February 2009. Cool options make a tricked-out, leather-wrapped Chrysler Town & Country very tempting, reviews say -- but experts caution that this minivan lags on important issues like reliability, resale value and safety.
Under the skin, the Chrysler Town & Country is identical to the cheaper Dodge Grand Caravan (*est. $22,475 to $28,325), and reviews say it unfortunately shows. Both minivans' reliability has been poor, according to one major owner survey. And although the 2009 Chrysler and Dodge minivans get mostly good safety ratings, crash-tests show that they are only marginally effective at protecting passengers in a rear-end collision.
It's disappointing, critics say, because they had high hopes when Chrysler revamped its minivans in 2008. But they say the major new feature -- the heavily marketed Swivel 'n Go seats -- can be more trouble than they're worth. The second-row captain's chairs swivel to face the third-row 60/40 split bench, with a stowable table for games and meals between them. Kid-testers think that's neat, but adults get frustrated with the tight space around the table, which can be hard to remove. They note that the swiveling seats don't fold into the floor, and they're off-limits to baby and toddler seats when swiveled.
Testers still like the standard Stow 'n Go seats in the second and third rows, which have big bins underneath. These can be used for storage when the seats are occupied, or the seats can fold flat into the bins to create a huge cargo bay. Testers note that the rear-seat cushions have to be somewhat thin to accomplish this, which makes them less comfortable than those in other minivans. Unlike the Honda Odyssey (*est. $26,355 to $41,005) and Toyota Sienna (*est. $24,540 to $37,865), the seven-passenger Chrysler minivans offer no eighth-seat option.
Chrysler's minivans are the entertainment leaders. You can add a single backseat DVD screen to the base Town & Country LX (*est. $27,250) for $2,120. But Chrysler saves the most elaborate option for its upper-level trims: dual backseat screens that can show Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network (piped in via satellite) as well as DVDs, so kids in different rows can watch different shows. This option adds about $2,000 to the minivan's cost and includes a year's subscription to Sirius satellite TV. This option is also available on the Dodge Grand Caravan.
Only a few features separate the Chrysler Town & Country from the Dodge Grand Caravan. For example, the base Town & Country LX includes three-zone climate control and wood-grain dashboard trim that you can't get on the base Grand Caravan SE (*est. $24,230). The top-of-the-line Town & Country Limited (*est. $37,350) includes touches of luxury -- such as chrome wheels, xenon headlights and suede-trimmed seats -- that Dodge's top-of-the-line Grand Caravan SXT (*est. $29,145) doesn't match.
But otherwise, the Dodge and Chrysler minivans suffer the same complaints: Flimsy-seeming interior plastics, imprecise handling, long braking distances and a below-average resale value. Testers say the base Town & Country's 175-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6 has a hard time moving the minivan's bulk; the Touring (*est. $30,215) and Touring L Package (*est. $33,735) step up to a 197-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6, but to get the most powerful 251-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 you'll have to spring for the chrome-and-leather Town & Country Limited.
The Town & Country's trim lines come with different transmissions and fuel economy ratings, too. The base LX gets a four-speed automatic, and it delivers 17 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 19 mpg combined, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. You'll get a five-speed automatic on the higher Town & Country trims; the Touring and Touring L deliver 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway/18 mpg combined, and the Limited gets 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway/20 mpg combined. All are about average in their class for gas mileage.
Consumer Reports conducts the most extensive expert tests on every aspect of the Chrysler Town & Country. Tests at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are just as scientific, but they focus solely on safety. Although reviews at ConsumerGuide.com, Kelley Blue Book and Car and Driver are not as authoritative as Consumer Reports, they are up-to-date and fairly comprehensive. Other sources are either not as thorough or as recent as the best reviews, but they offer valuable perspectives of their own. For example, road tests at The New York Times and MotherProof.com are especially helpful, because they include young children.
Consumer Reports thoroughly tests most minivans, including the Chrysler Town & Country. Editors rank the minivans from best to worst based on the results, as well as on owner-satisfaction feedback and safety data.
Review: Chrysler Town & Country, Editors of Consumer Reports
2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Readers can search the NHTSA's database to find crash-test results for all minivans. Like most others, the Chrysler Town & Country earns five-star impact and four-star rollover ratings.
Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, Editors of SaferCar.gov
3. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Although the Chrysler Town & Country gets the highest possible ratings in the IIHS's front- and side-impact crash tests here, its rear crash protection is "marginal."
Review: Chrysler Town & Country, Editors of IIHS
All but two minivans on the market get either a Best Buy or Recommended rating from ConsumerGuide.com; the Chrysler Town & Country earns a Best Buy tag, along with the similar Dodge Grand Caravan and the Honda Odyssey. Editors rate the Town & Country in 11 categories, giving it particularly high scores for roominess, comfort and value.
Review: 2009 Chrysler Town & Country Full Review, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com
5. Kelley Blue Book
The Chrysler Town & Country is one of five recommended minivans at Kelley Blue Book. Editors say it is "the obvious choice for satisfying rear-seat riders," if you load it up with optional Swivel 'n Go seats and dual video/TV screens. However, they find it's not as cushy as the Toyota Sienna or as nimble as the Honda Odyssey.
Review: 2009 Chrysler Town & Country, Editors of Kelley Blue Book
6. Car and Driver
Car and Driver's concise review passes quick judgment on both the Stow 'n Go and Swivel 'n Go seating, as well as on the Town & Country's ride, handling and interior finish. Editors decide they'd rather have a Honda Odyssey.
Review: 2009 Chrysler Town & Country -- Review, Editors of Car & Driver, Sept. 2008
7. The New York Times
After a week-long road test with kids, reviewer Christopher Jensen realizes what other reviewers will later conclude about the redesigned Chrysler Town & Country: Swivel 'n Go isn't very useful, and gimmicks can't hide the Chrysler's "uninspired" ride and handling.
Review: Redesign Rearranges the Furniture, Christopher Jensen, June 1, 2008
The Chrysler Town & Country is this MotherProof.com's top minivan pick. However, reviewer Sara Lacey does find a few drawbacks to the Swivel 'n Go seating and backseat TV screens when she tests the 2008 Town & Country with her two children, ages four and six.
Review: Minivan Class Is in Session, Sara Lacey, Nov. 8, 2007
Editors at Edmunds.com test the Chrysler Town & Country, but this general overview includes few details about the minivan's performance. The review concentrates more on listing the features that the Town & Country includes -- or lacks.
Review: Chrysler Town & Country Review, Editors of Edmunds.com
Cars.com names the Chrysler Town & Country one of three hot new minivans for 2009 -- along with its Chrysler-built siblings, the Dodge Grand Caravan and Volkswagen Routan -- based largely on Chrysler's promise that its retuned engine delivers 2 mpg better gas mileage. However, the Town & Country's EPA-estimated fuel economy has not changed. This page links to brief individual reviews for each minivan.
Review: Hot New Minivans and Vans, Kelsey Mays, Oct. 15, 2008
11. Kiplinger Personal Finance
Kiplinger's Personal Finance named the Chrysler Town & Country the best new minivan for 2008, based on the new-for-that-year Swivel 'n Go seats and multiple TV screens. [BM1]
Review: Best Cars for 2009, Mark Solheim and Jessica Anderson, Mar. 2008