It seems as if buyers of a minivan view it as a house on wheels, with comfort and convenience items being the primary concerns and safety items also a consideration.
For instance, does the minivan have seats that fold into the floor, a good DVD entertainment system for kids in the back seats, power sliding side doors and a power tailgate? Also, how many air bags are offered?
Of secondary concern are such things as steering, ride, handling, braking and sufficient power for safe merging and passing. Some minivans are better than others in those regards. But, as long as nobody runs the minivan over and it stays on the road with a minimum of effort -- well, that's OK.
Most minivans are roomy, so that attribute is taken for granted. There often are regular and extended-length minivans, which is the case with the early 2005 front-drive Chrysler
Town & Country -- basically an upscale version of the new Dodge Caravan minivan.
There's a regular-length (189.1-inch) Town & Country and an extended model with a longer wheelbase and 200.5-inch overall length. All have seven-passenger seating, but the regular-length version has tight cargo space with all three seats in their normal position.
Prices start at $20,330 for the base model, which has a 3.3-liter V-6 and is the only regular-length version. Extended-length versions are the $24,770 LX, $27,070 Touring and $35,070 Limited.
The base model is well equipped, while LX adds newly developed fold-away seats and anti-lock brakes. The Touring and Limited add a larger 3.8-liter V-6, traction control and such items as rear air conditioning and heater, power sliding rear doors and a power tailgate. The Limited adds leather upholstery, a new rear-obstacle-detection system, leather upholstery and power adjustable pedals.
The Limited could especially qualify as a luxury car.
Options include a rear-seat DVD entertainment system that costs from $950 to $1,150, the $195 power adjustable pedals and a power sunroof, which only costs $250 for the Limited but $895 for the Touring.
As for new safety items, the Limited has side curtain-side air bags that cover all seating rows. They replace front side air bags and are optional for the base, LX and Touring versions. All models get a new driver-side knee air bag.
Nobody expects a minivan to be stylish. For instance, the new Nissan Quest is the most stylish minivan, inside and out, but hasn't taken off like Nissan hoped it would. Meanwhile, the plain-looking Honda Odyssey minivan continues to be a hot seller.
The 2005 Chrysler
Town & Country minivan offers all the desirable comfort and convenience minivan features, with its new fold-away second- and third-row seats for the extended-length version being one of the most highly promoted items.
Owners of this minivan who frequently change from hauling people to cargo to people again will love the "disappearing'' seats, which easily fold into wells in the floor and never have to be removed for more cargo room. The wells provide covered storage bins when the seats are in their normal upright positions.
The folding seats cost DaimlerChrysler
group several hundred million dollars, but is needed in the fierce battle to remain a strong force in the minivan market.
Then there's all the other stuff, such as the DVD system and power doors and tailgate. Chrysler
predictably offers good equipment, having built more than 10 million minivans. However, the power doors move slowly. So does the tailgate, although safety considerations probably dictate that it seemingly moves at a glacial pace when you're in a hurry. (You can manually override the power features.)
As for styling, the Town & Country looks fairly sleek without stepping too far out of the minivan design mold, which mainly calls for boxy, conservative styling. Chrysler
and similar Dodge and (now-gone) Plymouth minivans once had underpowered base engines to keep the price of entry-level models down, but offered at least one higher-line engine that made their performance tolerable.
The base engine for the new 2005 Town & Country is a 3.3-liter V-6 with 180 horsepower and enough acceleration to provide decent performance in the regular-length version, which is lighter than the larger model.
Both engines work with a smooth, responsive four-speed automatic transmission, although the Honda Odyssey and Nissan Quest offer a five-speed automatic.
Fuel economy with the 3.3 V-6 is an estimated 19 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway. The figures with the 3.8 are 18 city, 25 highway.
It's easy to get in and out through the low Town & Country's wide doors, which have big outside handles, and occupants sit upright on reasonably comfortable, high seats.
The driving position is good. Black-on-white gauges are easily read in the attractive cabin. Most controls are easily reached, but audio and climate system controls are too small for easy operation. Front occupants will appreciate the hefty cupholders that slide out from the center of the dashboard.
The Town & Country has the same comfortable carlike feel of the Dodge Caravan; steering is fast and handling provides good in-town maneuverability and stability even when streaking through curves. The brakes are strong, with nice pedal feel.
The extended version has an especially smooth ride, thanks partly to its long 119.3-inch wheelbase (vs. 113.3 for the regular-length model). The shorter version causes more bumps to be felt on poor roads. Some interstate highway concrete roads elicit excessive tire noise.
Improvements to the Town & Country are just what many minivan buyers want, so there's no reason why it shouldn't be a good seller. No automaker ever got into trouble giving the public what it wanted.
2005 CHRYSLER TOWN & COUNTRY
Carlike. Fold-away seats. Roomy. Nice ride and handling.
Base V-6 just adequate. Noisy on some roads. Tiny audio and climate system controls.