The Chrysler Town and Country Limited AWD (all-wheel drive) may be the single most versatile vehicle I have driven in a year.
It has the comfort and convenience features of a luxury sedan, the hauling capacity of a minivan and the all-weather mobility of an SUV. This is high praise, I know, but it does a lot of things right with little compromise. Although the $38,000 sticker is pricey, it is not out of line compared to luxury SUVs or luxury sedans.
Its only shortcoming is that the third seat doesn’t fold into the floor like it does on some competitors. That means the third seat has to be removed in order to haul sizable cargo, and I find that inconvenient.
The Town and Country, Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Voyager are DaimlerChrysler’s trio of minivans, and all were redesigned for 2001. The nose is rounder, more like a car, and the profile is a bit sleeker. The body structure is tighter and drivability is better. The family bloodline is evident in the conservative restyle, but the interior is where the biggest change has been made. Noise level has been reduced, the general level of materials is better and overall access has been greatly improved.
A key to improved access is a power liftgate. Power sliding doors are fairly commonplace but the power liftgate sets a new standard in convenience. It seems needlessly decadent until you realize how easy it is to open when you have both hands full. A quick squeeze on the key fob raises the back door like magic. Safety switches prevent the door from closing on top of anyone.
The Limited has plush leather seats with plush suede sections on top. These seats have firm padding and substantial side support, particularly up around the shoulders. The second-row buckets were just as good.
The instrument panel has light-faced gauges with old-fashioned lettering and chrome trim rings similar to those in the Chrysler 300M. The look is handsome and elegant. Woodgrain trim straddles the center section that contains the stereo and climate control system. Large cupholders pull out from the bottom of the dash.
Fingertip controls for the cruise control are located on the face of the steering wheel, while small buttons for the audio system are on the back side of each spoke.
The large center console, with an internal power outlet and holder for a cell phone, can be moved back between the second-row bucket seats as well.
A three-zone automatic temperature control is standard.
The 50/50 split-folding third seat has grocery-bag hooks built in, and the top folds forward for more space. To get a full cargo area, the third seat has to be removed, and small rollers aid in that task. The standard test for me is seeing whether I can get a bike inside easily, and I just managed to fit one on top of the folded third seat.
An optional pop-up rear organizer mounts on the floor behind the rear seat, and it opens to create storage bins that can hold grocery bags that are hung on the hooks on the back of the seats. Fold all seat backs flat and they create a surface that can hold a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of plywood.
Mopar, DaimlerChrysler’s accessory division, offers a rear-seat video system with an overhead LCD screen and wireless headphones. This unit can be mounted between either the front- or second-row seats.
The 3.8-liter engine and automatic transmission is standard on this model, and it produces 215 horsepower, a significant improvement over the 180 from last year. Acceleration was certainly quick enough for everyday driving, and it cruised quietly on the highway. The extra power is welcome in the all-wheel-drive model because it weighs a whopping 4,628 pounds.
Later in the spring the 3.5-liter engine from the 300M will be offered and that should offer even better performance.
The all-wheel-drive model provides good all-weather traction, but an added benefit is a suspension that is tuned to be firmer and m re agile. Corners can’t be taken like a sports car, mind you, but it drives much like a large sedan instead of a top-heavy van.
While some may think an all-wheel-drive luxury minivan is an oxymoron, it is actually one of the most sensible all-around vehicles there is.
The base price of our test vehicle was $37,175. Options included heated front seats and built-in child booster seat.
The sticker price was $38,165.
Three years or 36,000 miles.
To get in touch with Tom Strongman call (816) 234-4349 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Point: The Town and Country AWD is a multifunction vehicle that is as luxurious as it is spacious. The new styling is conservative but attractive. The power liftgate is extremely handy.
Counterpoint: Minivans are for hauling, and the lack of a third seat that folds into the floor limits versatility.
Engine: 3.8-liter V6
Wheelbase: 119.3 inches
Curb weight: 4,628 lbs.
Base price: $37,175
As driven: $38,165
Mpg rating: 17 city, 22 hwy.