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Chrysler Town & Country

by Martha Hindes

Chrysler Town & Country
Chrysler Town & Country

When Chrysler's Town & Country (and its cousin, the Dodge Caravan) shot out of the gate a year or so ago, they nearly knocked the competition off of the track. That was thanks to the innovative "Stow 'n Go" seating system that gobbles up second and third row seating with a couple of quick flips and leaves a cavernous interior for hauling stuff instead of siblings. (In a rear view corporate mirror, the Chrysler kind must be enjoying watching the competition scramble to catch up on that.)

Town & Country, in its latest iteration, bears a strong family resemblance to the crossover Pacifica. But that only goes so far. This remains a minivan in the purest form of the word, a two-decade-old segment-establishing heritage Chrysler isn't likely to disavow any time soon. As it moves into 2006 models with virtually no major changes due, Chrysler leans on the concept that it got it right in the first place. Now it stresses its comfort and safety amenities, touting its "first ever" inflatable knee blocker in a minivan. Top Five-Star front and side-impact crash ratings bolster its safety standing. While flexible seating cushions the body, multi-stage "Occupant Classification System" airbags cushion the impact (if one should occur). Optional side-curtain airbags, tire pressure sensors, and loose fuel cap warning also boost safety.

Inside, there's an available nav system. And CD/DVD changers, for '06, now play any disc, including MP3 and DVD audio. Sycamore-look wood accents highlight the technology-rich interior, with its available hands-free, Bluetooth-based communications and SIRIUS satellite radio for serious radio listeners.

T&C comes in four versions, with short or long wheelbase and 3.3 or 3.8-liter V-6 power, in the mid-20s price range. We find it perpetually enjoyable to drive -- and play with its numerous seating configurations. And we all know Chrysler. Their execs must be smiling behind closed doors. If they've shown us nothing else, it's to suspect -- let's make that to know -- that they're brewing something meant to knock future rivals off of the track once again. We can't wait.