2007 Chrysler Town & Country
We found Chrysler's launch of the 2008 Town & Country minivan at the Detroit Auto Show interesting enough that we asked to review the current version, a 2007 Chrysler Town & Country. Despite its peppy engine, the soft-sprung Town & Country is a handful in urban driving.
The car makes an attempt to meet our tech expectations, with Sirius Satellite Radio, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a navigation system (standard with the Limited trim), and Chrysler's UConnect Bluetooth cell phone integration system. Although these gadgets were present, most of them are barely worth the trouble. We found more enjoyment from the power-sliding doors.
Test the tech: Soda stability
As we trundled the Town & Country over city streets, we braced for an upcoming pothole. Surprisingly, very little shock was communicated to the cabin, which gave us an idea for testing the Town & Country. We would find out how well a cup of soda would stand up on the floor of the vehicle while we negotiated a course through downtown San Francisco.
Our soda stability test route took us through the heart of downtown San Francisco.
First we picked the course, a run from the CNET offices through heavy car and foot traffic into the heart of San Francisco's financial district, then back to our offices. We got a soda cup from a fast food place, complete with plastic top and straw, and set it down on the floor of the car. There would be two laps of the route, one driven by Kevin Massy and one by Wayne Cunningham.
With the soda cup sitting just behind the center console, we began the first lap. The first dangerous spot involved crossing Market Street from 3rd to Kearney. Five lines of cars suddenly lose all lane markings and jockey for position on the other side. Through it all, the cup kept right side up. The turn onto California Street was tight, immediately followed by the uneven surface of cable car tracks. Still, the cup held its position. The trip back across Market involved merging with traffic from another street while still attempting to aim for a lane on the other side. Then we were back at CNET, with the cup unspilled.
Can we keep this cup upright while jockeying with other traffic and driving over cable car tracks?
Two blocks into our second lap, a Honda Civic cut in front of us at the turn onto 3rd Street, and the quick stop we had to make sent the cup over. We continued the course, but we can't claim the Town & Country was completely spill-proof. It did do an admirable job throughout most of a very tough course, showing that the suspension is well-designed to absorb the normal bumps and grinds of daily driving.
In the cabin
Chrysler makes no real attempt at luxury in the cabin of the Town & Country, beyond a wood grain accent on the center stack. The rest is all gray plastic. The Town & Country comes with Chrysler's Stow 'n Go seating in the middle row. In the up position, the middle row comprises two low-backed seats. These seats can fold down into the floor of the car, opening up substantial cargo room. The third row is a bench across the back, which can also be stowed. Third-row leg room is minimal.
We only realized the Town & Country had a navigation system from reading its window sticker; the little LCD screen at the center of the stack hardly seemed big enough. And it isn't, really. The screen is placed near the driver's right knee, and its small size makes it difficult to use. Its interface comprises a selection knob and buttons labeled Enter and Cancel. Despite its small size, the navigation system works reasonably well. Its route guidance gives appropriate notice of upcoming turns, and it has a points-of-interest database that includes shops and other useful places.
The tiny navigation screen is barely visible, down by the driver's right knee.
Beyond navigation, we also consider Bluetooth cell phone integration an important part of any tech car. The Town & Country has it, in the form of Chrysler's UConnect hands-free system. UConnect works reasonably well for receiving calls, and it has a voice-command system for pairing phones and placing calls. But UConnect doesn't copy over a phone's address book, and its activation buttons, placed on the rearview mirror, aren't easy to reach.
We found the stereo in the Town & Country particularly unimpressive. There is a slot over the LCD screen, but you shouldn't try to put CDs in there--that's where the navigation DVD goes. Further down the stack, below the climate controls, is a six-disc changer (at least, this is the configuration with the rear-seat DVD option). The changer plays regular CDs and DVDs but not MP3 CDs. There is a set of RCA jacks mounted in its face where an MP3 player can be plugged in. We enjoyed the Sirius Satellite Radio included in the Town & Country, and found the screen suitable for showing channel, artist, and track information from that source.
But no matter what type of audio source you use, the sound quality is only mediocre. Both high and low ends are muffled, with the full frequency range sounding like it's been stuffed into a box. We imagine not too much effort goes into the Town & Country's stereo, as it would normally be drowned out by the chatter and screams of children.
The DVD screen seems on the small side.
We also tried watching a movie in the back of the Town & Country, since our tester came equipped with the rear-seat DVD system. A 7-inch LCD drops down from the ceiling, and a remote control and two wireless headphones are stowed in the center console. The middle-row seats aren't terribly comfortable for movie watching, and the screen is on the small side as well. In addition, you can't adjust the volume with the remote control or anywhere from the back seats.
One of our few high points with the Town & Country are the power-sliding doors. Both side doors can be opened merely by double-pushing buttons on the car's key fob. Same with the power liftgate. Though it was fun to open the doors remotely, the design of the van's exterior suffers because of them. There are two big gaps for the door runners under the rear windows that look like pieces of trim broke off. Similarly, big chains are visible on the sides of the floor deck when the doors are open, part of the power-opening mechanism. It's not exactly a refined look.
We enjoyed opening the side doors while standing 10 feet away.
Under the hood
The biggest surprise of the 2007 Chrysler Town & Country is its engine. The Limited version gets a 3.8-liter V-6, while the base version gets a 3.3-liter V-6. Although the former engine puts out only 200 horsepower, it moved the Town & Country off smartly from a stop.
The four-speed automatic obviously contributed to this sprightly send off with a low first-gear ratio. Normally we would complain about how meager four gears are in this day and age, but the Town & Country delivered reasonable gas mileage considering its size. We ended up averaging 17.6mpg over mixed freeway and city driving. Okay, we'll still complain, as an extra gear or two might have improved the car's freeway mileage. The EPA rates the Town & Country at 18mpg city and 25mpg highway. The efficiency of the engine is emphasized by its emissions rating. It's classified as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle II (ULEV II) by the California Air Resources Board.
But even with a peppy engine and decent mileage, the Town & Country is not exactly a joy to drive. It handles like a minivan. It teeters a bit. It wallows. And we wouldn't want to be driving it at freeway speeds during high winds. It's got an unstable feeling, and although it does have traction control, it doesn't have a stability program. The Town & Country is well-supplied with air bags, including side-curtain, front-impact, and knee air bags for the front-seat occupants.
Our test car was the 2007 Chrysler Town & Country Limited which, at $36,130, comes with navigation and the 3.8-liter V-6 we liked so much. For options, ours also came with Trailer Tow Prep for $600, UConnect for $275, and the rear-seat DVD system for $990. Along with the $730 destination charge, the total came out to $38,725.
The 2007 Chrysler Town & Country is a very traditional minivan, and as such it has certain uses, but we just can't get excited about it. Chrysler's Pacifica, though not having the cargo room, had a more-refined feel and driving experience.