• Image Credit: Chrysler

Price: $30,995-$40,090 (base as tested)

Engine: 3.6L V6, 283 hp, 260 lb.ft of torque.

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Fuel Economy: 17/25 mpg

The 2011 Chrysler Town & Country does not lead the minivan category in third party ratings from J.D. Power or Consumer Reports. But in considering the whole package, from stem to stern, and from the standpoint of design, innovation, versatility and ride, it continues to reign over its Asian competition.

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There are attempts to jazz up the design of a minivan. The T&C stays pretty true to the breadbox design. Improvements have been made to the inside and out for 2011. Ride and handling have been enhanced, and new interior materials have upgraded the whole package and ride.

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Chrysler has replaced three pretty mediocre V6 engines with one new one that may well be best in class. Engineers have re-tuned the ride for a somewhat stiffer suspension in the hopes of attracting more men without losing soccer Moms.

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The T&C's interior, especially the center-stack, is orderly and nicely designed to feel and look like that of a classy sedan, but with all the bins and cup-holders that you expect in a minivan.

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Responsive steering and well-turned out wood accents make for a classy feeling ride.

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We think Stow-and-Go is the killer app in minivans. The ability to drop the seats into the floor without lugging them out of the van makes for easy re-configuration of the seating and storage space. It makes the second row seats a bit smaller than Honda's and Toyota's. But those seats tend to be occupied by smaller bottoms anyway.

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2011 Nissan Quest
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2011 Nissan Quest

Price: $28,560-$35,390 (base as tested).

Engine: 3.5L V6, 260 hp/240 lb.ft of torque.

Transmission: Continuously-variable- transmission.

Fuel economy: 19/24 mpg.

This is Nissan's third whack at designing a minivan. What's the saying in baseball? Three strikes and you're out? Nissan should head to the showers with the new Quest. Ride and handling is good, and probably better than the Toyota Sienna. But neither the second nor third row seats fold into the floor. It's an ordinary minivan. Ford got out of the minivan business when it saw it was not seriously competing. Perhaps Nissan should consider the same.

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2011 Toyota Sienna
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2011 Toyota Sienna

Price: $26,610-$40,642 (base price as tested).

Engine: 3.5L V6, 266 hp/245 lb-ft of torque.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Fuel Economy: 18/24 mpg.

Third best in the field in our opinion, after Chrysler and Honda. The minivan has a four cylinder option, but the fuel economy savings is not much more than Chrysler's and Honda's six cylinder. The long and spacious package means there is ample luggage room behind the third row for luggage and gear. Lounge seating for second row seats (think mini recliner) is a nice feature for kids, but they don't quite work for adults. Interior cockpit and chairs are well executed with nicely turned out fake wood and decent plastic. But it all resembled the cockpit of a speedboat, what sailors call "stink-pots." Ride and handling was more wallowy than the Chrysler.

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2011 Honda Odyssey
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2011 Honda Odyssey

Price: $28,580-$44,030 (base as tested)

Emgine: 3.5L V6, 248 hp, 250 lb-ft of torque.

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Fuel Economy: 19/28 mpg

We have to admit that Honda succeeded in dialing a little jazz into the redesigned Odyssey. The "lightning bolt" line created in the rear third of the van looks good.

Inside, Honda designed a system that allows the second-row seats to be moved laterally to make more room for passengers or car seats, while improving third-row access through the center in the process. The optional second-row-center seat can even be moved forward to place an infant carseat closer to mom and pop in the front.

Seats are comfy. Storage and space top drawer. But we still give Chrysler the edge for its stow-and-go seat design. Odyssey is a close #2.

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