An American icon | For day-to-day practicality, nothing can beat a minivan.
Chrysler was the original manufacturer to pioneer the affordable minivan in the North American market. New for 1984, the “Magic Wagons” were an instant sensation and went on to become a staple in the typical American household. The recipe was simple; seven seats and one (and later, two) sliding door with a price tag low enough for most families to afford. Thirty years later, the Plymouth Voyager is no more, and the short-wheelbase vans are also a thing of the past.
The Dodge Grand Caravan and its more premium sibling, the Chrysler Town & Country were last given a complete redesign for model year 2008. Since then, a few incremental changes here and there, along with an aggressive pricing strategy are the reason it’s still the #1 selling minivan in Canada. For 2014, there is a special model of the flagship van to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the American icon. I took out the 2014 Chrysler Town & Country 30th Anniversary to see how it compares to the vans of my childhood.
Town & Country is the only one of Chrysler’s iconic nameplates that has survived over the years. Models like Imperial, New Yorker, Newport, and even Concorde are all long gone. This is still one of the most premium minivans money can buy, and its price tag reflects this. Thankfully though, Chrysler is advertising $10,500 off this top-level model now, making it yours for $42,000. For fifty grand, I’d probably rather have the Honda Odyssey Touring, but the discount makes a huge difference. $10,000+ is a lot of money for a growing family.
Under the hood of the Chrysler Town & Country (and all models of the Dodge Grand Caravan) lies the corporate 3.6L Pentastar V6. It’s an excellent engine and feels at home in the minivan. It has 283 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. The 6-speed automatic transmission (column-shift, proper for a minivan) has an AutoStick mode that allows you to manually shift through the gears. It’s not a mode I ever found myself using, but I suppose it’s nice to have for those urgent passes on family trips to the cottage. It’s a very dignified and overall pleasant ride, but as you might expect, it’s no performance car.
My fuel efficiency was right in line with what I expected from this upscale minivan. In mixed driving (about 60/40 highway), I averaged 10.4L/100km. Naturally, the Town & Country will accept regular fuel without any fuss, and has a fairly large tank which is beneficial for road trips. I assume that city commuting would return numbers closer to the 12L/100km range, while strict highway road-tripping would be approaching 9.5L/100km.
Practicality is where the Magic Wagons have always excelled, and this latest one is no different. The Stow’N’Go seating is a Chrysler trademark dating back almost ten years, and it’s still the best in the business. In the Town & Country, the third row can be folded flat at the touch of a button located inside the trunk. It’s not an instantaneous operation, but it’s pretty swift. Think of the electronic seat stowing as a retractable hardtop on a convertible. The second row manually folds, and it hides away in compartments in the floor. This is a slightly more tedious affair, and takes about three minutes if done right. When all the seats are hidden away, the Town & Country has a perfectly flat load floor and can swallow almost anything Ikea will sell you.
Interior touches are surprisingly upscale and will pleasantly surprise the family upgrading from their Grand Caravan. There’s a pleasant blue ambient light across the rear ceiling, and there is also a nice analog clock in the center of the dashboard. The steering wheel itself is leather-wrapped, and the seats are finished in a nice mix between leather and faux-suede. The front buckets are heated, as is the steering wheel. Unfortunately, the navigation system is not the newer Chrysler uConnect unit that spans across the lineup – I assume the next generation will have this on board.
The only real gripes I have with the Town & Country are in reference to the platform sharing with the Dodge Grand Caravan. Local pricing deals mean you can often pick up a base Grand Caravan with the Canada Value Package for just under $20,000. There are some parts of the Town & Country that would look more at home in that base Grand Caravan. For instance, the infotainment system is dated and not very nice. The fuel economy display in the center of the instrument cluster is also a bit old-looking. It’s not that these parts are cheap necessarily; it’s just that these vans are now dating back to model year 2008, and competitors like the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey have developed significantly since then.
SUVs and crossovers may look cooler and be a little bit more capable in the winter with their sophisticated all-wheel-drive systems, but for day-to-day practicality, nothing can beat a minivan. The awesome seating position, overall ride comfort, and sheer space to put things mean vehicles like the Chrysler Town & Country will never go obsolete. I was almost upset that my week with the Town & Country didn’t involve any sort of road tripping, because the awesome second-row captain chairs and Blu-Ray entertainment system would have been ideal for our annual pilgrimage to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. If the Town & Country is this good six years into this model cycle, I can’t wait to see what they do with the next one. Bring it on.
2014 Chrysler Town & Country 30th Anniversary Gallery