Redesigned for 2001 after five seasons in their previous-generation form, Chrysler's posh group of minivans exhibit fresh styling and possess more power beneath their hoods. Costlier than its mates, the Town & Country is related to the Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan and to the lower priced Voyager. Three versions of the current Town & Country are on sale: the LX, LXi and top-of-the-line Limited. Front-wheel drive is standard, but an all-wheel-drive system is available, just like in the past.
The Town & Countrys reshaped body is about 2 inches wider with larger headlights and new wraparound taillights, while the LXi and Limited models have lower-body cladding. Several minivan firsts can be found, including a new power liftgate thats controlled by either remote control or interior switches. Sensors will halt its downward movement if an obstacle is encountered. The liftgate is standard on the Limited and optional on the other models.
New power sliding doors have a manual override and can be opened and closed by hand while the power phase is in operation. Operating with in-door motors, which Chrysler claims are an industry first, they also feature obstacle detection when both opening and closing. Also new to the industry is a removable center console with a power outlet, which is standard on the Limited. The console can be mounted between either the front- or second-row seats. A new optional rear parcel shelf can be positioned at floor or mid-level positions and includes pop-up storage dividers.
In mid-2001, DaimlerChrysler will add a new EX model. Priced between the LX and LXi, the EX minivan will come with a power liftgate, power center console and 50/50-split rear seats.
As in the prior generation, Town & Country minivans come only in the longer wheelbase, 119.3 inches; overall length is 200.5 inches. Dual sliding side doors are installed on all models, with power operation for one or both doors available. The LXi and Limited both have power sliding doors. The base-level LX has manual sliding doors, with power operation available for the right door only.
All models seat seven, and the Limited has leather upholstery rather than cloth. Its second-row bucket seats which together with the front buckets comprise Chryslers Quad-Command seating style are optional in other models. The Limited also has memory for the drivers seat position, outside mirrors and radio presets, as well as an auto-dimming inside mirror. A new tilt mechanism improves backseat entry and exit. Cargo capacity, with the seats removed, is 167.9 cubic feet.
An infrared-sensing three-zone automatic temperature control and an in-dash four-CD player are among the perks available for the 2001 Town & Country's LXi and Limited models.
The third-row seat does not fold into the floor, as on the Honda Odyssey and Mazda MVP, but a new 50/50 third-row bench splits into two sections that can be removed separately, reclined or folded flat. When fitted with captains chairs, cupholders are on the outboard sides of the second-row seats, remaining vertical when the seat tilts forward.
Infrared-sensing three-zone automatic temperature control is standard in the LXi and Limited models. The Town & Country also has a newly available in-dash four-CD player. Rear-seat entertainment with wireless headphones is offered as a dealer-installed option.
Under the Hood
A 3.3-liter V-6 engine rated at 180 horsepower (up from the 158 hp in previous model years) is standard in the LX and LXi. The Town & Country Limited holds a 3.8-liter V-6 that generates 215 hp, 35 hp more than last year. The 3.8-liter engine is optional in the LXi. During the 2001 model year, two-wheel-drive Limiteds will get a standard 230-hp version of the 3.5-liter overhead-cam V-6 from Chrysler's 300M and LHS Sedans.
The new engine will be the most powerful V-6 offered in a minivan. All Town & Country models have a four-speed-automatic transmission.
Dual-stage inflators have been added to the front airbags. Side-impact airbags are a new option (standard on the Limited), and antilock brakes are standard. Seat belt pretentioners for the front seats and child-safety seat anchors for second- and third-row seats are installed.
Luxury is the byword for the Town & Country, which first joined the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager in Chryslers minivan lineup in 1990. The 2001 redesigns did not produce as much of a forward leap as the 1996 restyling, and competition has stiffened considerably since then. Even so, all of DaimlerChryslers minivans, led by the Town & Country, remain the ones to beat.
Though comparatively expensive, the Town & Country delivers quite a bit for the money. Virtues begin with a lovely ride and abundant power from the 3.8-liter V-6 engine. Acceleration with the smaller, 3.3-liter engine is lively enough from a standstill, and its just a bit less brisk when passing or merging.
All of DaimlerChryslers minivans handle with a relatively light touch, but not in a worrisome way. Each feels secure on the highway and is very easy to drive. The Town & Country maneuvers adroitly in urban driving, whether the weather is sunny or nasty. Attractive nautical-style gauges help augment the feeling of elegance, and seats are comfortable and agreeably cushioned.
Running with satisfying quietness, these minivans appear to be well built and nicely refined. Chryslers minivans were once considered suspect because of quality considerations, but those issues seem to have been resolved. One serious annoyance is the parking-brake release lever, which is a long reach for the driver.
Whether the Town & Country is worth the extra money over a plainer, shorter Voyager depends on how much you value those extra comfort and convenience features.