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.