2012 Chrysler Town & Country Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Luxurious family hauler upgraded and improved.
The 2011 Chrysler Town & Country features revised styling, a new engine, an upgraded suspension, and a reworked interior. This represents an extensive mid-cycle update for the 2011 models, improving them substantially over previous models.
The 2011 Town & Country lineup offers just one engine, replacing three different V6s offered for 2010. The new engine is a 3.6-liter V6 with considerably more power. This brings Chrysler in line with the fine V6s offered by the competition. Fuel economy remains steady with an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg City/Highway.
The 2011 Town & Country sits lower than before and its suspension has been stiffened to make it more controlled. The ride is still quite smooth, and the wallow and float we noted on the previous model is gone.
The interior is improved for 2011. While the dashboard is still mostly plastic, so are those in most rivals, including the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. The look is more elegant, the materials are richer, the gauges look better, and there are now soft-touch door tops.
Town & Country's entertainment and seating options are the best in the class, matched only by the Dodge Grand Caravan. Improved Stow 'n Go seating with better second-row seats is standard. These seats tuck nicely into the floor, and when they're up, the floor bins offer storage space. The rear seats fold into a well behind them, allowing a perfectly flat, voluminous rear storage area. With the third row up storage well offers space for groceries and other small cargo. There are also many entertainment choices, including rear TV, two DVD players, a powerful stereo and iPod connectivity. A couple of features have been dropped for 2011, notably FloTV and Swivel 'n Go seating.
The Town & Country is a great vehicle for families that need to haul kids and cargo on a regular basis. It has always offered a lot of interior utility, but the 2011 changes make the environment more pleasant, the handling more controlled, and power and fuel economy better. It is priced higher, though, so customers looking for more affordable alternatives should look to the Dodge Grand Caravan or other worthy competitors.
The 2011 Chrysler Town & Country is available in three models, Touring, Touring L and Limited. All use a 283-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine that drives the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Town & Country Touring ($30,160) is well equipped with cloth upholstery, air conditioning with three-zone automatic climate control, interior air filter, cruise control, tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, 8-way power driver's seat with lumbar adjustment, Stow 'n Go second-row bucket seats with underfloor storage, split-folding third-row seat, power-sliding side doors, power locks, power windows, power heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, power adjustable pedals, auto-dimming rearview mirror, conversation mirror, trip computer, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo, Sirius satellite radio with 12-month subscription, auxiliary audio input jack, 6.5-inch touchscreen, 30-gigabyte hard drive with music storage, power rear quarter windows, universal garage door opener, 115-volt power outlet, roof rack with stow-in-place crossbars, power rear liftgate, removable/rechargeable flashlight, rain-sensing wipers, fog lights, automatic SmartBeam headlights, and P235/60R16 tires on alloy wheels.
Town & Country Touring L ($32,160) adds leather upholstery, 8-way power front passenger seat, heated front seats, remote starting, second- and third-row manual sunshades, power folding exterior mirrors, auto-dimming driver's side mirror, security alarm, and P225/65R17 tires.
Town & Country Limited ($38,660) is loaded with Nappa leather upholstery with suede inserts, Garman navigation system, 506-watt, 9-speaker audio system, USB port, keyless access and starting, HID headlights, UConnect hands-free phone, Bluetooth telephony, heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel, auto-dimming mirror with in-glass turn signals.
Option packages include a Trailer Tow Group ($620) with heavy duty engine and transmission cooling, load-leveling rear suspension, and a trailer wiring harness; Mopar Exterior Appearance Group ($940) with body-color running boards, bright door sills, premium floor mats, and splash guards; Entertainment Group 1 ($1,300) with a second-row 9-inch DVD entertainment screen and wireless headphones; and Entertainment Group 2 ($2000) with second- and third-row DVD screens and wireless headphones.
Standalone options include keyless access and starting ($295), Garman navigation system ($695), load-leveling rear suspension ($290), remote starting with an alarm ($395), second- and third-row sunshades with heated second-row seats ($595), body-color running boards ($700), Sirius Backseat TV ($525), power-folding third-row seat ($595) and a sunroof ($995).
Safety equipment includes dual-stage front airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags, front side airbags, active front head restraints, ABS with brake assist, traction control, tire-pressure monitor, traction control, and electronic stability control. It also adds rear park assist, Blind-Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Path, and a rearview camera.
The Chrysler Town & Country is offered in one long-wheelbase body style, and its size is comparable to several competitors. Cargo room is comparable as well. It comes with two power sliding side doors and a power rear liftgate, all of which are easier to open for moms with armfuls of kids and groceries.
The Town & Country's styling is somewhat boxy, with a pronounced front end that offers a hint of an SUV-like appearance. The roof is wide at the top, also contributing to the boxy look.
The 2011 styling revisions make it look a little better. Up front, the hood is new, as is the grille and front fascia, which adds a chrome strip above the lower air intakes. The grille is more attractive, taking on a new corporate look that also appears on the Chrysler 300 sedan. Along the sides, the Town & Country gets new chrome moldings and available bright polished 17-inch wheels with a different design and painted pockets. At the rear, the glass has more curvature, and there is a standard roof spoiler that aids aerodynamics. The rear also adds LED taillights, a new shape for the fascia, a bright metal step pad, and a chrome trim to strip echo the front end.
For 2011, Town & Country comes with a roof rack with crossbars that stow in place to aid aerodynamics when not in use.
Town & Country's competitive advantage can be found on the inside, where it has many thoughtful features. Thanks to the 2011 update, the quality of the interior is improved as well.
Hard plastic still makes up much of the dashboard, but that's the case with almost all vehicles in the class. The dash loses its sharper edges and gets nicer graining. It has a more integrated, flowing look due to a more elegant design and the fact that the dash is made of fewer pieces. The door tops are now padded, and the materials have a richer look and feel.
The gauges are larger in the 2011 models, and are easy to read. They use black faces with white numbers and chrome trim (replacing the previous aqua blue-lit white faces). The 2011 instrument panel adds a larger trip computer between the tachometer and speedometer. It's a better, more useful design.
The radio/entertainment/navigation system is set high on the center of the dash for easy access. With any of the three systems, the controls are easy to use, but those on the right side are a bit of a reach for the driver. The CD/DVD changer is set low, making it a possible distraction to use while driving. The gearshift is easily accessed without taking up room as it is mounted between the radio and instrument panel.
All radios come with a 30-gigabyte hard drive to hold music files plus GraceNotes music identification. The base radio can hold about 6700 songs, and the two higher-end radios can hold about 4250 songs because some of the space is devoted to navigation map information. The first step-up navigation system is an integrated Garmin unit, and the high-end nav system has voice recognition, Sirius Travel Link and Sirius Traffic. Songs can be ripped from CDs, and music and pictures can also be downloaded from thumb drives via a standard USB port.
New for 2011 is the steering wheel. It has controls for the trip computer, phone, audio system, cruise control, and, when ordered, navigation system. The trip computer controls are especially welcome because the last model had them inaccessibly placed behind the steering wheel on the left. The wheel now telescopes as well, making it easier to find an ideal seating position. You can even order a heated wheel, which is welcome on cold winter mornings.
The center console is now integral instead of removable. It has a deep storage area, a pair of cupholders and a covered shallow tray. A higher-end version has a tray that can be opened from the rear, allowing parents to pass items back to kids. There are also bottleholders in each front door.
Front-seat room and comfort are typical for a minivan. The front captain's chairs afford an upright driving position with an SUV-like view of the road. There is plenty of head room, and leg room will only be lacking for the tallest drivers.
The second row is more comfortable on the 2011 Town & Country. To allow them to fit into the bins in the floor, the previous seats were notoriously flat, offering little support. For 2011, Chrysler added more padding and made the seats taller and wider. They're still not as comfortable as the buckets in most competitors, but the 2011 changes are a welcome improvement.
The second-row bucket seats don't slide forward and back, but the back folds forward and the seat tips up to allow access to the third row, all with the pull of a lever. Open the bins and you can then push the seats into them using the same procedure.
This system is now called Super Stow 'n Go. It's a simple but ingenious invention, allowing for useful seating, plenty of storage, and an easy way to switch between the two.
(The Swivel 'n Go seating option has been discontinued. It offered second-row seats that rotated 180 degrees to face a stowable table that fit between the second and third rows. It was nice for long road trips, keeping the kids busy with games and coloring books, but Chrysler says many who chose it never used it.)
The third-row seat will fit three kids or two adults with room that's par for the class. The third-row folds into a well behind it, either manually or by power, to create a flat load floor. With the seat up, the well provides great storage for groceries, with 33 cubic feet of space. Overall interior and cargo volume is class competitive. With all the seats down, it has a spacious 143.8 cubic feet of cargo volume and can accommodate a 4x8 sheet of plywood. There is still 83.3 cubic feet with the rear seat folded, about as much as a Ford Explorer.
Finally, the Town & Country has a number of entertainment features in addition to the radios. It offers single and dual rear DVD entertainment options. The single screen is located in the second row. The dual-screen version adds a screen for the third row. Both are available with Sirius Backseat TV with three kids' channels, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon. Four sets of headphones are provided, and with the dual-screen system, one screen can be tuned to TV while the other can play a DVD or video game. Front passengers can listen to the radio while rear occupants watch a DVD or TV, and with the van in Park, front passengers can watch TV or a DVD on the dashboard screen. (FloTV, which was offered last year, is no longer available as the company that provided it has gone out of business.) For additional connectivity, Chrysler offers Uconnect Web, a mobile wi-fi router, as a Mopar accessory.
The Chrysler Town & Country is tall, heavy and long, which makes it a bear to handle in tight quarters and on winding roads. Thanks to the 2011 changes, though, it is much better controlled, with less body lean than the 2010 model.
The ride height has been dropped one inch and the suspension has been retuned. The spring rates are firmer front and rear, new low-rolling resistance tires have been chosen, the bushings and shocks are firmer, and the steering is quicker. If you drove the last one, you won't recognize this one, and that's a good thing.
The Town & Country still leans a bit in turns but not annoyingly so, and it gathers itself much better to head back in the opposite direction. The steering is quicker and more direct, with more road feel. The steering isn't sports car quick, but it does inspire more confidence. The 2011 changes bring the Town & Country in line with the Honda Odyssey, which is widely considered the sportiest minivan.
The ride is still quite good. The Town & Country irons out most bumps well, and only the sharpest of ruts will crash through to give the passengers a start. The long wheelbase helps prevent larger humps from causing up and down motions, and the suspension tweaks eliminate the floaty feel of the last model. Still, it's not as smooth as the Toyota Sienna, which has an almost luxury car feel.
The 2011 engine is also much better. Instead of three elderly V6s, the 2011 Town & Country offers just one, the new Pentastar 283-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. It has 32 more horsepower than the most powerful of the 2010 engines. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg city/highway. Chrysler provides a fuel economizer switch that will change the shift points for optimum fuel economy.
The new 3.6-liter V6 is now class competitive, while only the 4.0-liter V6 on the 2010 model was close. Chrysler has come up with a fine new engine. It's smooth and quiet, offering decent punch from a stop and enough in reserve for passing. However, it doesn't feel as powerful as the 283-horsepower figure would suggest. That's odd because this same engine feels stronger in the rear- and four-wheel-drive Jeep Grand Cherokee. Perhaps the 6-speed automatic transmission is the culprit. The transmission doesn't seem to communicate well with the engine or react very well to the driver's right foot.
On the road, the Town & Country cruises quieter than ever, thanks to the smooth new engine and additional sound-deadening measures. Those sound measures are another reason why the 2011 model is better than the 2010. The 2011 Town & Country also features a couple of standard safety features that are worthy of note.
The Blind Spot Monitoring system uses radar sensors to detect vehicles in the van's blind spots and warns the driver via lights in the side mirrors or a driver-selectable chime. It works well, but like similar systems offered by other manufacturers it can sometimes give false readings. It's still important to look before you change lanes.
The Rear Cross Path system is activated when the van is in reverse. It uses radar sensors to detect vehicles crossing behind the Town & Country and warns the driver with lights in the side mirrors and that same chime. The system won't detect small objects, like pedestrians, so it's still important to proceed slowly. It does, however, detect vehicles up to 20 meters away, and is programmed to recognize the speed of oncoming vehicles and alert the driver only if they are traveling at a speed that could lead to an accident (in other words, stationary and very slow moving vehicles probably won't register). We like this system. It works well and we found it especially useful in parking lots.
The 2011 changes make the Chrysler Town & Country much better. It's quieter, more powerful, more controlled, nicer inside and likely more fuel efficient. Yet the Town & Country is still one of the most family friendly minivans on the market. Other plusses are the many unique and handy seating and storage features, and an impressive array of entertainment options. Pricing is high as the Town & Country starts over $30,000 and ranges up past $40,000, so buyers looking for a more affordable alternative should consider the Dodge Grand Caravan or lesser equipped versions of other competitors. The Town & Country is the nicest and most luxurious, however.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report from Chicago.
Chrysler Town & Country Touring ($30,160); Touring L ($32,160); Limited ($38,660).
Windsor, Ontario, Canada; St. Louis, Missouri.
Options As Tested
sunroof ($995), power-folding third-row seat ($595).
Chrysler Town & Country Limited ($38,660).
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