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Chrysler Town & Country (2001)

SEE ALSO: Chrysler Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


MODEL: Chrysler Town & Country EX minivan 
ENGINE: 3.8-liter V6 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 215 hp @ 5000 rpm/245 @ 4000  rpm 
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic with lockup torque converter 
WHEELBASE: 119.3 in. 
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 200.6 x 78.6 x 68.9 in. 
STICKER PRICE:  $27,220 

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to drive a minivan from one of the Asian manufacturers. The gentleman who delivered the vehicle said it was his favorite minivan. His opinion is important, because he drives even more cars a year than I do, with a wider variety.

I valued his opinion, but also wanted to compare that minivan with the Chrysler Town & Country, which I have always considered the standard. Well, the Town & Country still reigns, in my mind, as the best of the minivans. Not only were Chrysler minivans the first, and not only do Chrysler minivans account for 35 percent of the minivan market, but they're still the champion, at least insofar as the top-of-the-line Town & Country is concerned.

What makes it better than the competition? To me, it's quality of ride. As many of you know, our family car for many years was a truck-based full-sized van. If minis had been available at the time, that's what we would have bought. That van gave a harsh, truck-like ride that wasn't comfortable, especially on long runs. And we took that van on many long runs.

The Town & Country, on the other hand, has a ride quality that is as good as the Chrysler 300M, which I drove the week earlier. The 300M also impressed me, because it is supposed to be a "performance sedan," but it was more of a luxury sedan in my mind.

We took the T&C on a long vacation ride of more than 500 miles one way. We had a lot of Interstate miles in that number, but there were also significant miles on twisty back roads, on dirt and on gravel. There was even a stretch on a one-lane path through the woods that was better suited to a four-wheel drive, but which the T&C handled admirably. It was on this stretch that the ride quality shone through.

In addition, neither my wife nor I had the bothersome backache that often accompanies long rides. And when you consider that prior to both long segments we loaded the car, causing even more back muscle stress, there should have been some discomfort, even if it was only minor.

Since this was a vacation trip, and we also were visiting our grandson, we loaded with suitcases, golf clubs, food items, and presents for Carter. For maximum capacity, we removed the two rear seats, leaving us with seating for four in bucket seats, or captain's chairs. These two rear seats were easy to remove, with numbered instructions on the backs and numbered levers and pull straps to aid even the most mentally challenged auto writer. The seats were relatively light, too, which made carrying them to and from the garage simpler. They were still rather bulky, even when folded, but there's only so much the manufacturers can do.

Our EX model also had Chrysler's power liftgate. This was so convenient for loading and unloading. We could pop the liftgate (and open the passenger-side door) from the house, then carry stuff out to stuff in all the nooks and crannies. There's a "pack to this line" mark on the floor of the bed, so you know how much you can put in the van.

Fuel economy was between 16 and 17 mpg, in all kinds of conditions and on all roads. The sticker says 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. While we didn't abuse the engine, we did have the air conditioner on all the time and we spent some time idling in heavy traffic. On one of our historic long runs, I would estimate well over 20 mpg.

Most impressive about the Town & Country, though, is the bottom line. Our EX came with the 3.8-liter V6, traction control, the power liftgate, power passenger-side door, removable console, power driver's seat and two-zone air conditioning. Added to the base price of $26,175 are side supplemental air bags ($390) and a destination charge of $655.

Since the average selling price of a new car these days is in the $25,000 range, the Chrysler Town & Country van is a bargain.