Chrysler caught the competition sleeping when it introduced Stow 'n Go for 2005 on its Town & Country minivan. On vans equipped with Stow 'n Go, the second row seats tumble into compartments in the floor and leave a flat load area. Prior to this seating innovation, the Town & Country had merely rested on its laurels and showed no clear advantage over the competition. In terms of seating, almost every competitor had passed it by. Getting out the second and third rows required a team of professional movers; storing them required warehouse space.
But suddenly the Town & Country is transformed. By reengineering the long-wheelbase chassis, DaimlerChrysler could offer something unique: second and third rows that disappear like magicians' assistants. Merely open a panel, then fold down the seatback and tug on a strap; the seat flops into a well inside the floor. It happens in seconds, without a whimper, and without needing to say, "Abracadabra!" And you can do this with one hand while also keeping hold of: a) a sleeping infant b) the shopping bag c) your precious dignity. Stowing both rows of seats yields up to 160.7 cubic feet of cargo space. And returning the seats to upright position leaves the under-floor bins available for storage of miscellaneous items. The Stow 'n Go seats do not leave room for the AWD system that was formerly available on the Town & Country; Chrysler reckoned that there weren't enough takers to make its continued availability worthwhile.
The Town & Country is available in four models. The base is a short-wheelbase (113.3-inch) version priced at $21,275. It's powered by a 3.3-liter V-6 that makes 180 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque channeled through a four-speed automatic transmission that's used across the Town & Country model range. EPA mileage is 19/26 mpg. Stow 'n Go isn't available in this base model and you must make do with the old Easy Out roller seats and the moving crew.
The Town & Country LX ($25,640) rides on the long-wheelbase (119.3-inch) chassis. It stretches to 200.5 inches in length. The LX also uses the 3.3-liter V-6. It's outfitted with Stow 'n Go seats as well as four-wheel disc brakes with antilock. It represents a good value, although neither this V-6 nor the larger one we're about to mention will ever make us flame with desire.
The Town & Country Touring ($28,120) receives a 3.8-liter V-6 that reminds us of Rosie the maid in TV's "The Jetsons;" she gets the job done but never has a good attitude about it. The overhead-valve V-6 puts out 207 hp and 238 lb-ft and achieves EPA mileage of 18/25 mpg. The Touring also includes traction control, power-sliding side doors, and a power liftgate.
At the top of the line, weighing in at 4442 pounds, the Limited ($35,995) loads up with luxury and convenience features such as three-zone automatic climate control, trip computer, and an overhead console that uses rails to locate storage bins and the DVD screen. (Ordering the optional sunroof on the Touring and the Limited makes the overhead console unavailable.) The list of standard safety features on the Limited includes rear parking assist, impact beams in all side doors, driver-side inflatable knee bolster, and advanced front and optional side-curtain air bags covering all three rows. Stability control is unavailable, a notable omission given that it is standard or optional on most comparable minivans. Stability control helps stop skids and fishtailing that can result in rollovers, and it is highly desirable.
As engineers worked over the chassis to accommodate Stow 'n Go, they also found ways to make the Town & Country ride more quietly. Indeed, you won't find a minivan that's better at suppressing road and engine noise or is freer of squeaks and rattles. This serenity lets the seven occupants (some minivans now offer seating for eight) indulge themselves with six-disk audio or rear DVD movies.
The Limited's cabin is trimmed in leather upholstery with woodgrain and satin accents. There's a great-looking electroluminescent instrument panel and an attractive center stack. All climate and audio controls are easy to find and use. The Limited's driver is treated to a two-position, power-adjustable seat-and-pedal memory. The Town & Country has but seven cup holders, whereas some competitors have reached into the mid-teens, but we think seven is plenty. The removable center console offers two power plugs for cell phones or whatnot, but the large internal compartment is awfully deep and not all that useful because there's nowhere to keep your cell phone in easy reach when it's closed. The cabin's main downfall is the quality of the switchgear and plastics used; compared to the new Honda Odyssey, it looks a bit slipshod. But it is perfectly functional.
Even though the suspension isn't the most advanced in its class, the Town & Country handles agreeably; the plush ride comes from years of refinement. The steering feels heavy at low speeds, but once under way, you stop thinking about it other than to note you have a good sense of the road surface. Driving the Town & Country is always a pleasure and never saps your confidence. Labrador retrievers don't come any more civil than this.
Despite all these positives, it's necessary to point out a variety of shortcomings, mostly owing to the age of this platform dating to 1996. For example, the small navigation display that's optional on the Touring and standard on the Limited is squeezed into the spot where the radio lives and as a result the screen is tiny and hard to see. Taken altogether, the instrument panel and center stack have too many different, unmatched LED and LCD displays. The sliding side doors lack integral pockets for storage of mitts or maps, and the windows are fixed in place. Access to infotainment from the second and third rows is limited, so don't plan on playing games on the DVD screen. A compromise forced by the adoption of Stow 'n Go seating is the use of marginally practical, breakaway cup holders on the outside of the second-row chairs. And finally, run-flat tires are not offered; changing a flat means lowering the spare from its position at the forward part of the undercarriage, and this lowering takes place by means of much cranking on a T-handled contrivance used inside the cabin. We recommend calling roadside assistance.
A crack DaimlerChrysler design team is re-doing the corporate minivan family for 2007 or 2008. This new generation will address the above issues and probably set some new standards. Meanwhile, we still like the 2005 Town & Country on the important points. Stow 'n Go seating and the quiet interior prove quite compelling. This classic minivan more than manages to compensate for its senior status.