I hate minivans. Just wanted to get that out of the way, and my wife may have even more aggressive tendencies when describing these functional cars that are appropriate for some. As a young man, I had to drive my folks Dodge Caravan, that didn't get me laid ever, and it was nicknamed "the rolling dumpster." A few weeks ago, my wife was rear ended by a vehicle, and her Ford Edge
has been in the repair shop. Thankfully, there were no injuries, and so I had to go find a suitable rental car for her to drive. She requested a vehicle that sits up a bit, as that is what she is comfortable with, so I tried to get a small to midsized SUV.
Apparently, December and January are the busiest periods of year for auto body shops and rental car establishments. The only two choices were a Nissan Versa
and a Chrysler Town and Country.
I had to laugh signing the paperwork, as I just knew that picking my wife up at her work wasn't going to be a "walk in the park." It was dreadful, driving off of the lot, realizing that I was behind the wheel of a minivan as well. As my stomach became queasy pulling up, she just laughed seeing me driving the minivan, but what she said was truly shocking. "Wow, that's looks like an SUV." I have to agree with her, that it is a far cry from the rolling dumpster that has caused angst, and also a bit of a bias against anything from Chrysler.
The first step of recovery, is going to be painful, but here it is in print: "I like driving this minivan." This is a major improvement of Chrysler minivans of the past, and it may be a fine option for those who want this particular type of vehicle. The gear shifter is located next to the steering wheel, and finally, Chrysler has figured out how to improve on its awful transmissions of the past that made odd noises and didn't shift smoothly in the past. You will not notice the gears shifting, even when flooring it, and I am impressed by this quality control that has been forced by being bailed out by the government, and joining forces with Fiat. While I do want to add the caveat that their transmissions have had a reputation for failures, this one at least seems to fit the engine properly.
Is the engine as refined as competitors such as Honda or Toyota? Nope, but its much quieter than previous models. The 3.8 liter V6 that generates 197 horsepower is adequate, and will allow you to safely merge on a highway, or get you around town. I do have a concern with this lack of power if weighted down though, because most of the other minivans deliver a lot more than this one does. While you aren't going to be racing a 350z in any minivan, I would like to have more acceleration off of the line. This one takes awhile to get moving, but its not going to wow you with its performance. Its also much thirstier than its supposed 16/23 mpg that the EPA has listed. So far, my wife and I, who's an engineer by trade, have it at around 14/19, so you will be fueling up quite often.
Its road manners are impressive though. I love how it handles, and the smoothness of its ride. There is minimal road noise, and you can make a u-turn at a difficult intersection with one hand. In both city and highway conditions, it is provides for a comfortable experience behind the wheel. All of the controls are close by, such as cruise control on the steering wheel, and the AC/Heating at arms length. This certainly lives up to a reputation of a car, that I wouldn't mind having, for a long road trip. Its already gone on a skiing expedition, and aside from the slight lack of power, it was fantastic on the curvy hills up to the resort.
However, what makes this van useful is its comfort and toys. While this doesn't have the DVD player that you can get if you purchase it, there are still "bells and whistles that I have found to be amusing." Maybe its being a gadget geek, or a pickup truck driver, but I like the 'smart key' that also works as a remote control. You can open and close both side doors automatically with it, as well as the rear hatch. Yes, I've done this multiple times, because it doesn't take much to be entertained. The doors open and close quite quickly, but if something is blocking it, such as a child or their toys, it stops due to a sensor. My only concern in this area, was there are a lot of wires leading to these doors and the chains, which could be an added expense if it breaks down.
I love the front seats, as they allow room for a 6'2 male of substantial girth to sit in for long drives. Same goes for the two bucket seats in the middle, which can be folded down. The legroom is above average, but the rear bench is for children or those who are of 6' in height or less. I actually did sit back there for fifteen minutes, and my legs cramped up. The rear storage area behind the bench allows space for your dog or pet octopus, and a rather large cooler. Cup holders are in every conceivable spot in this van, and there are lots of storage pockets to truly 'stow and go' as the advertisements proclaim.
There aren't many cheap plastics, aside from the faux wood cherry partitions on the front doors. Its a well built car with fine materials, and I like how the front gauges show the outside temperature and direction of travel. The green lights are easy on the eyes, and the dials are of the typical, white style that's popular in all Chrysler and Dodge cars. As for the stereo system, its average at best, as you really can't 'bass' with it, but the satellite radio has been listened to a lot, and the knobs for it are easy to turn while driving and eating a club sandwich.(That's for a buddy of mine-the club sandwich reference)
As for safety, this van is loaded with standard, and side curtain airbags. The seat belts are easy to use, and ultimately secure, but I don't like the brakes on this van. For some reason, the brakes make an odd gurgling type of sound, and its not the ABS system or any mechanical defect that I'm aware of, such as brake pads or rotors that need to be replaced. The vehicle rented has only 18,000 miles on it, so perhaps its just a "Mopar Noise." I can live with that, but I do not like how this van performs in quick stops, that are common in heavy congested areas of Northern Virginia. While I haven't had to slam them yet, I do wonder if the stopping ratio isn't quite up to par with other minivans being offered for sale.
What makes this vehicle worth considering, is its road manners, and that it can carry up to seven people and a lot of gear. Kudos to Chrysler for finally delivering a smooth transmission, and for improvements in the interior. While foreign competitors have a bit of an advantage, it seems that Chrysler is taking heed of its previous reputation of being mediocre. This van is not that at all, and despite the brakes and underpowered engine that loves being fed, I have to say that its a pretty good vehicle. While I will be content to drive my pick up truck, I would consider this for a long distance trip rental that we have planned this summer. "Mopar don't go far," as my friend likes to say, may not be true after all.
**Thanks to Rex (Scmrak) for adding this to the database**
Amount Paid (US$):