1997 Dodge Dakota Review

1997 Dodge Dakota - Like father, like son


The Chrysler Town & Country is the costliest version of Chrysler Corp.'s minivan trio, which includes the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. But the $26,600 to $33,740 Town & Country also is the poshest of the lot, and its success has surprised analysts who predicted that few would want a luxury minivan.

But why not? Even luxurious sport/utility vehicles are hot. The Town & Country drives almost like a big luxury car.

All Town & Country models seat seven adults in a dignified manner, and even the base SX model has air conditioning with dual controls, AM/FM/cassette, anti-lock brakes and dual sliding side doors.

The top-line LXi adds items such as leather upholstery, rear air conditioning and the biggest Town & Country engine; it's a 3.8-liter, 166-horsepower V-6, instead of the 3.3-liter, 158-horsepower V-6 in the SX and mid-range LX.

The standard V-6 provides average performance, but the 3.8-liter V-6 delivers lively acceleration. The rub is that city fuel economy isn't good with either engine--just 15 to 17 m.p.g. Figure on the low 20s during steady highway cruising.

For 1997, the spacious Town & Country comes as a short-wheelbase SX model and as long-wheelbase LX and LXi models. Front-drive models have a standard low-speed traction control system for better road grip. Long-wheelbase models can be had with a new all-wheel-drive system that automatically kicks in when needed.

The long-wheelbase models are the best because they're the roomiest, and spacious interiors mostly are what minivans are all about.

A $29,685 LX all-wheel-drive Town & Country I drove was very sure-footed on winter roads. The combination of front-drive and traction control makes even the base version feel secure. So is the all-wheel-drive system worth the extra bucks? Yes, if you can afford an ``AWD'' model.

The Town & Country, like all Chrysler Corp. minivans, was redesigned for 1996 to be slicker, more efficient and more user-friendly. The Town & Country sits rather low, so getting in and out is fairly easy. And having sliding doors on both sides is a definite blessing. However, a driver can't see the front corners, which can make parking a nervous situation.

This minivan handles, brakes and rides virtually as well as a decent luxury car. The power steering is extremely precise, with a nice on-center feel. The Town & Country also is very quiet, and the four-speed automatic transmission upshifts so smoothly one barely notices gear changes.

Isolating occupants from the cruel outside world is part of a luxury vehicle's job.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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