"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).

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Does the minivan's architect still have its mojo?

A dire consequence of the in-the-floor-stowing Stow 'N Go seats is that the spare tire (a space saver) has wound up under the front row's floor, along the van's centerline. So...on a rainy night (these things always happen on rainy nights, right?), I suddenly saw tire-pressure numbers for the left rear rapidly dropping. Fortunately, I was able to skedaddle back to our (dimly) lit garage to change wheels, but, ahh, it's not so simple. The spare has to be lowered by a creaky crank, and after it finally completes its descent to the concrete, then what? If you're me, you lay on the ground and kick the spare like mad to maneuver it into a reachable location (our Paleolithic ancestors would have used a found tool, like a stick, but my first choice is to kick things). All very amusing in retrospect, but what if I hadn't managed to limp to a dry, (dimly) lighted location? On the other hand, the importance of tire-pressure monitoring that instantly shows you exactly which tire is deflating and how quickly its pressure is dropping is worth any number of Stow-'N-whatever option boxes. Ten minutes later I would've been doing 75 mph on the freeway. In the rain.

When we introduced this Town & Country to you in our August 2008 issue, we concluded by asking: "So, will its durability and dense concentration of creature comforts keep us giddy 12 months from now?" Answer: The giddy is gone. But our affection for it -- yes, even after being rattled by rattles, and bludgeoned by budget-draining repairs -- absolutely remains.

From the Logbook

I was impressed with the ease with which you can reconfigure the cabin. I needed the full flat cargo space, and had it in no time. The van held a lot of gear -- it didn't seem like that much when I stowed it all in there, but taking it out took several trips!
- Allyson Harwood

Despite being somewhat familiar with the navigation system, I had to refer to the manual too often. The useable map area is small, and why can you zoom out to a view of the Northern Hemisphere? How useful is that? If you have to consult the nav system to find out what hemisphere you're in, well...
- Thomas Voehringer

The powertrain is a little rough when you do weird things (abruptly get off the gas while accelerating for instance), but otherwise it's a hoot to drive. Gears one and two feel very short, but all the shifts have a smooth, uninterrupted feel.
- Ed Loh


Our Car
Base Price $37,345
Options Dual DVD w/Sirius backseat TV ($2020), MyGIG multimedia system w/Nav & Sirius traffic ($1300), pwr folding 3rd-row seat ($595), Inferno Red paint ($225)
MSRP, as tested $41,485
Total mileage 32,244
Avg econ/CO2 18.9 mpg
Problem areas Brake wear, radiator, pwr steering hose, pwr 3rd-row seat, rattles
Maintenance cost $299.56
Normal-wear cost $864.98
3-year residual value* $15,026*
Recalls None
* Automotive Lease Guide

2008 Chrysler Town & Country
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front engine, FWD
Engine type V-6, alum block/heads
Valvetrain SOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 241.2 cu in/3952 cc
Compression ratio 10.3:1
Power (SAE net) 251 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 259 lb-ft @4100 rpm
Redline 6000 rpm
Weight to power 18.5 lb/hp
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Axle/final-drive ratios 3.25:1/2.24:1
Suspension, front; rear Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; twist beam, coil springs
Steering ratio 16.9:1
Turns lock-to-lock 3.1
Brakes, f;r 1.9-in vented disc; 12.0-in disc, ABS
Wheels 17 x 6.5 in, cast aluminum
Tires 225/65R17 100T Bridgestone Turanza EL400 M+S
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 121.2 in
Track, f/r 65.0/64.8 in
Length x width x height 202.5 x 78.7 x 68.9 in
Turning circle 38.0 ft
Curb weight 4633 lb
Weight dist, f/r 56/44%
Seating capacity 7
Headroom, f/m/r 39.8/39.7/37.9 in
Legroom, f/m/r 40.6/36.3/31.8 in
Shoulder room, f/m/r 63.0/64.7/62.0 in
Cargo volume beh, f/m/r 140.6/83.0/32.7 cu ft
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.8 sec
0-40 4.2
0-50 5.8
0-60 8.1
0-70 10.7
0-80 14
0-90 17.7
Passing, 45-65 mph 4.1 sec
Quarter mile 16.3 sec @ 8.65 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 135 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.70 g (avg)
MT figure eight 30.1 sec @ 0.52 g avg
CONSUMER INFO
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, f/r curtain
Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty Unlimited
Roadside assistance 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Fuel capacity 20.5 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 17/25 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.98 lb/mile
Recommended fuel Unleaded regular
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