Are minivans sexy? No, but they are family friendly and if you have a large family, well, sexy may be something you’re needing to put behind you.
Chrysler, via its Dodge and Plymouth brands at the time, started the minivan movement decades ago and still has the segment nailed.
My test van, a Chrysler Town & Country S, was as sexy as a van can be, which means it looked good in its monochromatic dark red paint scheme with black headlight bezels and grille, smoky black chrome wheels and chrome trim strip along each side.
At its core the T&C is strong with a powerful 283-horse 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 260 ft.-lbs. of torque. Even with kids and luggage aboard it’ll get to highway speeds with authority and provide reasonably smooth shifts via its 6-speed automatic.
Ride, due to its monster 121.2-inch wheelbase and compliant suspension is comfortable, even on rotting Midwestern roads.
But let’s be honest here, a minivan is all about what goes on inside, about comfort, safety (a 5-star rating here) and conveniences to keep junior and his or her siblings at peace while the parents shuttle them to and fro.
Town & Country excels at all that, starting with standard power sliding side doors. This makes it incredibly easy to load up the family for all those kid events, and if you have young children, it’s equally easy to strap them into their car seats. In sport-utility vehicles the doors are in your way and there’s a higher step-up. With the minivan kids can crawl aboard easily and the parent can strap them in.
The T&C also comes with a power hatch to make loading groceries, luggage or athletic equipment easier too. Got fewer kids, but more stuff to lug? The Stow ‘n’ Go seats fold easily into the floor to create a large cargo bay while four adults can ride in the comfort of leather captain’s chairs.
Cargo space starts at 33.0 cubic feet behind the third seat (about double that of even the largest luxury sedans) and expands to 83.3 cubic feet with the third row down or 143.8 cubic feet with both rear rows of seats lowered. Hauling lumber, back-yard play sets or whatever is darned easy.
Being the S (sexy?) model, the test car featured black leather seats with white stitching and gray tweed cloth inserts along with an S embroidered on the front seat backs. The dash was textured black with black gloss trim on the doors, dash and steering wheel hub and two chrome rings around the main gauges, stack’s face and two console boxes.
That looks nice and the seats are fairly flat and soft enough for comfortable long drives. The driver’s seat is powered with a power lumbar support. Better yet for our climate, the front and second row seats are heated, part of the affordable $595 Driver Convenience Group. That also adds a heated steering wheel and manual second- and third-row sun shades.
This van features a tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio and other major controls such as cruise control and trip computer settings on the hub, plus radio volume and channel selection buttons on the back of the steering wheel, right where your fingers can easily find them as you drive.
Chrysler mounts its gear shift lever up on the dash, just to the right of the steering wheel, so it’s easy to reach. I like this better than some vans where the shifter is housed in a protruding section of the center stack.
Other standard features include push button start along with buttons on the key fob to activate the sliding doors individually as you approach the car with kids and groceries. The power rear hatch also can be triggered by that fob and inside there are push buttons to open the van’s rear vent windows, great on those in-between days where you just need a little air movement in the vehicle.
Standard in the S are dual fold-down 9-inch video screens linked to an entertainment system, all aimed at keeping second and third-row seat occupants happy on a long trip. Wireless headphones are included. This is a Blu-Ray system, but not only can you play DVDs, the tested T&C added a radio/nav upgrade for $995 that includes a 5-year subscription to Sirius Travel Link that allows the van’s system to receive some TV channels.
Another addition was the $1,995 Safety Tec package with automatic high-beam headlights that sense when it’s dark on the road and there are no oncoming car lights. The system includes blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems too and a rear park assist to beep if you’re too close to something as you back up. Rain-sensing wipers and a tire monitoring system also come with Safety Tec.
Other interior pluses include dual glove boxes, multiple cup holders throughout the van, large sun visors, a backup camera, captain’s chairs with fold-down armrests, and Chrysler’s trademark analog clock mid-dash. The interior also is fairly quiet, at least with no kids aboard.
And what about the rest of the performance criteria?
Well, steering remains moderately vague, yet easy to handle on the highway and in parking lots. In fact, the T&C is easier to put into a tight parking spot than most large SUVs and pickups. Steering effort also is moderate so it won’t fatigue you on a long drive. Braking is first rate with four wheel discs and stability control.
Gas mileage is what you’d expect from a minivan and this one was better than my last T&C experience. I got 20.7 mpg in mostly city driving. The EPA rates the Chrysler at 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
Pricing covers a wide range, with the base LX model starting at $30,990, pretty much the average for a new vehicle these days. The tested S model begins at $33,295 and with options and $995 delivery fee hit $38,120. A Limited Platinum model that’s loaded starts at $40,990. For the record, a Dodge version can be had for about $9,000 less and Kia’s Sedona is similarly priced.
Minivans are about serving a family’s travel needs, not being sexy. So get over the stigma. If you have a large family, or even just a couple kids, minivans such as the T&C are a perfect fit!
Stats: 2015 Chrysler Town & Country S
Hits: Practical people hauler seats 7, good power and ride with fairly quiet interior. Power doors and hatch, Stow N Go seats, heated seats and steering wheel and blind-spot warning system.
Misses: Stigma of boxy minivan, sample had squeak in dash.
Made in: Windsor, Ont.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 283 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 121.2 in.
Length: 202.8 in.
Cargo: 143.8 cu.ft (seats down)
MPG: 17/25 (EPA)
MPG: 20.7 (tested)
Base Price: $33,295
Dealer’s Price: $32,871 (includes delivery)
Safety Tec (auto. high-beams, blind spot/cross path detection, rear park assist, rain-sensing wipers, tire pressure monitor), $1,945
Driver convenience group (heated front and second-row seats, heated steering wheel, second/third row window shades, front and rear easy-clean floor mats), $595
Radio upgrade (CD, DVD, HDD/Garmin Nav, SiriusXM Travel Link), $995
Compact spare, $295
Test vehicle: $38,120
Sources: Chrysler, www.kbb.com