A lot of automotive stories deal with problems. Recalls and defects are guaranteed to get a lot of media attention and negative publicity.
It’s not newsworthy when our vehicles do exactly what we expect them to do, but most cars do just that, day after day, in all kinds of weather. They tackle commuter traffic, picking up kids, running errands, going on vacation, hauling stuff, delivering goods, making service calls, and most cars routinely now exceed 100,000 miles of driving with minimal service.
Then there’s this week’s test vehicle, a top-of-the-line Chrysler Town & Country S. With a bottom-line price tag of $36,175 (including $995 destination charge), it’s designed to move folks in style. But it’s also a capable hauler of goods. We had no idea how handy it was going to become during our time in Florida.
Standard equipment includes the needed (and appreciated) backup camera, rich looking leather seats with cloth inserts, and keyless entry. A black grille, headlight bezels, and black-painted wheels set off the bright white paint nicely. Those exterior features also give the S version a distinct family resemblance to Chrysler’s 200 and 300 sedans.
This minivan’s interior featured the dual DVD entertainment system with second- and third-row video screens, wireless headsets, a 40 GB hard drive, Bluetooth, three-zone air conditioning, and power rear vent windows. The S version has an all-black interior tone with piano black appliqués on the instrument panel and steering wheel, black Torino leather seat panels, and black headliner and carpeting.
Options included a safety/tech package ($1,695) that offers features we feel are indispensable for today’s driving conditions: automatic high beam control, blind spot and cross path detection, rear park assist, and rain sensitive windshield wipers.
What we haven’t mentioned so far is the Chrysler Stow ’n Go system for the second- and third-row seats, a clever setup that these Chrysler vans have offered for a decade.
There didn’t seem to be any need for us to use the system’s hidden storage compartments beneath the floor or to tug on the straps that make the seats do flip-flops and hide themselves away in those same compartments, leaving a flat floor.
We also didn’t realize a lot of things at the time of our Florida trip, most notably that we’d buy a condo and close on it within a week.
Moving in wasn’t going to be a problem. We’d come South with just two suitcases, renting a place to get away from the brutal winter that plagued the Northeast and Midwest.
However, when we took possession of the condo, we realized we’d overlooked the fact that there wasn’t either a utility or linen closet. Well, they existed, but a stackable washer-dryer occupied one of those spaces. And the other was filled by the air conditioning system’s air “handler’’ and the hot water heater.
The quickest solution at hand was to buy a seven-foot pantry cabinet that was packaged in an eight-foot box.
The two young men who helped load the box in the back of the minivan said, “We’ll give you a flag to put on the back of the box because it’s going to be sticking out a way.’’
Not so fast.
Those seats did their flip-flop move, and the expanded cargo area accommodated the big box with enough room for the automatic rear liftgate to close fully.
The Town & Country’s 283-horsepower Pentastar V-6 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission had no trouble moving us—and the cargo—around town. The S version that we were driving has a sport-tuned suspension that resulted in a more refined ride than we’ve come to expect from the Chrysler minivans.
Chrysler invented the minivan, introducing it in 1983 and filling a niche for people who were otherwise driving huge, full-size station wagons and full-size conversion vans.
The Plymouth-Dodge-Chrysler vans were an immediate hit and have sold more than 13 million units.
Today, the minivan seems to be the butt of soccer mom jokes and to have fallen out of popularity. However, to have one is to appreciate its strengths. You can separate and entertain kids with DVDs and comfortable seating, you can reconfigure the seats to lug cargo as we did, there’s a low step-in height for passengers, and fuel economy tops that of the SUVs that are riding high these days.
Chrysler has continued to innovate over the years, generating 78 segment firsts in features and continuing to package lots of options at a competitive price.
Our minivan had a fuel economizer driving mode that enabled us to average 23.4 miles per gallon in a week of warm weather driving. The Town & Country’s EPA economy ratings are 17 city and 25 highway, thanks to an overdrive feature on the 6-speed automatic transmission.
As a taller driver, I found the legroom in the driver’s position to be just sufficient. It appears that the seat’s rear travel is a bit limited to provide room for the Stow ’n Go seats and to allow for that eight-foot cargo depth.
For us, the trade-off was worth it.
2014 Chrysler Town & Country S Minivan
Price, base/as tested (with destination): $33,190/$36,175. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 17 city, 25 highway, 20 combined. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 23.4 mpg. Drivetrain: 3.6-liter V-6, 6-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel-drive. Body: 7-passenger, multifunctional vehicle.
Horsepower: 283. Torque: 260 lb.-ft. Overall length: 202.8 in. Wheelbase: 121.2 in. Height: 66.9 in. Width: 78.7 in. Curb weight: 4,652 lbs.
Versatility, sliding side doors, easy step-in height, Stow ’n Go seating system.
Driver’s legroom, transmission not as refined as some we’ve driven.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A strong contender with plenty of desirable options at a competitive price.
Honda Odyssey, Mazda5, Nissan Quest, Toyota Siena.