If you woke up today hoping to read a minivan review, then it's your lucky day. We know that sliding doors and third-row seating aren't the most exciting traits, but the minivan needs love, too. In fact, the entire minivan segment was all but ignored for nearly a decade as automakers responded to our fevered clamoring for more sport utility vehicles and crossovers. The good news is the minivan is back, and every option in the segment has been completely redesigned or updated within the past two years, including the Chrysler Town & Country.
Chrysler is, of course, the company that invented the modern minivan. But while Team Pentastar can lay claim to being the segment's father, many soccer moms and dads have long since migrated to the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. In fact, while the Town and Country emerged as last year's best-selling minivan, it won't repeat that feat this year. Its sales so far this year are behind both the Odyssey and Sienna, the latter of which may be the new best-selling minivan if the Dodge Grand Caravan doesn't finish up strong.
Why has the Town and Country slipped? The competition's fresher designs and higher build quality are at the top of the list of reasons. To dig a littler deeper, we got an adequately equipped base model 2011 Town & Country Touring to see if Chrysler's redesigned mainstay is doing enough to regain its place at the top of the minivan hierarchy.
The biggest change for the 2011 model year (2012 models are just starting to hit dealerships, but changes are limited to standard leather and rear-seat DVD for all models, as well as some new colors) is the addition of Chrysler's new 283-horsepower Pentastar V6 with 260 pound-feet of torque. That's best-in-class power if you're scoring at home, and the monster mill makes nice with a six-speed automatic transmission that offers smooth shifts and improved fuel economy.
Our $32,965 (plus $835 destination) Town and Country Touring tester also includes an impressive list of standard features like Stow 'n Go seats that fold flat into the floor, a six-speaker audio system and leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob. Other standard features include rain-sensing wipers, power side doors and rear hatch, blind-spot sensors and a rear-view camera. That's a lot of kit, which makes it all the more impressive that this Touring model is the base trim. The Odyssey and Sienna may have lower starting prices, but neither offers as many standard features as the Town & Country.
The Odyssey and Sienna may have lower starting prices, but neither offers as many standard features as the Town & Country.
Since the base price of the Town & Country Touring is only $29,995, that leaves $3,000 for options. Our tester also featured a nine-inch rear LCD screen with DVD player ($1,300), 6.5-inch LCD screen with Garmin navigation and 30GB hard-drive ($695), and an $810 convenience package that includes Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, USB and auxiliary inputs for your MP3 player or smartphone and a heated steering wheel.
While the exterior changes fly in under the radar, at least you know the Town & Country is still a Chrysler minivan. With scores of happy Chrysler minivan owners still on the road, that's probably a good thing. But when it comes to interior refinement, Chrysler couldn't afford to stick with the status quo. Calling the cabin of the last generation Town & Country "adequate" would be charitable. Fortunately, Chrysler has dropped considerable coin on this update update.
The money has paid for higher quality interior materials throughout, and one of the fattest, most comfortable steering wheels to grasp that we've come across. The dash is still set to hard-boiled (like the Odyssey and Sienna), yet even the hardest surfaces to touch are still more pleasant to our digits than before. We're also happy to report that steering wheel controls have improved as well. Gone is the annoying cruise control stalk that felt about as modern as a gold Members Only jacket. Instead, Chrysler opted for 21st century-approved buttons on the steering wheel that are dead simple to operate. Front row seats are very comfortable for long trips, and the suede-like trim felt richer than our tester's price tag would suggest.
The interior of this Town and Country Touring tester looks far better than that of the 2010 model, but the outgoing model still had some nifty features. Stow 'n Go Seating was particularly popular, and Chrysler has made folding its seats flat into the floor even easier for 2011. With the seats folded, the Town & Country can accommodate an impressive 143.8 cubic feet of space. That's down compared to the larger Sienna (150 cubic feet) and Odyssey (148.5 cubic feet), but when the seats aren't stowed, that Stow 'n Go space can swallow additional stuff.
We took the Town & Country on a small camping trip, and with six occupants, there was a butt in almost every seat. Luggage fit neatly in the 33 cubic feet of storage behind the third row seats, but we went grocery shopping closer to home to save money. In some vans, those consumables would be at the feet of the passengers, but we were able to easily stash everything in the Stow 'n Go bins. Check out the Autoblog Short Cut below for more on the Stow 'n Go seats.
The Town & Country can hit 60 miles per hour in only 7.5 seconds, .8 seconds quicker than the Odyssey.
While the upgraded cabin impressed, we were a bit disappointed to find what appeared to be the same smallish 6.5-inch LCD screen nestled into the center stack. We at first thought the old form factor signaled that the technology hadn't changed, but our assumption was wrong. The $695 Garmin nav system is powered by a version of Chrysler's latest Uconnect infotainment tech. That means speedy software (thanks in part to upgraded hardware), easy-to-use Bluetooth connectivity and a robust 30GB hard drive that gives this same LCD a new lease on life. While not quite as cutting edge as the large-screened systems being used in newer Chrysler products like the all-new 300 and Dodge Journey, we still love how snappy the system performs and are even more impressed with its ease of use. There are more robust systems in other vehicles, but we suspect minivan buyers will appreciate the simplicity delivered by Chrysler's product.
The Town and Country's other technologies was just as much appreciated. We tested the heated steering wheel when it was warm outside, but we're certain that the considerable heat this tiller provides will be a big hit with moms and dads in the dead of winter. Owners in cold weather climates will also appreciate heated front seats and everyone can see the value in power sliding doors. We also liked that the sliding door windows can open with the touch of a button, and even the third row seats have powered vent windows.
A very functional and comfortable cabin is a must in the minivan segment, but the refined power and handling delivered by Honda and Toyota demanded serious upgrades to the Town & Country's aging infrastructure. The biggest change was the aforementioned Pentastar V6. With 283 horsepower, the Town & Country has a fair amount more punch than the competition, and world's more kick than the ancient 3.8-liter and 3.3-liter engine that were deposed with this latest refresh. The Town & Country needs that extra power too, since this Chrysler weighs in at 4,652 pounds, some 300 pounds heavier than the Sienna or Odyssey. As a result of all that tonnage, the Pentastar V6 doesn't quite feel as though it's packing nearly 300 horsepower, but acceleration is still smooth and strong. In fact, AOL Autos data reveals that the Town & Country can hit 60 miles per hour in only 7.5 seconds, or .8 seconds quicker than the Odyssey. One downside to the new Pentastar V6 is the racket it makes when being worked. That formula may work in a Dodge Charger, but soccer moms and dads need to keep an ear on the rug rats arguing in the third row.
The new engine is a most welcome edition to the Chrysler minivan family, and all that new-found power doesn't affect fuel economy all that much. The Town & Country manages 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. That's an improvement compared to the 17/24 numbers achieved by the 2010 model. We managed a respectable 21.4 mpg during our week with the Town and Country, or about a single mpg or two better than seven-passenger crossovers like the Honda Pilot or the GMC Acadia.
Chrysler also promised a more refined driving experience for 2011. Our past experience with Chrysler minivans gave off the impression that not every bolt was tightened to spec, but the 2011 model feels well put together. The cabin is still a bit squeaky at times, but compared to the last generation model, the improvement is readily apparent. The 16-inch wheels may look a bit small, but the 235/60R16 BSW all season tires don't scream and holler during higher speed maneuvers. And while we loved the chunky, leather-laden steering wheel in our hands, we could do without the added artificial weight in its operation.
After years of the minivan segment being almost completely ignored, the segment has finally received across-the-board attention that includes this 2011 Chrysler Town & Country, which impressed us with more refined styling, a strong new powertrain and vastly improved interior. While the Town & Country may still not be as refined a ride as the competition, Chrysler counters by offering more standard features and technology without charging a knee-buckling MSRP. We can't think of a $30,000 vehicle in any segment that would be a better bang for the buck than the Town & Country, and that's the kind of value that soccer moms and dads appreciate.