Have big old plush station wagons come back in a different form? The 2014 Chrysler Town & Country is reminiscent of large old upscale station wagons—those with loads of room and decent road manners. After all, this minivan is heavy and big like those old wagons, with a 121.2-inch wheelbase and length of 202.8 inches.
The front-drive Town & Country is an uptown version of the lower-cost Dodge Grand Caravan, which lacks the Chrysler version’s upscale nature. Heck, anybody can get a Dodge, but a Chrysler is still a Chrysler—although Chrysler lacks the prestige it began losing in the 1960s.
The Town & Country debuted in 1989, billed as the “first luxury minivan.” (The first “upscale” minivan would have been more like it.) It followed the popular Dodge Caravan and near-identical Plymouth Voyager, which arrived in late 1983 and pretty much had the minivan market to themselves for years.
Crossover vehicles have eaten into the minivan market, but that market still is kicking. Chrysler and Dodge minivans thus must compete with the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Odyssey, GMC Acadia and Toyota Sienna minivans.
Not that the Town & Country is falling behind, as there are more than 40 available safety and technology features.
The $30,765-$41,295 Town & Country has the obligatory minivan dual sliding doors and comes in base trim level and in Touring, sporty S, Touring-L and Limited trim levels.There’s also a 30th Anniversary Edition based on the Touring-L that has unique interior and exterior trim, including a 30th anniversary logo.
I drove the $41,295 Town & Country Limited, which has more than its share of goodies, from heated front seats to a power hatch that makes loading and unloading cargo a fairly easy chore when your arms are full. The hatch also has two deep interior pull-down indented areas if the power hatch mechanism malfunctions.
Even the base Town & Country is pretty well-equipped, as it should be for its $30,000-plus price. It’s fairly handsome, as minivans go because they’re all essentially people- and cargo-carrying boxes.
Power comes from a smooth, quiet 3.6-liter V-6 with double overhead camshafts and 24 valves. It puts out 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.
But this minivan is heavy at 4,652 pounds, so its highway performance is just average, although the tachometer only reads a lazy 1,600 r.p.m. at 65 mph. That’s one reason the estimated highway fuel economy rating is an acceptable 25 miles per gallon, all things considered.The city rating, however, is a so-so 17 m.p.g., but in-town acceleration is lively.
The fuel tank has a 20-gallon capacity, so long nonstop highway cruises are in the cards. Only 87-octane fuel is required.
The engine shoots power through a responsive six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift feature. The shift lever is located out of the way, in the center of the dashboard. A tray with two front cupholders pulls out just below the shift lever, and there are cupholders all over the place. There are a decent amount of cabin storage areas, although I expected more of them.
It calls for a little extra effort sliding in and out of the Town & Country, but occupants sit high for a good view of surroundings. The front seats provide good support, but the second- and third-row seats, which fold into the floor, are only marginally comfortable and could use more thigh support. At least the third-row seat, which is easy to access, has a good amount of legroom, so it isn’t just confined to kids.
The attractive gauges in the quiet, upscale interior, which has a stylish analog dashboard clock, can be quickly read, although the interior could use more soft-touch areas. Controls are easy to work—even those on the touchscreen. The radio thankfully has a single on/off and volume control knob. But why is there only one light for the mirror on each fold-down sun visor?
The steering is quick and accurate, and the ride is smooth. Handling is good, if you don’t push the Town & Country overly hard, thanks partly to electronic stability and traction control. The brake pedal has a reassuring linear feel and activates the four-wheel anti-lock brake system. It’s like driving a big car.
My test Town & Country had an efficient, if rather slow-acting, power third-row seat that folded completely forward to allow more cargo space. There’s actually decent cargo room in a recessed area with that seat in its normal position.
The heavy, padded hood has a prop rod, but Chrysler took pains to make fluid level containers a snap to reach.Yes, some people still go under the hood, if only to change oil or fill the windshield washer container.
In all, the Town & Country is due for a redesign, although the latest model should be more than satisfactory to many.
Pros: Carlike. Roomy. Smooth ride. East entry. Fairly upscale cabin.
Cons: Average highway acceleration. So-so seats. Marginal in-town economy.
Bottom Line: A pleasant people hauler.
Dan Jedlicka has written about the automotive industry for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.