"Ah, I still don't hear anything, sir," offered the polite technician from Orange Coast Jeep/Chrysler in Costa Mesa. We were heading back down the 405 freeway again, me at the wheel, trying to reproduce a frightful aerodynamic howl that had recently cropped up along a breezy desert stretch during a cross-country vacation. But, of course, no matter what I did (sorry about that big-rig), the banshee wail was being coy today -- and was that technician giving me doubtful side glances, or was I just imaging things?
Oh, well, perhaps it was better to not add any more to our Chrysler Town & Country minivan's swelling list of heavily documented miseries. On its third visit to the dealer (at a still-new-smelling 19,404 miles), we had staggered out with a bill for $879.13 (including tax) to replace the front brakes and flush the brake fluid ($615), service the transmission ($153), swap in new filters, change the oil, and various other whatnots ($72). And that's what we paid for; the warranty took the hit for a replaced, leaking radiator (a leaking radiator?).
Okay, so this was an atypical spike in its service cost history, as the bill for its first dealer visit was scott free, and the second was a digestible $190.07. But even here, in retrospect, dark clouds were forming: Besides a clogged A/C filter and the usual service necessities, a brake inspection was deemed necessary -- as was a new radiator cap. In addition, the software for the MyGigRadio system was updated under warranty. Later, during the T&C's fourth and final scheduled service with us, the long-suffering warranty also ponied up for a power-steering hose and yet another radiator cap, though the radiator count remained at two. And just prior to return, the always-dicey, electrically folding third-row seat finally jammed up completely, though frankly, its correct operation was a bit of an on-going mystery. A tidbit from the notebook: "Had an episode where a piece of luggage accidentally hit the 'close' button on the side pillar and it tried to crush a passenger belted into the seat." Ideal for James Bond, perhaps -- "Goldfinger, I have the perfect place for you to ride" -- but a rude way to treat the Purple Stars girls soccer team.
So, as they say, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play? Believe it or not, we actually liked it nevertheless.
If you scrape away the layers of creature-comfort content Chrysler has festooned it with, the Town & Country's foundation is genuinely likable. There's power aplenty from the 4-liter, 251-horse V-6, it steers without complaint, and the ride is cushy. And, of course, the staggering utility of such a rolling storage shed/seven-seat people-hauler/go-anywhere-vacation mothership is unapproachable by even the most clever of new-gen crossovers. Say what you will, but I'm proudly coo-coo for minivans. Including this one.
What's perplexing is how so many of our Town & Country's multitude of promising features wind up undermined by compromised execution. We've touched on the conceptually excellent Stow 'N Go seats already. But its dazzling double DVD screen, multi-bin overhead console also was a non-stop rattlefest. On one long drive, while the kids sat transfixed by "Mary Poppins," I spent about an hour patroling its various rattle epicenters, silencing them one by one with squashed Power Bars (gradually replaced by folded bits of the L.A. Times as we became hungrier and the paper got read).
Long Term Update 5: 2008 Chrysler Town & Country
11 months and 27,495 miles - "She creaks, she groans, her driver-side mirror whistles at high speed," says Loh, "yet I dig the Caravan for...
Long Term Update 4: 2008 Chrysler Town & Country
9 months and 22,665 miles - Techincal editor Kim Reynolds got a flat tire in the Chrysler Town & Country. "The digital display came to life showing a countdown of the right rear tire's pressure: 29 psi, 28 psi, 27 psi. And it was raining hard. I immediately headed back to the office."
Long Term Update 3: 2008 Chrysler Town & Country
7 months and 19,407 miles - With just over 19,000 miles on the odo, the T&C's right front brake began to squeal.
Long Term Update 2: 2008 Chrysler Town & Country
5 months and 15,659 Miles - Truck Trend editor Mark Williams, who spent a week with the T&C, notes, "It has none of the booming echoes that big, hollow caverns typically do, but there are some problems.
Long Term Arrival: 2008 Chrysler Town & Country Ltd.
Does the minivan's architect still have its mojo?