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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Chrysler Town & Country

The Chrysler Town & Country minivan is the companion piece to the Dodge Grand Caravan. The duo are the remaining minivans built and sold by Chrysler--in the past, Plymouth and even Volkswagen versions have been spun off from the same basic running gear.  The Town & Country has been among the Chrysler brand's versions of the minivan since 1990, and it was heavily reworked with a new interior and a new drivetrain for the 2011 model year.

Three generations of Chrysler Town & Country minivans have depended on the basic goodness of the minivan design itself to carry the day--since most of the differences from other versions are limited to high-end features and slightly different styling. Still, there's no similar luxury version of the other top-selling minivans, the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey, which makes the Chrysler van unique.

The first-generation Town & Country arrived in showrooms in 1990. A barely reworked version of the first K-car-based minivan, the first model year took the basic minivan shape and the basic single right-side sliding door, and added leather trim, a choice of V-6 engines teamed with a four-speed automatic, and woodgrain on the body panels.

The K-car chassis was revamped for the 1991-1995 Chrysler minivan. The Town & Country continued in the lineup, as a long-wheelbase-only minivan loaded with features and few options. The powertrains were upsized V-6 engines and four-speed automatic transmissions that gained a poor reputation for reliability. All-wheel drive became an option during the 1992 model year; airbags were fitted to the front driver and passenger spaces during this generation.

From 1996 to 2000, the Chrysler Town & Country adopted a much sleeker look. This third-generation minivan attracted new competition from Ford's Windstar, and from the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna--but innovations like a second driver-side sliding door, roll-out seats and an optional rear-seat entertainment system kept it ahead of its competition. A short-wheelbase edition found a few buyers; V-6 engines and a four-speed automatic continued in front- and all-wheel-drive versions.

From 2001 to 2007, Chrysler sold a revamped version as the Town & Country. It also added a less expensive Voyager model to its minivan roster--the old Plymouth Voyager, adopted in the wake of Plymouth's closure. From 2001 to 2003, the Voyager would be the short-wheelbase Chrysler minivan, and the Town & Country the long-wheelbase version; the Voyager went away in 2003, when Chrysler resumed offering short- and long-wheelbase Town & Country vans. While its powertrains maintained the status quo, the Town & Country's seating took a step ahead with Stow 'N Go in the 2005 model year. With Stow 'N Go, the second- and third-row seats could be folded into the floor rather than removed, a big boost for families needing flexible transportation. The new seating features came about as Chrysler reworked the minivan floorpan to spin off a new model, the low-roofed six-passenger Chrysler Pacifica crossover.

For the current generation, Chrysler has given the Town & Country an angular theme that looks less upscale than before. From 2008 to 2010, the styling fell far short inside, where plasticky dash trim covered almost every surface that wasn't upholstered. The engines were uprated again, among them a base 3.3-liter V-6, a 3.8-liter six, and a 4.0-liter V-6 that actually earned the best fuel economy ratings. To maintain its class-leading features list, Chrysler added in-car satellite TV, a folding in-car table, swiveling seats and entertainment systems.

For the 2011 model year, the Town & Country received a mid-cycle makeover that included a new interior with much more acceptable interior trim, a new drivetrain featuring a perky 3.6-liter V-6 with 283 horsepower, a mostly smooth-shifting six-speed automatic, and a retuned suspension that delivered a slightly bouncy ride but good highway stability. The features list in this edition now included satellite radio, blind-spot monitors, a rearview camera, a navigation system, and streaming satellite-based BackSeat TV. In 2012, Chrysler left the minivan largely unchanged, but for the current model year, the 2013 Town & Country was upgraded to standard leather seats, while a Blu-Ray video player with twin screens was made optional for the rear two rows of seats.

Also in 2013—and revealed at the Los Angeles Auto Show—Chrysler revealed a Town & Country S model, with a blacked-out scheme inside and out, plus new piano black trims inside, as well as the Blu-Ray entertainment system.

The Volkswagen Routan is essentially a restyled version of the Town & Country, although without the Chrysler's top seating and entertainment options. It went out of production after the 2012 model year.
A new Chrysler Town & Country minivan is expected in the 2015 model year, by which time it may be the only Chrysler minivan. The Dodge Grand Caravan name could be applied to a new crossover vehicle or dropped entirely.

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