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2003 Chrysler Town & Country review: Our expert's take
In the auto industry, as in professional boxing, it takes a knockout to dethrone the champ. Chrysler has held the minivan crown since it created and introduced the station wagon substitute Nov. 2, 1983.
Lots of rivals have challenged for the title, domestics as well as Japanese and even South Koreans, but Chrysler has stood up to them all. It remains the top seller in the minivan segment with almost 40 percent of the market and annual sales of more than 550,000 units.
Former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca is credited with inventing the minivan. But give a nod to his trusted engineering sidekick Hal Sperlich as well.
When Sperlich, like Iacocca, worked at Ford Motor Co., he came up with the idea for a van, which Henry Ford II rejected. When Sperlich, like Iacocca, involuntarily departed Ford and joined Chrysler, he brought the idea and sold Iacocca on it.
Maintaining leadership in the minivan segment hasn’t been easy. Every automaker offers a rival product and every so often introduces a new feature to lure folks from the market leader.
General Motors, for example, was first to offer a power sliding side door on its minivans, but Chrysler responded with dual power sliding doors, and then moved ahead of the pack with dual power sliding doors with obstacle detection to automatically halt movement and retract when they came in contact with person or thing.
Going the competition one better, it also came out first with a power liftgate with obstacle detection.
Honda, meanwhile, solved the trouble of removing third-row seats to hold more cargo by coming up with a third-row seat that folds flat into the floor. You still can’t fold the third seat into the floor on a Chrysler minivan like you can on a Honda Odyssey, but Chrysler at least came up with rollers to ease the chore of removing the seat to free more cargo room. And, Chrysler notes, the room needed to fold the third seat into the floor rules out offering the hardware needed for all-wheel-drive, which accounts for about 5 percent of all Chrysler van sales.
Chrysler has done well in the innovation department, as evidenced by the top-of-the-line 2003 Town & Country Limited minivan we tested. Can’t fold flat that third seat, but with an optional ($250) rear cargo organizer, you don’t need to remove the seat that often. The organizer is a huge collapsible plastic tray with dividers that runs the width of the cargo hold. Lift the top and it opens to hold groceries for the trip home. Lift the tray and secure it in its wall holder and it sits a few feet off the floor so you can hold groceries on it and below it. Neat touch. And if you need to hold even more, hooks for plastic grocery bags are on the backs of the third seat. Have to admit, however, that it would be nice to have the option of having a power folding third seat in the van.
The power doors and liftgate perform as advertised. Touch the key fob to open/cl ose from the outside or press one of the buttons in the cabin to do the same. Place a hindquarter in the path of the door while closing and, sure enough, it strikes, stops and retracts.
Another appreciated feature that’s new for ’03 is the power sunroof, an item you usually don’t find on a minivan. Bad enough to have to join the soccer mom scene, but you had to give up a sunroof to do so–until now.
Also, for the first time a factory installed rear-seat DVD entertainment system is offered. The screen that drops from the ceiling for movie viewing is far enough back so Chrysler still can offer a power sunroof as well. Very nice touch.
Chrysler, which pioneered adjustable brake/gas pedals in the Dodge Viper, a system upgraded when Ford and GM added power adjustment, now has added power pedals as an option ($185) to the Town & Country. With power pedals, you don’t have to move the seat closer to the steering wheel housing the air bag to reach the pedals.
Other appreciated features are cellphone and tissue holders in the center console, coinholder in the under-dash stowage tray, power plugs front and rear for phones or add-on accessories, plastic bag holders on the backs of the front seats as well as the third seat, and a quick flip-and-fold second seat for easy access to the third row.
The DVD entertainment screen is one of those items considered a frivolous expense ($795) until the first time the kids or grandkids are aboard on a long trip and you find how quickly and quietly the miles pass when the rugrats are so occupied. The DVD player is in the dash rather than the center console to make it easier for Dad or Mom to change selections.
And in keeping with chief designer Trevor Creed’s philosophy that occupants should never outnumber cupholders, you’ll find them everywhere, including slide-outs from the bottom sides of the second-row seats.
Even with all the goodies, the cabin is roomy and spacious, seats comfortable and supportive and sight lines front/side/rear more than adequate to quickly see what’s going on around you.
The Town & Country has a 3.8-liter, 215-horsepower V-6 with ample power to move the load, even when the cabin is full of rugrats. Mileage is good, with an 18 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway rating.
The suspension provides just enough cushion to prevent sharp jolts over tar marks in the road. Handling is typical minivan like, meaning you don’t take corners as if in a Dodge Viper.
Town & Country is offered in front-wheel or all-wheel-drive, which runs about $2,300 more. While four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock and traction control are standard on the FWD T&C, the vehicle we tested, the choice of AWD would give you the optimum all-season hauler.
While the Town & Country has so much to offer, the window sticker wakes you to the reality of how much it costs to offer so much.
Base price for the FWD Limited is $36,285. Standard equipment includes front- and side-impact air bags, rear window wiper/washer, air conditioning with pollen filter, power heated leather front seats, power windows/locks, power heated/folding mirrors, cruise control, tilt steering with audio controls in the steering wheel, trip computer, garage-door opener, visors with illuminated mirrors, automatic on/off headlamps, keyless entry, fog lamps, chrome wheels and 16-inch all-season radial tires.
The DVD entertainment system added $795, the power sunroof $895, rear cargo organizer $250 and an audio upgrade to include CD player and rear-seat headsets added $225. With $680 for freight, that’s almost $40,000.
At almost $40,000, it will be interesting to see how the T&C fares when the Chrysler Pacifica sedan/sport-utility goes on sale in the next few weeks. It’s a FWD or AWD crossover targeted in the same price range as the T&C but minus the soccer mom baggage.
Pacifica, like the T&C, will offer three r ows of seating for up to six people, but its second and third row seats will fold flat into the floor. It will offer a 3.5-liter V-6, ABS with traction control, power liftgate, side-curtain air bags, satellite radio and heated first and second-row seats. Pacifica is built on the same assembly line as the minivan but on its own platform, Chrysler says. Production has been targeted at 100,000 units annually.
36 months/36,000 miles
60 months/100,000 miles
84 months/70,000 miles
- Roadside assistance
36 months/36,000 miles
- Maximum age/mileage
5 model years or newer/less than 75,000 miles
- Basic warranty terms
3 months/3,000 miles
- Powertrain7 years/100,000 milesView all cpo program details
- Dealer certification required
- 125-point inspection
- Roadside assistance
Have questions about warranties or CPO programs?
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