The 2015 Chrysler Town & Country minivan surprises with a barrage of family-friendly value, though it’s slipping in other important areas.
The minivan segment is a relatively small field that’s seen big changes in the past few years as it’s sought to keep up with the ongoing assault of three-row SUVs aiming to dethrone the minivan as the ultimate family-hauler. Chrysler’s Town & Country, along with the related Dodge Grand Caravan, pioneered the segment decades ago and now faces competition from three heavy hitters: the 2015 Honda Odyssey, which was updated for 2014; the 2015 Toyota Sienna with an all-new interior; and the 2015 Kia Sedona, which is returning after a few years off. Compare those minivans with the Chrysler here.
The T&C starts at $30,990, including destination, for an LX, which is the highest starting price in the minivan segment. The five other trim levels, from least to most expensive, are Touring, S, Touring-L, Limited and Limited Platinum. I tested an S that, with optional equipment, totaled $38,120.
Exterior & Styling
Minivan styling has progressed into more interesting shapes over the past five years, with the Honda Odyssey’s lightning-bolt profile, the Nissan Quest’s floating-roof approach and the new Kia Sedona’s bold, SUV-like front end. The Chrysler Town & Country’s classic minivan shape hasn’t significantly changed since 2008, when it and its Dodge minivan sibling received their last major exterior redesign. The interior, though, was significantly overhauled in 2011.
The Chrysler Town & Country S has a slightly more aggressive look, with unique, dark-gray 17-inch alloy wheels, black headlight bezels and a black chrome grille. I don’t think the S package looks half bad, adding a little bit of attitude to the regular version’s snooze-fest appearance.
It doesn’t take upgrading, however, for the Town & Country to come with driver- and passenger-side power sliding doors, effectively called “magic doors” by my 5- and 8-year-old niece and nephew. Standard features like the power doors, plus a lot more, help justify the van’s high starting price.
How It Drives
We’re not starting off with the Chrysler Town & Country’s two greatest strengths: looks and driving. The Chrysler’s 283-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 may be the most powerful engine in the class, but it’s also saddled with the heaviest minivan in the segment. The extra power doesn’t go very far, with a curb weight starting at 4,652 pounds. Competitors start 200-plus pounds lighter. You’re likely not looking for a hot rod if you’re shopping the minivan segment, though, and the Town & Country accelerates just fine when loaded with people or cargo. I emptied a 5-foot-by-10-foot storage locker full of car parts and tools into the minivan’s cargo area, and the Town & Country handled the extra weight like a champ.
A “sport-tuned” suspension is unique to the S trim level and minimizes body roll fairly well for a minivan. Still, the addition hardly transforms the minivan into a corner-carver — or even something with a sliver of “fun to drive” in its demeanor. The Town & Country loafs along the road rather sloppily, but it does isolate occupants from rough roads well, as do most minivans. Honda’s Odyssey is a deviation from the typical minivan driving experience, with finer-tuned steering and handling.
You may not feel the bumps in the Chrysler, but you’ll hear them, thanks to poor isolation from wind and road noise. Wind noise picks up substantially above 50 mph, to the point where it’s distracting if you need to speak with rear passengers. The Sienna, once another notorious noise offender, has been quieted down for 2015 with additional sound-deadening materials.
The minivan segment as a whole isn’t a very efficient one, with average combined EPA fuel economy ratings in the low 20s. The Chrysler Town & Country V6’s 17/25/20 mpg city/highway/combined rating is on the low end of the group. A Toyota Sienna with front-wheel drive is rated 18/25/21 mpg, the Sedona has an 18/24/20 mpg rating, and the Odyssey is rated 19/28/22 mpg.
Minivan body-types are, first and foremost, family vehicles, and you won’t find an equally space-efficient vehicle this side of a 15-seat full-size van. SUVs simply aren’t as roomy on the inside as minivans.
The Chrysler Chrysler Town & Country comes with standard captain’s chairs for the second row seating and a bench seat in the third row, for a maximum of seven occupants. There’s no second-row bench seat to increase seating capacity to eight, as you can do in the Toyota Sienna, Kia Sedona and Honda Odyssey.
Leather upholstery is standard in the Chrysler Town & Country. The S trim level we drove had a monotone black interior featuring a mix of sport-fabric and leather-trimmed seats strewn with gray stitching, plus an “S” logo embroidered on the front backrests. The front seats are surprisingly nice to look at and equally as pleasant to sit in, with soft cushioning and good back support. The second-row captain’s chairs aren’t as comfortable as the front ones because of the standard Stow ‘n Go folding capability, which just doesn’t create a very comfortable seat for the long haul. The added usability (as detailed in the Cargo & Storage section below) outweighs the discomfort for my tastes, however.
Finally, the third row’s comfort for adults is more livable than in most SUVs — except in biggies like the Chevrolet Traverse, where it’s comparable. At 6 feet tall, I’d like a smidge more legroom and headroom, but adults probably won’t be spending much time in the back, and there’s plenty of room for kids of all ages back there. The great thing about minivans is that they’re low to the ground, so most kids will have no trouble climbing in and out by themselves.
The Chrysler has many family-friendly features, like available manually retractable sunshades for the second- and third-row side windows, plus a standard conversation mirror that allows a wide-angle view of rear passengers from the front seat. Sunshades are part of a Driver Convenience Group, for $695, that also adds heated front and second-row seats, plus a heated steering wheel.
A well-appointed interior, welcomed in the 2011 redesign, is a trademark of the T&C, especially in higher trim levels like the Limited Platinum, which has a Nappa leather interior. My gripes are less about material quality and style and more about noticeably inconsistent build quality, like how unevenly the multimedia screen fits into the dashboard, as well as the fit of the glove box and Blu-ray head unit. They all seem hastily thrown in and poorly fit.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Sunshades and conversation mirrors may appeal to the adults in the Town & Country, but what will awe backseat passengers is the available Blu-ray player with wireless headphones and two separate, high-quality 9-inch drop-down screens for the second and third rows. The rear entertainment system also features an HDMI input and a household outlet for gaming systems, plus two additional USB charge ports in the back. A single-screen rear DVD entertainment system is standard starting on the $32,460 Chrysler Town & Country Touring, while the higher-definition Blu-ray system with dual screens is standard on the S.
Up front, the multimedia system isn’t as noteworthy, using one of Chrysler’s outdated media systems with grainy graphics, a small screen and a needlessly complicated Bluetooth pairing process. It’s the opposite of the well-orchestrated 8.4-inch Uconnect system we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in other Chrysler vehicles. The USB port hidden next to the screen isn’t meant for music players like an iPod, but rather a USB drive loaded with music to play or transfer to the system’s built-in hard drive. The USB port for your smartphone is inconveniently located in the glove box.
In one way, the system excels: The Garmin-based navigation system, part of a $1,095 package, is uncharacteristically fast for an outdated system as far as entering addresses and alphanumeric inputs, but painfully slow when it comes to the screen’s map once guidance is started.
Cargo & Storage
The Chrysler Town & Country maximizes its interior space with one of the most ingenious features of the modern automobile era: the best-in-class Stow ‘n Go second row. The standard Stow ‘n Go captain’s chairs are an engineering marvel, with the ability to fold into the floor in one easy swoop while retaining sliding and reclining functions when erect. My family has owned multiple generations of minivans over the years, and removing bulky second- and third-row seats is not a memory I recall fondly after years of narrowly avoiding losing a finger when installing heavy bench seats and their appendage-eating, spring-loaded floor latches. Kids these days have it easy.
When not occupied by the folded seats, the large compartment under the floor is good for miscellaneous cargo — or even a 1/10-scale remote-control car that would otherwise have been left home during a road trip because the rest of the van was packed to the gills (a recent Stow ‘n Go success story shared by a cousin who rented a Dodge Grand Caravan). The drawback of Stow ‘n Go, of course, is that the seats aren’t the most comfortable, with stiff cushioning and a narrow seat, though their ability to slide and recline provides much-needed adjustability to get as comfortable as possible.
The folding third row is lowered via a multistep, manual strap-pulling process; it’s powered on higher trim levels. After folding the third row by hand a few times on our Chrysler Town & Country S, I’d seriously consider upgrading to a model with a power third row: either the Touring-L, where it’s optional, or a Limited or Platinum, where it’s standard. Not having a power third row as an option on the S is a downer considering how value-packed the trim is otherwise; a power rear liftgate is standard on all trims.
Behind the third row is 33 cubic feet of cargo space, which dwarfs what’s available in SUVs like the Dodge Durango (17.2 cubic feet), Chevrolet Traverse (24.4 cubic feet) and 2015 Honda Pilot (18.0 cubic feet). The Chrysler Town & Country is on the smaller side among minivans, as the Odyssey has 38.4 cubic feet, the Sienna 39.1 cubic feet and the Sedona 33.9 cubic feet. The Chrysler’s maximum cargo volume is 143.8 cubic feet, which is again in the middle: the Sienna has 150 cubic feet, the Odyssey 148.5 cubic feet and the Sedona 142 cubic feet.
The Town & Country is behind the curve in crash-test ratings. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the Town & Country rates good (from a possible good, acceptable, marginal or poor) in moderate front overlap, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, but it’s rated poor in small overlap front tests designed to simulate a collision with a light pole, a tree or the front corner of a vehicle. In this test, the Sienna rates acceptable and the Odyssey and Sedona rate good.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also dings the Town & Country slightly, with an overall score of four out of five stars; the Odyssey, Sienna and Sedona all earn the top, five-star overall rating.
Standard safety features on the Town & Country include a backup camera, side curtain airbags for all three rows and a knee airbag for the driver. Available features include a SafetyTec package that includes blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, plus rear parking assist and rain-sensing wipers, for $1,945. Despite having those safety assists, the Town & Country does not have forward collision warning, which is available on higher-end trims of the Odyssey, Sienna and Sedona.
Value in Its Class
Our Chrysler Town & Country’s as-tested price of $38,120 included a ton of flashy minivan features, like the dual-screen entertainment system and navigation for those family road trips, plus the standard Stow ‘n Go seats and power liftgate. Spending less than $40,000 for the S trim level’s content is very reasonable, considering a similarly equipped Honda Odyssey will easily breach $40,000. The Odyssey is a more refined and efficient vehicle, however, which is reflected in the additional cost.
Hot on the Town & Country’s heels in terms of value is the Kia Sedona. I’m sure automakers groan when Kia or Hyundai introduce — or reintroduce in this case — a new competitor, considering how they seemingly always offer more for the money. The Sedona matches that description, with desirable features like a rear entertainment system available as a stand-alone option, and also looks ahead, with available tablet holders in place of a built-in system.
Rumor has it this may be one of the last years for the current Chrysler Town & Country before a major redesign, and it couldn’t come soon enough to address increasingly more demanding crash tests, as well as boost driver multimedia offerings and quality.