Chrysler Town & Country(2001)

Aurora

Chrysler has been building minivans for 17 years now. Theypioneered the modern minivan (apologies to VW Bus fans), anduntil a few years ago they were the undisputed leader in thefield. This despite the fact that Chrysler minivans have alwaysbeen plagued by squeaks and rattles that cause even the mostZen-like driver to pull his or her hair ou

Every time in the last 17 years that Chrysler has come out with a "new edition" of its famous minivans, it has assured us that the rattles were a thing of the past. And each time we still found rattles. Not in the brand-new minivans, of course, but in the minivans of our customers who had been driving them for 20,000 or 30,000 miles.

So here we are again: Chrysler introduces a brand-new minivan tocompete with the superb Honda Odyssey, the very good Toyota Sienna and Mazda MPV, and the pretty darned good and very safe Ford Windstar.

We won't guarantee you that this minivan won't rattle in 30,000 miles. But we will tell you that it's improved over the last generation of Chrysler minivans in other ways. It's plush on the inside, and it clearly handles better than previous Chrysler minivans. It also costs a lot--especially in the highest-priced "Town & Country" dress. The Town & Country is Chrysler's top-of-the-line minivan, with a cars.com target price of $37,300 for the all-wheel-drive version we tested. If you can do without all-wheel drive, the front-wheel-drive version starts at about $24,900. And if you can do with a little less luxury, you can opt for the AWD version of the Dodge Grand Caravan.

Driving Experience

First and foremost, Chrysler put their money where their tuchuses are. The vehicle we tested has easily the best suspension we've ever encountered in a Chrysler, Dodge, or Plymouth minivan. (And, no, that's not "damning with faint praise." They've always driven pretty well.) But don't take our word for it; take the word of our friend Tony, who owns a two-year-old Town & Country and corroborated our findings.

The car's handling is remarkably improved. There's a lot less ofthe bobbing, pitching, yawing, and rolling that we've come to expect from most minivans, and particularly from Chrysler products. Even with seven people aboard, the handling and ride were a cut above minivan standards. Most of all, you'll find the Town & Country easy to drive.

Also improved is the engine, which we found to be very peppy. The 2001 Town & Country has a 3.8-liter, 215-horsepower V6 engine -- 35 more horsepower than last year's model. The base 3.3-liter V6, available only in front-wheel-drive models, has been similarly beefed up, increasing from 158 to 180 horsepower.

One oddity: We noticed that the shift lever has a funny movement to it and is a little hard to get used to. As an added quirk, itoccasionally balked when we tried to move it from "park" into "drive."

Interior

As befits a vehicle in this price range, the Town & Country Limited has all the usual options one might expect: four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, cruise control, and so on. There's a three-zone temperature control, thereby eliminating at least one source of familial tension. The Town & Country also comes with a power rear tailgate, which opens and closes automatically. In our humble opinion, however, this is just another example of "excessive gadgets syndrome." It's one more thing to break -- most likely when you accidentally hit the "open" button one day as an 18-wheeler backs up behind you. However, when someone shellsout $37K for a minivan, my guess is that they're going to want thetailgate to open all by itself, so it'll probably be a popularoption. Leather seats are no longer standard on the Town & Country, by the way. If you want your tuchus on a bovineseating surface, you'll need to fork over another 890 bucks.

Unfortunately, the Town & Country is missing the popular"disappearing" third row of seats that's offered in such vehicles as the Mazda MPV, the GM minivans, and the Honda Odyssey. In those vehicles, the rear seat easily folds into the floor when not in use, freeing up lots of storage area. Chrysler didn't have room for the third-seat storage area, likely due to the drive shaft that's needed to power the rear wheels as part of the all-wheel-drive system. Our advice? If you think you'll need to remove the back seat regularly, look at another minivan ... or be sure to keep your chiropractor's phone number handy.

Visibility is quite good out the back and sides of the Town & Country, as it is in most minivans. The rearmost pillars are noticeably wide, but they didn't cause any visibility problems as far as we could tell.

Ergonomics

Some of the dashboard controls aren't particularly straightforward in the Town & Country -- the heater controls, for example. The Town & Country lets you set different temperatures in three different zones, but the controls were confusing. For example, there's a button that says "front." Finebut there's no button that says "back." If you want to flash-freeze your mother-in-law in the back while avoiding frostbite yourself, you'll need to delve deeply into the owner's manual.

While we're carping, let's not leave out the radio controls. There are a lot of tiny buttons, which is annoying enough, but to make matters worse, some of them are obscured by a shift lever that's several inches longer than it needs to be.

Styling

Surprise! The Town & Country looks like a Chrysler minivan. The fact is, there's not much Chrysler or any other manufacturer can do with the minivan genre. Having said that, we should note that, as minivans go, the Town & Country does have a modest amount of style. And they've made enough subtle styling changes that the Smiths next door will know you bought a new one. Just don't be expecting anyone to "ooh" and "ahh" as you drive to soccer practice and recitals.

Reliability

The predecessor to this year's Town & Country was of averagereliability. Moreover, the Town & Country has been prone to many squeaks and rattles, which start appearing fairly early in the car's life span. We don't know if Chrysler's quality control has improved or not; they claim to have made the Town & Country better with every new edition. If you buy one, drop us a note after 30,000 miles and let us know.

Maintenance

A few years ago, Chrysler implemented the cab-forward design on the Town & Country, pushing the engine back toward the driver. The result? A minivan that's very hard to service for anything but the most routine items, since most of the engine is buried.

Chrysler's less-than-stellar reliability track record, coupled with anengine that's challenging to service, will likely make the Town &Country more expensive than average to service.

Overall comments

The Town & Country is still the penthouse of the minivan world, and with the improvements Chrysler has made to the suspension, it is better yet. Add all-wheel drive and there's not much more you can ask for.

If your personal circumstances dictate a vehicle that can schlep sniveling sprogs between soccer practice, school, and the mall; that has all-wheel drive; and that puts you in the lap of luxury, the Town & Country just may be your best bet.

On the downside, the Town & Country ain't cheap. If you really want an all-wheel-drive, full-size minivan and would like to pocket about $5,000, we'd suggest a look at the Dodge Grand Caravan. If you live in a part of the country that only rarely sees snow, we'dsuggest you consider doing without the all-wheel drive. In that case, you'll have plenty more minivan options, including the Mazda MPV, the Honda Odyssey, and the Toyota Siennaall of which offer increased reliability.

Besides, with the money you save, you can hire a nanny ... and let her schlep the kids around.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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