The minivan will never die.
Oh, we may try to kill these little wonder boxes, but they've got more lives than Gloria Gaynor's career.
From a purely practical standpoint, the minivan is nearly perfect for hauling a family, stuff and, in one case, gravel. It may have the styling of a giant breadbox and the handling characteristics of one, too, but no car has the versatility, no crossover has double sliders, and no truck rides as well as a minivan. Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees are easier to kill.
So if they're not going away, why not make them better? It's time to think inside the box.
Chrysler, the minivan creator, has done just that with its creme-de-la-creme 2011 Town & Country, which first appeared 22 years ago.
While technically a refreshing, the makeover is as thorough as they come. From the suspension and the sheet metal to the interior and powertrain, the 2011 Town & Country is more new than old.
More importantly, this minivan has the feel and look of something special, instead of that gussied-up Dodge Caravan vibe it held for the past decade. With serious competition coming from the all-new Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, the Town & Country needed to bring its "A" game.
First, let's just talk about the all-new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6. This powerplant is going to save Chrysler. It's going in just about every vehicle coming out of Auburn Hills, and it's going to go into more.
This single engine replaces all three V-6 engines that used to come in the Town & Country (having three six-cylinder engines in the previous model is as problematic as it sounds).
This engine provides lots of power — 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque — and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The Town & Country comes with lots of acceleration, and gear shifting is smooth.
Additionally, there's a manual override on the transmission, which some people may want to use. This engine also helps achieve 17 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway, not great numbers, but certainly respectable considering the jump in power.
Chrysler redesigned the suspension, too. The changes may not make it an autocross champion, but it does help give it a very stable ride.
Minivans, with their front-wheel drive platforms, high ride heights and heavy bodies — the Town & Country tops 4,600 pounds — do not possess the charms of any sort of racer.
But the Town & Country doesn't pretend to be a sports car. If you're checking "minivan" on your car shopping list, you've already compromised your driving dignity for a comfortable ride that can carry a peewee hockey team. Don't think you're going to carve a mountainside in your wheels like some Olympic skier.
The Town & Country excels at being extremely comfortable and offers nearly every amenity a parent — and a child — could want.
Little things, big stuff
The overhauled interior starts with the single-piece dashboard that Chrysler now installs. It looks solid, feels well made and creates a much more dramatic interior. All told, Chrysler addressed nearly every touch point on this minivan to make it feel more luxurious.
The armrests are softer, the center console has a nicely crafted look, and the materials feel like they're simply of a higher grade. If you're going to pay more than $30,000 for a vehicle, it should feel like a $30,000 vehicle.
For interiors, it's the little details that tell the owner whether it's a good investment. It's the way the door handle feels seamless or the nicely placed grommet around the door looks.
Sure, the big stuff needs to be there, too, such as UConnect Web that turns the minivan into a WiFi hotspot so studious kids can go online to do their homework — or pretend to do that while chatting with friends.
There are power outlets in the back to keep the juice flowing for a gaming device connected to the dual DVD entertainment system, which can include Sirius Backseat TV. Rear-seat entertainment systems (with headphones) are truly gifts from the heavens for any long-haul road trip.
There are also the second-row Stow 'n Go seats — the single greatest invention in minivan lore. Now, Chrysler has made the seats slightly bigger and added a one-touch fold-down function that makes them easier to fold.
There are also lots of little cubbies and storage places throughout the cabin for holding all of the things people bring on board.
Chrysler keeps its previous generation UConnect infotainment system in the Town & Country, and that's probably the only thing I didn't like inside the cabin. The system, while offering Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free phone operation and some voice operation, feels outdated.
Chrysler also offers its Parkview backup camera, blind-spot detection and rear cross-path detection, which is helpful when backing out of a parking space.
The blind-spot detection is also very easy to use — with a yellow dot on the exterior mirror lighting up when a vehicle is traveling in your blind spot. In fact, once you begin to use it, you'll wonder why every car doesn't come with this device.
The least overhauled part is its exterior. Chrysler did change out some sheet metal — such as the hood, the liftgate and a new front face — to give it a more luxurious look, but in the end, it still looks like a minivan.
There is some added chrome jewelry along the body that shines up nicely and, really, it's not a bad looking minivan, though it still has the figure of a shoebox.
Touch of class
But that's the thing about minivans. People know what they're getting as soon as they decide to buy one.
Minivans are the ultimate utility players and, for many people, what they need is still more important than what they want.
Sure, more fashionable crossovers have come out, and many consumers have downshifted to smaller vehicles. But anyone thinking the minivan will disappear has never tested the potential of these fabulous vehicles.
The new 2011 Town & Country simply provides all the utility and just a touch more class along the way.
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Exterior: Good. Cleaned up and polished, this minivan has fine lines from front to rear.
Interior: Excellent. Stow ’n Go is still the industry high mark for seating. New interior much more refined.
Performance: Good. New engine and reworked suspension help, but, at the end of the day, it’s a minivan.
Pros: It’s a minivan.
Cons: It’s a minivan.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor
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