Versus the competiton:
Editor’s note: This review was written in June 2009 about the 2009 Chrysler Town & Country. Little of substance has changed with this year’s model. To see what’s new for 2010, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
A minivan can get away with a lot of things if it has the right features, and Chrysler’s Town & Country does, including imaginative seating options and compelling entertainment features. There’s plenty to keep your crew occupied while you enjoy the open road.
The problem is, the Town & Country’s driving experience isn’t the most enjoyable. While it rides comfortably, the van’s structure doesn’t feel that solid, and the driving position is awkward. Whereas the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna do more to reward the driver, the Town & Country is better at pleasing passengers.
The Town & Country was redesigned for 2008, and a significant change for 2009 is a more fuel-efficient 4.0-liter V-6 drivetrain (see a side-by-side comparison with the 2008 model).
Despite some notable problems, the Town & Country’s driving experience isn’t all bad. The Limited model we tested is powered by a 4.0-liter V-6. The most powerful of three V-6 engines offered, it accelerates the van easily from a standstill.
The six-speed automatic transmission makes succinct but smooth upshifts that you barely feel — and it also kicks down quickly for passing, though the power wanes a little at highway speeds. It’s not unusual in this regard; it feels about as strong as the Honda Odyssey. Despite being the strongest, this Town & Country drivetrain returns the best gas mileage, with an EPA rating of 17/25 mpg city/highway. That makes it one of the fuel economy leaders among large minivans. Unfortunately, this engine comes only in more expensive trim levels, so you have to spend more now to save more later.
The Town & Country has a softly tuned suspension that’s well-suited to minivan duty, where a comfortable ride is key. There are times when the van bobs up and down as if it were on the high seas, but the overall emphasis on comfort is the right one for this type of vehicle. Both the Toyota Sienna and the Odyssey ride more firmly.
Unlike those two, the Town & Country doesn’t feel as well put together. There’s a general creakiness to the van’s structure that’s exposed when you’re traveling on uneven surfaces, and some things — like the dash-mounted gear selector in particular — have a crude feel and sound that lower the overall quality impression.
The Town & Country’s driving position was problematic, which was a little surprising because it was equipped with adjustable pedals. They’re designed to help drivers of different sizes get comfortable in the driver’s seat, but I couldn’t move the pedals far enough away from me. I had to bend my right leg too much when braking. Moving the seat farther back wasn’t a viable option because the van’s steering wheel doesn’t telescope — it only tilts — which made me stretch my arms out farther than I liked. The position of the brake pedal aside, the Town & Country’s braking response is easy to control, and the firm pedal feel inspires confidence.
You can, however, sit pretty tall in the Town & Country with the optional power driver’s seat. I was level with crossover and SUV drivers.
The Town & Country’s cabin has decent materials for the most part, though one editor didn’t like the silver-colored trim on the dash. The design of the dash itself is rather angular. The van’s white-faced gauges have thin-script numerals that aren’t easy to read and are much less legible than the Odyssey’s massive backlit speedometer.
The center control panel is well-organized. My test van was equipped with the optional UConnect Tunes audio system that features a 30GB hard drive and a touch-screen. It’s fairly intuitive, though my wife thought the touch-screen presets would be a distraction over the long term, as you’d always have to look for the onscreen button as opposed to choosing a hard key by feel. Like the van’s suspension, the front bucket seats are on the soft side.
The Town & Country offers two unique seating arrangements for its second row. They’re dubbed Stow ‘n Go and Swivel ‘n Go, and they’re mixed blessings, to be sure.
Stow ‘n Go is standard on all Town & Countrys and includes two bucket seats that fold into compartments in the floor. The seats are small to accommodate this operation, and that means they’re not the most comfortable for adult passengers. The plus side, of course, is that you don’t have to lug heavy captain’s chairs in and out of the van when you need to switch between carrying passengers and cargo.
The optional Swivel ‘n Go features two conventionally sized bucket seats that can pivot 180 degrees to face the third row. They don’t fold into the floor, but their large size means they’re more comfortable for adults. They come with a small table that second- and third-row passengers can share. While this might be a workable setup for kids, opposing adults will end up getting their legs tangled in the small remaining space between the rows.
The Town & Country has a fold-into-the-floor third-row seat, like many of its competitors, but it also features a tailgate-seating mode that lets you tilt it backward so you can sit with your legs hanging over the rear bumper. A power-folding third row is optional, too. Its third row isn’t as comfortable as the Sienna’s or Odyssey’s because the bottom cushion is short and canted upward at an odd angle. Foot space under the swiveling second-row seats is restricted and legroom is limited.
If you’re looking for loads of entertainment and communications features, you’ve come to the right van. Chrysler has moved beyond the basic DVD entertainment system by offering streaming entertainment options and mobile connectivity.
A two-screen backseat system with two wireless headphones is optional, and each screen can show a different source simultaneously. One (but only one) of those sources can be TV shows streamed from the optional Sirius Backseat TV system. As of publication, Backseat TV offers three children’s channels: Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network Mobile. A one-year subscription is included, but after that it costs $6.99 per month on top of a satellite radio subscription.
There’s also the optional UConnect Web system, which provides secure, high-speed wireless internet access in the Town & Country. The cellular-based system is a dealer-installed option that costs $499 plus installation, and the monthly service fee is $29. As one editor noted, though, you can get the same functionality for a laptop by purchasing a USB or PC card from your cell phone provider that won’t limit your mobile web-surfing to the car.
The Town & Country Limited I tested was priced at the heady sum of $44,480, but that included many of the features that make the Town & Country a good van to buy if you have passengers to please. If your van purchase is more about you, and you don’t need the latest technology features, the Sienna and Odyssey are more refined on the whole.