horsepower is standard on the Touring model we drove, but compared to the competition from Honda, Toyota and Nissan, it needs a bit more grunt. They are all within a few inches of each other in size, offer all the same features like power sliding doors and power rear hatch, and the same seating accommodations. For 2003, Toyota’s rear, fold-flat seat was a better idea, but Chrysler got it in 2004 and now has gone one better.
The Stow ‘n Go seat arrangement is pure genius. You can go from a three-row, 7-passenger minivan to a two-seater with a huge cargo bay. You can now fold the second and third row seats into the floor with a fairly simple bit of mechanical magic. When the seats aren’t under the floor, your stuff can be, out of sight and safe. It is simply the most versatile seating arrangement in the industry today, and the ball is now in the other guy’s court.
Power for all three is good, fit and finish is roughly equal, although the Japanese makes will have slightly better resale. That is not a product of any tangible differences, just the fickleness of the marketplace.
At roughly $38,000 for the well-loaded Town and Country Touring was very well equipped and had the best ride in this class. For now, I would rank the Chrysler at the top of the list, with Honda, Nissan and Toyota neck and neck, and Kia and Hyundai yapping at their heels like frenzied Yorkies. All the competitors today are top notch products.
As SUV-crazy as we seem to be, the old mom-mobile market is as competitive as ever. That said, with design, quality, performance and other factors so even today, the Stow ‘n Go system makes the Town & Country so versatile, it truly moves it to the head of any shopping list. So, what are you waiting for?