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2005 Chrysler Town and Country Review


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Stow and Go

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THE AUTO PAGE
By
JOHN HEILIG

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Chrysler

SPECIFICATIONS
MODEL: Chrysler Town & Country Limited
ENGINE: 3.8-liter V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 207 hp @ 5,000 rpm/238 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 119.3 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 200.5 x 78.6 x 68.9 in.
TIRES: 215/65R16 All-season
ECONOMY: 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway/17.6 mpg test
PRICE: $37,125

There was a time when Chrysler simply had to have a minivan to make it notable. Now, every manufacturer has a minivan on the market, and Chrysler still dominates. The reason is innovation. The new Chrysler Town & Country minivan (and it's not exactly mini any more) has so much to offer that there's hardly enough room to tell about it.

The biggest innovation is Stow `n Go, a way of not only putting the seats away when they're not needed, but also of using that storage volume for cargo carrying when the seats are in position. Stow `n Go is a great way of reconfiguring the Town & Country. Chrysler claims more than 250 different seating combinations in the van. We only tried one, but we also played with the stowing system both on the van and on a stationary buck at a Chrysler display at the Philadelphia Auto Show.

With Stow `n Go, there are compartments in the floor in front of the second and third banks of seats. These have fairly substantial volume (up to 12 cubic feet, more than is available in some cars), to stow valuables or small objects that you don't want sliding around in the rear of the van. When we had our full-size van, for example, there was always a need for a small cargo compartment in the front of the van. Glove boxes just don't cut it these days, and the glove boxes in minivans are even smaller than on many cars.

But suppose you want to use your Town & Country to haul lumber or a large object. Then these compartments are just the right size to fold any combination of second- or third-row seats, leaving a flat cargo floor. You can have just two rows of seats (in our tester they were bucket seats, so there was seating for four), or only one row of seats up front. Behind you is a large volume for carrying almost anything. Chrysler quotes 45.6 cubic feet of cargo behind the second row seats, 15.6 cubic feet behind the third row, and a whopping 146.7 cubic feet with the two rear seats removed.

Chrysler claims that it takes just 30 seconds to perform the Stow `n Go. We tried it on the practice buck at the Auto Show and it took more than 30 seconds. I'm sure that if you owned a Town & Country and did the maneuver often, you could get your time down.

The problem is that once you start living with all that carrying capacity, you won't remember how to pack normally when you return to normal cars. Just ask the Heilig women, who still think they can take the contents of a house with them when they travel.

Our tester had the 3.8-liter V6 engine that delivered 207 horsepower. That's a fairly low number for that size engine, but it was enough for the 4,442-pound Limited version we had. We weren't overpowered, but you don't need tons of power in a van, just enough to keep you out of trouble. The engine drove the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission. This was a nice combination, since there's no need for performance-driven gearboxes.

We took the T&C on our favorite test roads and the van did well. It climbed hills fine and pranced along on the straight sections. Corners were taken at sane speeds because of the tall aspect ratio of the vehicle. Vans ain't sports cars folks.

There were four overhead compartments in the T&C. One was for the DVD system to amuse rear-seat passengers. The other three were on a sliding rail system so you could position them to the best advantage.

We had a navigation system, but the screen was so small that it was hard to read. I would prefer either a larger screen or no navigation system. The nav system is also tied in with the audio system. The buttons, I thought, were too small and not clearly labeled.

We had all the automatic and power goodies. One feature I liked was with the remote door unlock. If you push the button once, only the driver's door is unlocked and the left-side headlight flashes. If you push it twice, all doors unlock and both headlights flash. We also had power windows with an automatic down feature. It wasn't automatic up though, and I was surprised. Many less expensive cars have this feature.

The instrument panel had white faces on the gauges by day. But by night they had a pale green cast to them that I didn't like. But obviously somebody did like that feature.

Aside from my few minor gripes, I liked the Chrysler Town & Country. My full-size van (vintage 1978)had a wheelbase that was shorter than the Chrysler's, so minis are getting bigger. The overall length, however, was shorter in the T&C, but the practicality was enormously larger.

2005 The Auto Page Syndicate