Chrysler introduced the minivan to American buyers in 1983, and despite today's much more competitive field, it is still the leading seller, with this, the third-generation, version. Main rivals now are the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, with its domestic competition coming from the Ford Freestar, Mercury Monterey, and the GM family.
Last year, while most minivan competitors were being thoroughly redesigned or treated to bumper-to-bumper freshenings, Chrysler Corp. invested its limited budget in a revised platform that accommodates the company's exclusive Stow 'n Go seating, which allows the second- and third-row seats to fold flat into the floor without removing the headrests. The gamble has played off well in sales, with the Dodge Caravan still leading the category, though ground has been lost in technology, powertrain, and refinement to newer vehicles. Both the Caravan and Town & Country received this update for 2005, and the fraternal twins carry over for 2006 with only minor detail changes. The upscale Town & Country minivan is offered again in four models: the short-wheelbase Town & Country, the long-wheelbase LX, the upscale Touring, and the tony Limited.
Casting a familiar profile, the Town & Country is a handsome van with a distinctive front end, thanks to new-for-2005 headlamps and a large, signature Chrysler grille. The Limited has chrome-finished aluminum 16-inch wheels to distinguish it from its less luxurious stablemates. Base and LX models have 15-inch wheels and tires. Power sliding doors and liftgate are standard on the Limited and Touring. The short-wheelbase base Town & Country offers an optional powered passenger sliding door.
The most important part of a minivan, of course, is the interior. People buy minivans first and foremost to carry people and luggage, and, in that respect, the Town & Country is one of the most versatile minivans on the market. It has seating for seven passengers, with a pair of second-row captain's chairs standard in all but the base T&C and a three-person third-row bench. In the Limited, those seats are covered in leather. Chrysler has a positively dizzying array of seating configurations, thanks to the Stow 'n Go seats, which are standard on all models except the base short-wheelbase van.
Stow 'n Go allows both second- and third-row seats to fold flat into the floor for a vast amount of cargo space-perfect for antiquing-while the center-row seats also offer four inches of fore-and-aft movement. The only downside to this Rube Goldberg-esque seating arrangement is that the second-row seats aren't as roomy or well padded as those in many rivals, though most passengers may not notice.
Chrysler put a lot of thought into its innovative packaging, including cupholders galore, an overhead rail system (on the Limited model) that features three standard moveable/removable overhead storage bins, and a couple of spacious, covered storage bins that live beneath the center-row Stow 'n Go seats in models so equipped. The second-row seats also flip forward out of the way at the pull of a strap to allow for easier ingress to the third-row seats.
The Town & Country is nicely appointed inside, though we would argue that Toyota and Honda, particularly, have better-quality materials and fits. The Limited, though, is as luxurious as its Japanese-branded counterparts, with standard power front seats with memory, three-zone automatic climate control, and power adjustable pedals. The most desirable extra in the Limited model tops many parents' must-have lists-the rear-seat video system with seven-inch video screen and wireless infrared headphones. Bluetooth cellular-phone connectivity, a moonroof, and Sirius satellite radio round out the Limited's available options.