Chrysler Town & Country Minivan Road Test
by Martha Hindes
2012 Minivan Buyer's Guide - Top Picks
If you think of Dodge's Grand Caravan minivan as comparable to a jeans-clad, bike-riding adolescent, then its sibling -- the 2012 Chrysler Town & Country -- would have to be the new high school grad dressed for a senior prom. Sure they're related. But what a difference a few years -- or a few thousand dollars -- can make.
Upgrading is no stranger to the automotive world. Vehicles across the board have been moving from basic to brimming with amenities for decades now. So it's a natural transition to have a version loaded with features available for those who want to step up to premium. And having a different brand name solidifies the status.
Like its kin, the 2012 Chrysler Town & Country benefits from its makeover a model year earlier that introduced some heavyweight changes in powertrain, performance and handling. Replacing less powerful and less efficient engines is the new award-winning 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 in all models, that generates an ambitious 283-horsepower. All new suspension tuning and a new six-speed automatic trans with manual mode gives the T&C the kind of kick necessary to be seriously considered for its driving ability along with people and cargo capacities.
Safety gets high marks, with blind spot and cross traffic systems available to warn of traffic dangers. Fuel economy miser helps earn mileage ratings of 17/25. Fuel economy is boosted with "Stow 'n Place" roof rail bow storage that eliminates wind drag when those cross beams aren't needed.
Outside, visual changes are more modest, with subtle rather than bold updates in appearance. The Town & Country retains its boxier body structure with the low profile indigenous to minivans that allow for a low load floor. Added as a refresher is the new Chrysler terraced grille and winged emblem with chrome trim for a simple yet elegant face, chrome side strips and revised rear tail lamps.
Chrysler emphasized refining the interior, where people spend most time. We appreciate the new, uncluttered instrument panel, a pleasing contrast to those on some vehicles that can be distracting for their complexity. Gauges behind the steering wheel are visually clean and easy to read. The shifter on the IP next to the steering wheel keeps a spacious look inside.
Second row seating is more substantial than in previous T&C models. For more cargo space, folding "Stow 'n Go" second row seats hide in the flooring in seconds, without the need for a tool kit to remove them or garage to store them. (The only minivan close in the seat removal challenge is Toyota's Sienna with a light weight, removable second row mid-seat that's stored in the sidewall of the trunk.) Power is available for stowing third row seats.
A drop-down, dual-display DVD video screen to keep young riders entertained is an upscale must. That's standard on all 2012 T&C models along with leather seating. Those features augment the subscription satellite, voice activated navigation, studio quality sound and "hot spot" internet connectivity that are today's luxury marquee.
Three trim levels -- base Touring, Touring L and premium Limited -- include many standard features, with base pricing ranging from $30K to $39.5K. And options, such as heated steering wheel? Maybe that's like a stretch limo ride to the senior prom. There's a cost, but worth every penny to make it more
For the Town & Country Minivan website, click here.