First Drive: 2009 Chrysler Town & Country Limited
Uconnected: Giving Chrysler's Crown Jewel More Shine and Internet Connectivity
Chrysler completely redesigned its Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivan twins for 2008, and as regular readers will know, we've become quite familiar with the Chrysler variant. Our Inferno Red Town & Country Limited long-termer now has over 23,000 miles on the clock, and the odometer isn't about to stop spinning anytime soon.
While the 2009 model doesn't change all that much, there are a couple notable differences, such as an 8% increase in fuel economy, revamped brakes and small tweaks designed to reduce cabin noise. Plus, this particular loaded to the hilt T&C -- it has every option from the tow package to the automaker's much-hyped Uconnect web hub -- is equipped with a few things our long-termer isn't.
Let's start with the new stuff, like the Blind Spot Monitoring and Cross Path Detection systems, now available on Touring and Limited models. As its name implies, Blind Spot Monitoring checks the sides of the van for vehicles and lights up an orange triangle in the rearview mirror on the appropriate side. It's nonintrusive and quite effective, turning on only when a vehicle is present. The Cross Path Detection system turns on when the vehicle is reverse and monitors for approaching vehicles. It too lights up the rearview mirrors plus lets out an audible chime. Think of it as an advanced backup sensor. Both are radar-based systems, and at $515 for the safety group that includes both, they're well worth the money. Also added for 2009 are rain-sensing wipers and "SmartBeam" headlamps designed to automatically adjust low- and high-beam brightness when the system deems it appropriate.
Beyond that, this Town & Country was equipped with Chrysler's "Swivel 'N Go" seating system, a $495 option that adds a small table and swiveling second-row bucket seats with integrated booster seats (an additional $225) and seatbelts, so they can be flipped around when the car is in motion. These replace the standard "Stow N Go" seats and aren't foldable. Fortunately, despite the flashback to the old-school days of removable seats, these are lightweight and not hard to remove -- put the release handle into unlock mode, then get behind and pull up. But they do need be stored somewhere (hope there's space in the garage). The table is stored in the floor in front of the second row. It's a neat idea, but with the second-row seats turned around and the table in place, anyone taller than the average 10-year-old will be wondering where to put his legs, doubly so if the driver is north of six feet in height. The kids should enjoy it, provided the two rear-facing ones are immune to motion sickness.
Another included option is the Mopar Exterior appearance group, which for the sum of $937 adds running boards, bright doorsills, premium floormats, and splash guards.
Given the minimal mechanical changes, the 2009 T&C's ride remains relatively the same as the 2008 model, with the exception of its slightly grabbier brakes. The Town & Country moves smoothly and deliberately, its 240-hp 4.0L V-6 hauling the 4600-plus lb of minivan with relative authority when the gas pedal is buried in the floor. Its steering is better than on many sedans, striking a nice balance between weight and responsiveness, and the suspension isn't too soft.
While extra bells and whistles neither make nor break the vehicle, they do make it more appealing, albeit at the cost of eroding Chrysler's cost-advantage over the Japanese and Korean competition. Ticking every option on the list brings the pricetag to $44,667, not exactly the easiest pill to swallow for cash-strapped families. Skipping the sunroof ($895), trailer tow preparation group ($600), and exterior appearance group reduces that to a more manageable $42,235 while retaining all the comfort and safety features offered.
|2009 CHRYSLER TOWN & COUNTRY LIMITED|
|Price as tested||$44,667; $45,166 w/router|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, FWD, 7-pass, four-door minivan|
|Engine||4.0L/251-hp/259-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Curb weight||4600 lb (mfr est)|
|Length x width x height||202.5 x 78.7 x 68.9 in|
|Head room, f/m/r||37.2/39.7/37.9 in|
|Leg room, f/m/r||40.6/36.3/31.8 in|
|Shoulder room, f/m/r||63.0/64.7/62.0 in|
|Cargo volume, behind f/m/r||140.1/83.7/32.3 cu. ft.|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||17/25|
|CO2 Emissions||0.98 lb/mile|
|On sale in U.S.||Currently|
Our test vehicle also was equipped with the Internet - a uconnect web mobile router from Chrysler's Mopar accessory arm to be exact. It works on 3G and 2.5G cellular networks based on the CDMA standard, the same used by Verizon Wireless. Speeds on 3G networks are said to be 400-800 kbps down and 128-300 kbps up, comparable to DSL. On slower 2.5G networks found in more remote areas, speeds drop to 120-200 kbps down and 50-100 kbps up, roughly two to four times faster than dialup. Connecting to the router is simple. The process is similar to connecting to hotel wi-fi - connect to the network, start up the browser, click the login button and go.
Around Los Angeles, the Internet worked reliably and reasonably quickly, though noticeably slower than cable. There were no page load time-outs, but it was slower in hilly areas due to reduced reception. In well-connected areas, it is strong and consistent enough for streaming audio or YouTube.
However, don't watch too many clips of guys with bad haircuts falling off bicycles. Because it is on a cellular network, the service, provided by a company called Autonet Mobile, is data restricted. The base $29/month plan has a monthly allowance of 1 gigabyte, which can be burned through quite quickly by flash-intensive sites. Opting for the pricier $59/month service gives you a much more reasonable 5 gigabytes for the month. There's also $35 activation fee and Autonet requires at least a one-year contract, so there's no "activate it only for a road trip" option. On top of the service, the router itself costs $499 plus a dealer-dependent installation cost that, per Mopar, in the $35-50 range.