Chrysler has been a front-runner in the minivan segment since the company invented the category way back in 1984. That doesn’t mean it has continuously offered the best minivans on the market, however. The 2011 update to the Town & Country (and Dodge Caravan) is much welcomed—and much needed, particularly when you consider the fit-and-finish complaints we had about our Four Seasons 2008 Town & Country and the All-Star award we recently bestowed upon the impressive new Honda Odyssey.
To me, the 2011 changes are most impactful in the interior, where improved plastics and materials and a more modern design make this a more pleasant place to be. There are still some hard plastics to be found, but they’re no longer as jarring. The exterior revisions are more subtle, but the tweaks diminish the vehicle’s blocky appearance, which is one reason why some people are so turned off by minivans. Also, the new 3.6-liter V-6 is much smoother than the trio of outdated V-6s that were offered last year.
On a January weekend with temperatures forecast in the single digits, I was more drawn to the T&C’s remote start, four heated seats, heated steering wheel, and tri-zone climate control. The minivan served me well, as I hauled my kids to their uncle’s house, four adults to a hockey game, and my recycling to the drop-off station. I was disappointed by the too-noticeable tire/road noise, but overall I found the 2011 model to be nicely improved from our 2008 example.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I entered this minivan looking for the all of the good stuff that we’ve been waiting for from the Fiat saviors. Although it looked at least $10,000 better inside than the interior of the Grand Caravan, I was bothered by the road noise, by the Service Engine light (a bit disturbing with under 2000 miles on the odometer), and by the really cheap, wiggly feel of the starter pushbutton. This one will need another freshening before the all-new version comes in, what, 2014?
Jean Jennings, President and Editor-in-Chief
After a year with our 2008 Town & Country, we asked for a better powertrain, a better interior, and more competent driving dynamics. This update thoroughly addresses the former two complaints and takes a half-hearted stab at the latter. The new Pentastar V-6 is the most significant change and indeed puts the T&C on par with the Japanese offerings in terms of engine refinement. Like Jean, I wasn’t blown away by the new interior, but I would say that it, too, has at least benchmarked its competitors, keeping in mind that the Toyota Sienna is no shining star in terms of fit and finish, and even the segment-leading Odyssey pinches pennies on its dash plastics.
For this new edition, Chrysler seems to have adopted some of the changes Volkswagen made for the “German engineered” Routan, namely the heavier steering. This helps lend a feeling of solidity to the van. Unfortunately, it can’t completely hide a pretty weak structure. It still squeaks and allows in far too much noise. Like Jean, I wonder if this is enough to hold the van over until 2014.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Well, this is certainly an improvement, although even the top-end Town & Country is still a little lacking on the long-promised soft-touch materials. Plastics on the top of the dash and door panels have a little more give but that’s about it. The center console, which is integrated into the instrument panel, is a big departure from prior van, but has more than enough storage cubbies tucked within.
Perhaps the biggest surprise lies under the hood. The 3.6-liter V-6 may be down on displacement compared to the previous top-spec 4.0-liter V-6, but you’d never notice when behind the wheel. The engine offers an admirable amount of low-end torque, is more than happy to rev, and as my colleagues point out, is much smoother than the old 4.0.
I was taken aback by the Town & Country’s new suspension tuning. The ride borders on firm, which is great for throwing the van into corners, I suppose, but over the ragged, frost-heaved back roads that span the distance between my home and office, it proved rather choppy. Maybe this setup will appeal to Europeans, when Fiat’s Lancia division is tasked with selling this van abroad. In North America, however, I think Chrysler could differentiate between the T&C and Dodge’s so-called man van by leaving the stiff, sport-like dynamics to the latter.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
We had four minivans here at the same time: the Town & Country, the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna, and the Nissan Quest. After driving the Town & Country and the Odyssey (I didn’t manage to get into the Quest and the Sienna), I can say that the recently redesigned Chrysler product holds up pretty well again the minivan that we recently named to our All-Stars list.
In fact, I was surprised by how much I liked the Town & Country, seeing as how I wasn’t that big a fan of our Four Seasons 2008 model. Of course, this test vehicle was the top-of-the-line Limited version, which has the best of everything Chrysler has to offer, minivan-wise. The seats, with their mix of leather and suede, are very nice-looking and also quite comfortable. The heated steering wheel (standard on the Limited) is a great feature during a cold winter, as are the heated first and second-row seats. The gearshift, which is located to the right of the main dash, looks like some sort of odd hybrid. It has gates like a typical center-console shifter, yet it’s located up high like an old-fashioned column-mounted unit (without actually being mounted on the column, of course). Having said that, I find it to be easy to use and in a good location. The Town & Country Limited has what the company calls a “super center console,” that has extra storage for things like a wallet or CDs, along with a pass-through space that can hold bulkier items like a purse or a small satchel—very handy. Too bad about the Garmin navigation system, which seems a little downmarket for such a well-equipped vehicle.
In the back, the T&C has great versatility with its Stow ’n Go second-row seats and an optional power-folding third row. Perfect for those who don’t have the upper-body strength (or the desire) to physically remove seats when it comes time to haul big cargo.
The T&C doesn’t suffer from the fact that engine choices have dropped from three to one, as the 282-hp V-6 delivers both plenty of power and decent fuel economy for a minivan, at 17 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway.
All in all, this Town & Country holds up pretty well against the rest of the competition. Gone are the days when the Chrysler minivan was the unquestioned leader in the segment, but it’s still worthy of any minivan buyer’s consideration.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I drove the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna, and the Chrysler Town & Country within days of each other and, although the Odyssey is superior to both, the Town & Country is a strong second. It lacks the solidity and superb driving dynamics of the Odyssey, but its steering, powertrain, and interior quality and style are on par with or better than its Japanese rivals. And to my eye, the T&C’s styling is the most attractive of the trio.
As others have mentioned, the cabin is where the Town & Country makes the most significant improvements when compared with the previous generation. It’s clean, and nicely laid out, with fit and finish that put the Toyota Sienna to shame. One hopes that this is a sign of interiors to come from Chrysler/Dodge. I’m most pleased with Chrysler’s solution to the issue of where to place the shifter. The idea to relocate the shifter from the floor to the dash is a good one, but it has also created some space/ergonomic issues on the already overcrowded dashes of many minivans. In both the Honda and Toyota minivans, it’s both too long and mounted too close to controls on the central dash. In the Chrysler, it’s much shorter and is placed higher on the dash, which puts it up and out of the way but still within easy to reach.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor
2011 Chrysler Town & Country Limited
Base price (with destination): $39,495
Price as tested: $40,090
3.6-liter V-6 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Blind spot monitoring and cross path detection
ParkSense rear park assist system
Rain sensing wipers
Tire pressure monitoring system
ParkView backup camera
Electronic stability control
Keyless enter-n-go with push button start
Remote proximity keyless entry
Remote start system
Garmin navigation system
Leather-trimmed bucket seats
2nd and 3rd row stow-and-go
Heated steering wheel
Heated front/2nd row seats
Three-zone automatic climate control
Uconnect voice command Bluetooth
Media center 430N CD/DVD/MP3/HDD/NAV
30GB hard drive with 4250 song capacity
Bluetooth streaming audio
9 Infinity speakers with subwoofer
Sirius satellite radio
Power sliding side doors
Heated outside mirrors
Options on this vehicle:
Customer preferred package 29X — $595
Power folding third-row seat
Key options not on vehicle:
Power sunroof — $995
Body-color running boards — $700
Trailer tow prep — $620
17 / 25 / 20 mpg
Size: 3.6L V-6
Horsepower: 283 hp @ 6350 rpm
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Curb weight: 4510 lb
Wheels/tires: 17 x 6.5-inch aluminum wheels
225/65R17 Michelin Energy Saver all-season tires
Competitors: Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Nissan Quest