- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

As a fitting gesture, Chrysler, the virtual inventor of the minivan, has upped the ante in this increasingly popular segment, commemorating the vehicle’s 20th anniversary. The company invested more than $400 million in the creation of an all-new platform, bringing the new minivans from development to the showroom in a mere 18 months. The Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler has sold more than 10 million minivans since 1983 and currently holds a segment-leading 38 percent share of the market.

The most significant feature (there are more than 15 new innovations) is the “Stow ‘n Go” seating, which offers up to 256 different seating and storage configurations. Stow ‘n Go allows both the second- and third-row seats to fold into the floor, using only one hand in as little as 30 seconds — an all-but-effortless operation.

The multipurpose vehicle comes available in two lengths: a standard wheelbase; and a long wheelbase. SWB models are built in St. Louis, Mo., while the LWB versions are put together in Windsor, Canada. Chrysler’s Town & Country offers three trim levels, designated as: Standard or Base LX (SWB); Touring; and Limited (LWB). Dodge’s versions include the Caravan and Grand Caravan, or the international diesel-powered Voyager and Grand Voyager (SWB and LWB respectively). Power comes from either a 3.3-liter or 3.8-liter OHV V-6. The latter delivers 215 horsepower and 245 foot-pounds of torque. The transmission in all models is a four-speed automatic with a lock-up torque converter.

The Chrysler minivan has gotten sleeker and more attractive over the years, adding feature content and evolving technology, without going off the chart in terms of price. It has also gotten quieter and more economical to operate, as well as safer to drive than ever.

The test Chrysler minivan was the Town and Country Touring model, powered by the 3.8-liter V-6, finished outside in Midnight Blue Pearl coat metallic paint, and inside in Khaki and Graystone, with low-back leather seats.

The base price was $27,070, while extra features such as the Leather Interior Group; removable front center console; in-dash six-disc CD/DVD changer/sound system; and rear-seat video system with video remote, wireless headphones and remote control, as well as three overhead storage bins, elevated the final count and amount to $31,750.

With Chrysler having written the book on minivans, the brand still seems to do them best. The Town & Country Touring unit was ever more sedanlike than its predecessors — even coming close to the step-in height of most large sedans. The ride quality was superb, the handling quick and responsive, and with the 3.8-liter V-6, power was more than enough for virtually all driving scenarios.

The Stow ‘n Go seating as already indicated, is the single most-noteworthy phenomenon — actually, I suppose it can’t be a single feature with up to 256 configurations. The second-row seats stow flat if desired or, when up, reveal a large storage bin in front of each.

The third-row seat is a 60/40 split affair with the same arrangement, plus one other attribute — it also folds toward the rear to serve as a rear-facing seat with the lift gate up (a minivan first). Both side doors and the lift gate are power-operated for both open and close functions. Third-row seats tumble forward out of the way for easy third-row access. The best part of all this, of course, is there’s no more straining to remove seats to accommodate more storage — great if you come across a large bargain on a road trip.

The rail-mounted storage bins may be positioned as desired, or removed altogether — another neat offering. Hands-free communication with Bluetooth technology is available, as is a navigation system and rear park assist.

Chrysler’s latest minivan offering provides the ultimate in comfort and convenience, making it the winner and still champion in the segment.

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