If television has become a modern baby sitter, the 2010 Chrysler Town & Country qualifies as a supernanny. The Limited version minivan Chrysler sent to us came equipped with three LCDs, two mobile TV tuners, and a DVD player. And it is possible to put a different video source on each screen, with wireless headphones to keep audio from becoming a cacophony.
Although kid-hauling may be the first thing that comes to mind with the Town & Country minivan, it can also serve as an executive team ride, its plush seats providing comfortable seating for seven and anmaking Wi-Fi available for on-the-go e-mailing. Throw in Chrysler's Swivel 'n Go rear seats, and you've got a conference room on wheels.
Anybody who loves driving is going to dread tooling around in a minivan, and we're no different. But the 2010 Town & Country makes for an affable ride, as every component of the car seems tuned for softness. The suspension's long travel makes this minivan float down the freeway, eating up potholes and other asphalt defects, communicating only a slight murmur to the cabin.
Chrysler's Stow 'n Go seats fold completely away into the floor, making for a large, flat load surface.
Similarly, the steering is exactly the opposite of twitchy. The Town & Country can go around corners, but you don't want to be driving fast, as any passengers will start to feel a little seasick from the wallowing. That said, we never felt that the Town & Country was anything less than safe. It felt perfectly controllable, and employs standard stability control, traction control, and antilock brakes.
Three different engines are available for the Town & Country, each coming with a different trim level. Our Limited trim version gets motivated by a 4-liter V-6, a somewhat ancient engine lacking any modern efficiency technologies such as variable valve control or direct injection. As such, it only makes 251 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque.
That power is enough to move the Town & Country satisfactorily; we even got the front wheels to chirp on a rainy day. In Touring trim, the Town & Country gets a 3.8-liter V-6, whereas the LX has a 3.3-liter V-6. Strangely, the EPA fuel economy is 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway for the 4-liter, 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway for the 3.8-liter, and 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for the 3.3-liter. We achieved a very unspectacular 17 mpg over a variety of different roads.
The six-speed automatic transmission includes a manual shift mode, with gear changes made by moving the shifter right and left.
Part of the fuel economy discrepancy can be explained by the six-speed automatic in the Limited and Touring trims; the LX is saddled with a four-speed. The six-speed automatic in the higher trim vehicles is the most modern feature of the drivetrain.
We would like to see Chrysler standardize on a single engine with modern efficiency technologies for the Town & Country, and make the six-speed automatic standard across the board, a move that would make a more efficient production line.
For the 2010 model year, Chrysler added blind-spot detection, which lights up a warning icon in the side-view mirror if a car is sitting in the lane next to the Town & Country. When we used the turn signal while it was lit up, a warning chime would sound. We like these systems, but Chrysler's implementation is hyperactive.
When we used the turn signal to move from the fast lane to the middle lane, the blind-spot detection would pick up the cars in the slow lane as we moved over, causing the warning chime to sound off. Blind-spot detection mechanisms on other cars we've tested didn't have this problem, suggesting that Chrysler needs to refine the programming.
The Town & Country also came with a backup camera, an essential feature on such a boxy vehicle. But the display is basic, lacking any distance or trajectory overlays.
The real technology feast comes inside the car. Ours came with the navigation package, a hard-drive-based system that includes dynamic routing around traffic jams. We were pretty happy to hear the car tell us that it was recalculating our route based on new traffic information a couple of times.
The navigation system shows traffic and dynamically routes around congestion.
But the interface for the infotainment system is far from pretty, using chunky graphics. The map display is on the small side, and we found destination input sluggish with the touch screen. The system also doesn't show explicit route guidance graphics on the LCD, although it does show turn-by-turn information on the instrument cluster display.
Chrysler takes things a step further than merely storing MP3s on the infotainment system's hard drive; you can also load pictures onto it from a USB thumb drive. It only stores a limited number of pictures, which are intended to show up as backgrounds on some of the screens, letting you customize the look.
Although there is a USB port in the face of the infotainment unit, it isn't meant for an iPod cable. There is a dedicated iPod cable in the upper glove compartment. We found the iPod interface on the touch screen very usable, with big buttons for artist, album, tracks, and genres. The audio system sounded a little bit muddy, but it is definitely much better than average, filling the large cabin of the Town & Country.
We previously tested a Town & Country with Sirius Backseat TV. Our current test car had a similar system, which we were able to route to either the middle- or third-row ceiling-mounted LCDs or the front LCD when the transmission was in park. The quality is very good with this service, but the channels are limited to Disney, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network, obviously aimed at entertaining the kids.
The three video screens can all be made to show different video.
But our car came with a second mobile TV system, this one from. The Flo.TV system wasn't well-integrated with the Town & Country, as it was plugged into the auxiliary video jack and the remote was attached to a long wire coming out of the lower glove compartment.
We liked the channel selection from Flo.TV better than that of Sirius television, as it includes the major cable news networks, ABC, CBS, Comedy Central, and MTV, for a total of 16 channels. However, the video quality looked a little rough.
Coverage for Flo.TV, which comes from terrestrial towers, isn't as good as that of Sirius television. In the middle of San Francisco, we were able to get both channels in with no interruption. We then took the minivan out to the beach, in an area with very limited cell phone reception. Sirius television continued to work, but we had no signal from Flo.TV.
On top of a mountain, Sirius Backseat TV came in fine, but Flo.TV was spotty.
Next, we drove up a mountain, stopping at a spot that overlooked the San Francisco Bay Area. Here, Sirius television worked without a hitch, but the Flo.TV signal was limited. The audio came through, but the video quickly froze, leaving us with a still image.
Though impressed that Chrysler incorporated two mobile television tuners and a Wi-Fi router in the 2010 Town & Country, we think that the implementation could be more refined. The infotainment system helps the cabin tech score, especially for the dynamic routing in the navigation system and the iPod support.
The interface design for the cabin tech gets complicated when you try to figure out which video source goes to which screen, and it isn't pretty. The heavy use of hard plastics in the cabin also affects the design score. But we like the smart seating, which can fold entirely into the floor. As for performance tech, the six-speed automatic is the only feature that keeps it from mediocrity. Far more efficient engines are being used by other automakers.
|EPA fuel economy|
|Observed fuel economy|
|Bluetooth phone support|
|MP3 player support|
|Other digital audio|
|Price as tested|