First Test: 2011 Chrysler Town & Country Touring
Track Testing America's Impressive New Minivan Makeover
The minivan segment isn't known for drama, but Chrysler's update of the Town & Country in the nick of time is about as close as it gets. Due to the advent of the excellent new Toyota Sienna and the even more freshly rebaked Honda Odyssey, the languishing Town & Country's game clock has been rapidly winding down to its last precious seconds. Is Chrysler's Hail Mary minivan a game winner? Honestly, no. A game-changer? Well, yes, at least in the sense that an overtime reconsideration of the trio of family boxes from Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda, now definitely seems in order. (The game is made even more interesting with appearance of the new Nissan Quest).
What makes the Town & Country so highly relevant again is a series of noticeable improvements that reaches from beneath the hood to the van's more flowing new skin. Among its external delights is a refashioned nose with a more expensive-looking grill (appearing less like a plumber's truck), a redesigned hood, and a re-jiggered stern including new taillights, rear glass, and an enormous winged Chrysler emblem perched higher. It's quite nice-looking and adeptly camouflages the carryover sheetmetal.
Replacing the previous iteration's puzzling choice of a 3.3-liter, 3.8-liter, and 4.0-liter V-6 is one solitary engine -- the new Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6, producing 283 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. That's 32 hp more than the 4.0-liter, 86 greater than the 3.8's, and a giant 108 hp above the dreadful (and essentially rental-car special) 3.3-liter's output. Compared to a 4-liter Dodge Grand Caravan SXT we've recently tested, the Pentastar-equipped T & C proved to be half a second slower to 60 mph and 0.4 seconds behind to the 1/4 mile (with identical mileage numbers, we're told), but don't worry about that. What matters is that it feels significantly more refined and responds more crisply under your throttle foot. And it's certainly quieter. Which is saying something, as even the previous Town & Country was measurably quieter than the Sienna and Odyssey, both of which have enjoyed a thorough stem-to-stern re-engineering.
Fitted with tires of identical size as that 2010 Grand Caravan SXT I mentioned (but of lower rolling-resistance construction), the 2011 edition's lateral grip is up 0.06 g's (to 0.73 g's) and it's definitely noticeable. Both around our figure-eight course and in everyday driving, the new Chrysler has a nimble turn-in that's superior to some of Chrysler's new sedans. Credit retuned shocks, an improved twist beam rear axle, and quicker-ratio steering. Our braking distances proved to be 2 feet longer, at 130 feet (despite this Touring L example being 45 lbs lighter). That's not a big deal; variations in the coefficient of friction you're stopping on are way more important.
But it's inside the new Town & Country where the van's once luxury-evoking name finds relevance again. Like the rest of the new Chrysler lineup, the T & C's interior is terrifically improved in appearance and material quality. It can finally hold its head up again its Japanese competitors, but with a style that's delightfully "American," as opposed to the more international designs of the Sienna and Odyssey, which would look as comfortable in Tokyo or Munich as Los Angeles or Chicago. Unlike its Japanese competitors, the Town & Country isn't bashful about glamming it up a bit with some chrome trim here and some sparkle there. Some will like it; some won't. All this, plus a redesigned Stow 'n Go with more comfortable seating that's simpler to operate, makes the Town & Country a player again - and just in time.
|2011 Chrysler Town & Country Touring|
|Price as tested||$37,180|
|Vehicle layout||Front engine, FWD, 7-pass, 4-door van|
|Engine||3.6L/283-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Curb weight (f/r dist)||4535 lb (55/45%)|
|Length x width x height||202.8 x 78.7 x 67.9 in|
|0-60 mph||8.1 sec|
|Quarter mile||16.3 sec @ 86.0 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||130 ft|
|Lateral acceleration||0.73 g (avg)|
|MT Figure Eight||29.0 sec @ 0.54 g (avg)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||17/25 mpg (est)|
|CO2 emissions||0.93 lb/mile (est)|