Chrysler Town & Country born again as class-leading minivan
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
In a crunch of cars racing down California's I-280 expressway, which connects San Francisco to San Jose, my plush vehicle cruised a smooth track in the commuter lane while symphonic sounds filtered through the in-dash CD deck and filled an expansive cabin.
Forward visibility, expanding outward through a massive display of tinted window glass, encompassed the road scene in the best design yet. The steering wheel, set precisely to the angle I prefer, felt of fine leather, as did the chair-like driver's seat. A convenient cupholder, with rachet-like gripper, held my coffee mug within easy reach.
With little effort, I could cut the wheel when needed and my machine would quickly change lanes to avoid lesser traffic. With little pressure from my foot, I could call upon some potent horsepower to peg the legal limit of speed and scoot ahead of the carpooling crowd.
What a fine luxury car this one was: Refined with fancy passenger comforts, liberated with exacting handling mechanisms, enthused with power.
Considering such well-heeled manners, I had to remind myself the machine I steered was actually a minivan.
That box-on-wheels feels refined, even powerful?
It does if it's new Town & Country by Chrysler, the company which pioneered the minivan's concept a decade ago and set the competitive pace every year thereafter.
Today, America loves the minivan, all sales figures indicate, because it behaves like a big car but measures small enough to park in the garage -- and can carry everyone in the family, along with Fido and Fluffy plus a week's worth of suitcases and vacation gear.
Despite its popularity, however, the typical minivan is not without its faults. It's boxy, as boring as suburbia itself and, despite the diminutive name, too big to steer around a supermarket's lot.
Well, designers at Chrysler, after asking owners of minivans what must be fixed to make these things friendly and functional, went to work on a new generation of models which will wear the badges of Chrysler, Plymouth and Dodge.
Results of these efforts emerge this summer as the 1996 Chrysler Town & Country, top-of-the-line for minivans in a plush new statement packed with clever innovations.
It's so good you'd think Chrysler reinvented the wheel.
Town & Country for 1996 is bigger than before, although it looks smaller. It's wider by three inches on the outside but up to nine within, which adds more room for people and cargo. And it's far longer, with variations for both a short and long wheelbase.
Yet it carries smoothly shaped exterior elements which flow from one panel to the next in streamlined fashion so the overall package doesn't seem bulky -- or even boxy.
The most striking exterior element concerns the expanse of glass that rings the cabin. A front cowling was lowered to increase the driver's forward vision, and side glass panels were dropped three inches in height so riders end up with panoramic views.
These exterior improvements reduce the minivan's coefficient of drag -- a measurement of how smoothly it slips through still air -- from 0.42 down to 0.35.
Inside Town & Country, the platform sill was lowered 1.5 inches so the step-up entry height, now comparable to a sedan, makes it easier to climb aboard. Also, the floor slopes up from front to rear in theater fashion so rear seats rise above front seats to enrich rider views.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of this design shows up as an option on the left side: A rear door.
That big sliding slab looks like the mirror image of the conventional rear door on the right side of the minivan, but allows easy entry for a second-seat passenger, who can simply step aboard rather than slide across the seat.
As another innovation, second-row bench or bucket seats can be removed manually for additional storage space, while the third-row bench rolls on floor tracks and, with the flick of a switch, unlocks for easy removal.
With all seats aboard you can carry seven of your clan; with rear tiers out, you can haul a houseful of furniture.
Best of all, this one's so easy to drive.
My tests in several pre-production Town & Country editions, including a deluxe all-wheel-drive variation, covered a maze of California freeways, plus 2-lane twisty routes across the mountains and down the coastal highway.
Over these varied routes, the new minivan performed sedan tricks in the quick and easy way it slipped through traffic, thanks to responsive systems like power-assisted rack and pinion steering, plus the malleable suspension design which produces a living-room smooth ride quality.
Also, Chrysler's design team managed to increase the vehicle's front track, which sets up a turning circle that's significantly smaller than previous issues. This in turn enables the minivan to navigate those tight paths through a shopping center's parking lot, which always ranks as one of the most challenging maneuvers on wheels.
Chrysler previous built only a long-wheelbase edition under the Town & Country label, but with the new design now an optional short-wheelbase LX edition emerges with more room inside than last year's longer model.
In addition, two extended trim levels are offered with Town & Country and the ultimate LXi, which can be equipped optionally with the all-wheel-drive system.
Short-wheelbase LX and the longer Town & Country draw from Chrysler's 3.3-liter V6, tuned to 158 hp in team with an electronic 4-speed automatic transmission.
The LXi pumps up the power with a 166-hp 3.8-liter V6, which is available optionally on other models.
All carry a number of safety systems, such as dual airbags and 4-wheel anti-lock brakes. Twin fold-out children's seats, concealed in a second-tier bench, end up on the list of options.
Chrysler's minivan has been positioned as a deluxe automobile with features of a luxurious sedan and the cargo capacity and convenience of a cargo van.
As a result, items often offered optionally become standard equipment on this minivan -- like air conditioning, full carpeting, power windows, an array of handy interior lamps, remote releases, 4-speaker stereo radio and cassette deck, plus thoughtful convenience touches throughout.
1995 CHRYSLER TOWN & COUNTRY
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 1995 CHRYSLER TOWN & COUNTRY Specs
||Compact luxury minivan
| Model Options:
||Compact luxury minivan
||Short: 113.3 inches
Long: 119.3 inches
| Overall Length:
||Short: 186.4 inches
Long: 199.7 inches
| Engine Size:
||OHV 3.3-L V6 12v
OHV 3.8-L V6 12v
| Gas Mileage:
||3.3-L FWD: 18/23 mpg
3.8-L FWD: 17/22 mpg
3.8-L AWD: 16/21 mpg
||$ 24,000 to $ 31,000