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.