SEE ALSO: Chrysler Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: Chrysler Town & Country minivan LXi ENGINE: 3.8-liter V6 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 180 hp @ 4,400 rpm/240 lb-ft @ 3,200 rpm TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic WHEELBASE: 119.3 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 199.7 x 76.8 x 68.7 in. STICKER PRICE: $29,005
I'm always amazed at the progress of technology. As many of you may know, our "family car" for more than 14 years was a full-size van; rear-wheel drive, huge V8 engine up front, and not many amenities. We loved that van for its usefulness - it was a station wagon and a truck, often at the same time - but I hated the lack of fuel economy and had trouble with its unwieldiness at times.
Than van came before the minivan revolution. The first minis were smaller than our van, but they were practical. They didn't offer many luxuries, but van owners of that era weren't looking for luxuries.
Flash forward to 2000 and we have the modern version of the Chrysler Town & Country minivan. This is the vehicle my girls wanted (I probably did, too). It's also the vehicle that would have saved us a lot of money over the years simply because eof better fuel economy while not hurting for power.
Under the hood is a 3.8-liter V6 that's rated at 180 horsepower. It drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission. And it averaged 17.8 mpg during our test. Our old van hit 17 mpg once in the 14 years we owned it, and that was running on an eastbound Interstate through Nebraska, which is all downhill.
And oh, what luxury. The Chrysler has leather seats that are heated when the weather gets too cold outside. I must admit that I like heated seats, even when the weather isn't that cold. They help reduce or remove backaches.
There isn't as much storage area behind the rear seats as there was in the full-size van, but it was more practical. For example, if we had a lot to carry the rear seats could be removed fairly easily. Chrysler has added rollers to the seats to help in the removal. Our old van had heavy seats with nothing to help remove them but my younger muscles. Once we got that seat out of the van we had to lug it to somewhere where it could sit while we converted the van to a truck.
You don't even have to remove the Chrysler seats if your load isn't too large. The rear bench seat back folds down, making the carrying area larger and more useful.
On the back of the rear seat is an array of odd-looking appurtenances. They are there to hold plastic or canvas grocery bags and keep the contents from spilling all over the back of the van. Now, if we only had them to hold the milk bottle that broke and gave our old van a permanent smell.
Seating is comfortable, besides the heated part. The front buckets offer good side support and there is a fold-down armrest on each front seat. Under the passenger seat is a fold-out glove box, and there is a mesh "tray" between the front seats to hold small loose objects.
Performance from the V6 engine was decent. We had good acceleration when we needed it, and relatively silent performance the rest of the time. The Chrysler is designed for luxurious driving, so there isn't a lot of road or engine noise intruding into the passenger compartment.
Modern minivan design also dictates two sliding doors, versus the one we had. WE had to take the cat to the vet during the week we had the Town & Country. I loaded the cat carrier into one side of the van while my wife got in the other side to calm the animal. With only one door, it would have required some shuffling around inside the van.
The Chrysler has a few other nice touches that make it appealing. Like power swing-out rear vent windows. Like an overhead compass and exterior temperature readout. Like an efficient heating and cooling system (we used both). Like an excellent AM/FM stereo cassette with an in-dash CD player. Like sexy chromed alloy wheels.
If minivans like the Chrysler Town & Country had been available when we bought our van back in 1978, I think I know where our money would have gone. But then I wouldn't have had the opportunity to appreciate what Chrysler has done to improve vans as much.