I don't have any kids. I don't haul a lot of stuff. I rarely carry more than one passenger in my car. But I always want to be ready for the possibilities. Back in 1985, I bought a brand-new Toyota minivan, stripped of every possible option (including rear seating and carpeting). It was a sort of anti-cool statement of cool, or so I hoped. I haven't paid much attention to minivans since then, preferring actual cool to anti-cool.
A minivan is a vehicle for hauling people and stuff around with comfort and efficiency, not to impress the neighbors or draw longing looks. The T&C is just what people have in their heads when they say "I'm not a minivan person."
Okay, it's a minivan. So it looks like a minivan. Chrysler has style, so the T&C has some classy touches. The nose of the T&C features that great deco Chrysler logo on a chrome-accented grill (part of the $2,215 "Luxury Group" of options). The arched brows of the headlights lend a slightly aggressive look to the front of the vehicle. Sixteen-inch wheels with all-season radials help avoid the tiny donut look of early minivans. There's plenty of plastic body cladding on the T&C's exterior, but it's all color-matched to the paint on the Touring model, and doesn't offend or look cheap.
In the Driver's Seat
If I were off on a road trip with a family, I'd certainly relish the opportunity to pilot the T&C down the highway. The driver's seat is comfortable, adjustable, and well-positioned. Big windows all around give a great view of the road and potential obstacles. A classy dash board with big, clear instrumentation puts information at an easy glance. A multi-function steering wheel allows you to control the radio and cruise control without moving your hands. But the big revelation in the T&C is in the back seats.
At the double-click of a button on the key fob, the sliding side doors open automatically, revealing comfortable second-row bucket and third-row 60/40 bench seating. The T&C Touring features Chrysler's "Stow 'N Go" seating system. In seconds, literally, one person can fold and stow the seats away, leaving a completely flat, low floor. Stow 'N Go gives the T&C amazing versatility, hauling ability and capacity, all without the hassle of removing seats. I loved the wide open way the T&C looked with all of the seats stowed away, and drove it that way most of the time. When I needed to carry passengers, I'd just flip up the right combination of seats, and watch the jaws drop. (You have to get your vehicular thrills where you can.)
On the Road
The Town & Country Touring is equipped with a 3.8 liter V-6 engine that produces 205 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque, enough power to make the 4300 lb minivan feel pretty zippy, all things considered. I was pleasantly surprised by the T&C's handling, especially compared to my everyday SUV. Dare I say "nimble"? Because the minivan has a low center of gravity, it never feels like it's going to tip over around the curves, even when pushed fairly hard. Four wheel disc brakes and low speed traction control help when you have to bring the T&C to a stop. Expect 18 city/25 highway mpg from the T&C.
The real test of a minivan is in the mall parking lot, though, isn't it? With a turning radius of 39.4 feet, the T&C is maneuverable and easy to park. It handles speed bumps better than most cars, smoothing out the bumps and delivering a jolt-free ride.
The T&C Touring doesn't come standard with a lot of entertainment goodies, though you can add them as options. There's a clever overhead rail system that accommodates modular units, including video screens and storage bins, so you can put together a system that meets your needs and budget. Passengers will have to content themselves with comfortable seats, multi-zone climate control and big windows.
If you need a minivan, you're in luck right now. There are some great choices out there in this price range, and minivans are better than they've ever been. The Chrysler Town & Country Touring deserves serious consideration. The Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey and Nissan Quest are also excellent vehicles, each with unique features and abilities you may find attractive. The Ford Freestar, Mercury Monterey, Pontiac Montana and Chevy Venture are not as refined as the T&C, but are worth a look. You might also want to consider crossovers like the Chrysler Pacifica, Saturn Vue, Pontiac Aztec and Buick Rendezvous, but I think they sacrifice utility for style. Or maybe you could live with a station wagon instead of a minivan, and you could wind up with a Dodge Magnum (my favorite) or a Subaru Outback.
If you're set on a minivan, you'll get a lot for your money. It's the easiest vehicle to get into and out of, so it's a great choice if you have limited mobility or regularly transport passengers who aren't so spry. For most on-road uses, the minivan's versatility can't be beat. Okay, so it's not the coolest car on the road. But try one before you automatically succumb to "I'm not a minivan person" syndrome. You might be pleasantly surprised.