The soccer-mom stigma attached to minivans may be the most undeserved rap since the original George W. was busted for pruning that cherry tree. The fact is, the minivan is the most universally loved vehicular format ever invented. Unruly kids straighten up at the first flicker of the video screen. Gramps and grannies appreciate the effortless access and jolt-free ride. Moms and pops who try a minivan out of necessity often drive them for the rest of their car-consuming days. On the international one-to-ten efficiency scale, minivans top the charts with eleven-plus earned points for their ability to load the most people and possessions per square inch of shadow and for their willingness to transport those payloads for a reasonable energy expenditure.
Inventing the modern minivan was the most memorable accomplishment of the late Chrysler Corporation. Competitors were astonishingly slow to pick up the scent, so Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth dealers sold millions of them while engineers leisurely fine-tuned their designs, until Honda finally got around to launching a serious threat--the second-generation Odyssey--in 1999.
The Odyssey and a 2001 Chrysler Town & Country LXi, which recently survived Automobile Magazine's Four Seasons gauntlet, prove that the mini part of the name has become oxymoronic. They're both several inches wider and taller and hundreds of pounds heavier than a Cadillac DeVille. The cubic growth factor over the seminal 1984 model is a staggering 37 percent. Maxivan might be a better name for these sliding-door shrines to mobility.
Nevertheless, we dubbed ours Mini Driver. And drive we did--to campouts, soccer matches, summer vacations, and family reunions; on furniture-scavenging expeditions; and to Big Apple blowouts--nearly 34,000 miles in twelve months. Forget the fact that driving delight is right below oil-change interval on any minivan's priority list. When Saturday's to-do list runs long, a minivan is a far handier tool for errands than any Ferrari, Porsche, or BMW.
Chrysler had two full generations of practice before unleashing a clean-sheet model for the 2001 model year. Upgrades permeate every nook and cranny. A stiffer and stronger body structure is engineered to resist squeaks, rattles, and the Insurance Institute's brutal offset-barrier test. The front air bags get staged inflation, and there are new side air bags. Energy-absorbing trim covers interior hard points.
The Town & Country also has improved headlamps, larger-capacity brakes, more power and torque in both available V-6s (3.3- and 3.8-liters), improved steering and front suspension geometry, an updated electrical system, better door and window seals and additional sound deadening for a quieter interior, and wind-tunnel-tuned roof-rack bows.
With predatory competitors circling the minivan corral, the time was right for introducing a few glamour features. A power-operated, remote-controlled liftgate heads that list. Finally acknowledging that power-operated sliding side doors are desirable, Chrysler engineers improved their operation by locating drive motors in the doors instead of in the adjoining bodywork. The automatic air-conditioning system was upgraded to offer driver, front passenger, and rear passengers controls in their respective zones. The goody list also includes an ingenious cargo compartment organizer, a move-about or take-out center console, and wireless headphones for second- or third-row passengers.