The logbook also registered a few mechanical-system rants. The steering felt slightly rubbery and nonlinear off-center, the automatic transmission was too easily confused, and we complained about the body's tendency to rock back on its heels during heavy acceleration. Operation of the on-demand four-wheel-drive system was so transparent that it generated few comments. Our design director had a ball hammering through drifts during one snowy commute to work, and associate editor Joe DeMatio praised the sure-footedness he observed while negotiating his steep, slippery driveway during winter months.
Most folks felt that the seats fit their physiques acceptably well and provided reasonable long-distance comfort. There's ample space for a sprawling family, as long as front occupants don't consume too much second-row knee room by overindulging their fore-and-aft and backrest settings. The same Seaman who griped about the dcor enthused about the ease of packing a sofa, two chairs, two coffee tables, and one footstool into the cargo bay with room to spare. What he didn't know was the heft of the seats he lifted. Middle-row buckets tip the scales at 60 pounds each, while the split back-row perches weigh 50 pounds apiece.
The power portals were a source of amusement, amazement, and near-universal adoration. The learning curve entails discovering the locations of ten different command switches, making sure the shifter is in park, and exercising patience while the safety systems run their checks. The side-door opening sequence lasts six seconds; closing and latching each slider takes about nine. For the liftgate, it's nine seconds for opening and nearly fifteen for closing. That seems agonizingly long until you consider alternatives, such as the round trip from the driver's seat to usher a passenger into the back seat. Anyone who's juggled an infant in one arm and a bag of groceries in the other on a rainy day won't need a sales pitch to appreciate every minivan's must-have feature.
Mini Driver turned in a near-perfect reliability record. The only blotch was a freak electrical breakdown suffered by the Shermans when it was time to back down the driveway loaded with Fourth of July vacation cheer. A quick jumper-cable jolt resuscitated the Town & Country's vital signs, but there's nothing quite like a total blackout for wracking nerves at the start of a long trip. A technician diagnosed the malady as the early stages of alternator failure.
The overall 19-mpg mileage disappointed most reviewers, even though it fell within the 17-mpg city and 22-mpg highway predictions forecast by the window sticker's DOE/EPA label. It's important to remember that we're cooling a small house, moving a two-ton-plus vehicle, and dragging four-wheel drive hither and yon. Fuel efficiency that's poorer than a family sedan's and not much better than an SUV's is to be expected.
Ultimately, the Town & Country's happy disposition and let's-go attitude more than compensated for its thirst at the pumps and the foibles we experienced during Four Seasons of use. It's clear why this example of the minivan breed is such a favorite. The one suggestion we have for Chrysler's advanced planners is not to miss foldaway seats--why not for both rear rows?--in the next generation. As for Mini Driver, we sent her toward her next assignment with the Automobile Magazine Academy's accolades for exemplary performance in a difficult supporting role.