Test Drive: 2012 Chrysler Town & Country car test drives reviews chrysler
2012 Chrysler Town & Country. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

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2012 Chrysler Town & Country

Last time I had a Town & Country, I drove it down to New York City with three of my friends for my bachelor party. Fast-forward four years, and it’s just an ordinary week for me and my wife, commuting to and from work with stops to drop our two-year-old daughter at daycare or grandma’s. Times change, but the Chrysler Town & Country remains a spacious, comfortable hauler, and in both cases, it was far more car than we really needed. For a family of three or a road trip for four, the Town & Country is decidedly overkill, although a field trip with Emily’s five cousins allowed it to prove its worth as a van for large families.

While my daughter isn’t exactly the most objective of reviewers, the Town & Country was by far her favourite vehicle since I began bringing a string of weekly testers home. Namely, the DVD player, its remote, and the power sliding doors were objects of adoration. Emily practically ran to the car and climbed into her own seat (I confess, it can sometimes be a struggle to get her into her car seat) in anticipation of a movie, and even leaving the car became a game since she could reach the button to close the power sliding doors and then jump out of the way when we reached our destination. She was a perfect (i.e. cooperative) little girl the whole week.

Test Drive: 2012 Chrysler Town & Country car test drives reviews chrysler
2012 Chrysler Town & Country. Click image to enlarge

Thanks to Emily’s cooperation and the ideal height of the second row seats, my back was relieved with a week free of awkward daughter installation and the ensuing back pain I get from sedans, never mind coupes or ridiculously small cars like the Fiat 500. My five-foot-tall wife also found the height accessible when she was strapping Emily in, and she was pleased with the built-in rear window shades — simple manual screens that can be pulled up to reduce the direct sunlight in the cabin; a thoughtful touch that reflects Chrysler’s experience in this segment and its attention to the needs and wants of families.

When it comes to the needs and wants of drivers, well, you can imagine that the Town & Country offers little. As much as I appreciated the 283-hp 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 in the 1,926-kg Dodge Journey, the 2,115-kilo Town & Country weighed down this smooth engine and forced it into groaning submission. I quickly learned to baby the throttle and crawl up to speed in order to avoid the unpleasant note of the engine under duress. Once adapted to the reality of minivan driving, I learned to appreciate life in the slow lane, allowing the six-speed automatic to work through the gears in its own sweet time, and shifts were unobtrusive enough to never occasion complaint.

With my aggressive driving reined in, my competitive personality threw my full willpower into maximizing efficiency, and was rewarded with 11.7 L/100 km over 500 km of mixed city and highway driving. For once, I actually managed to get between the city and highway ratings of 12.2 and 7.9 L/100 km. Granted, my highway driving was at a fast-lane 120 km/h whenever traffic permitted, so I likely could have done even better sticking to a rural 90 km/h. However, as with my slow starts, my high-speed cruising was dictated by the vehicle itself. At speed, the T&C just settled in like a locomotive and invited such a speed as it ran quietly and smoothly even at 120.

Test Drive: 2012 Chrysler Town & Country car test drives reviews chrysler
2012 Chrysler Town & Country. Click image to enlarge

The Town & Country eats up those highway miles, but it is surprisingly frustrated and confounded by close quarters at the end of the journey. It feels huge and ungainly in apartment building drop-off roundabouts and in our tight underground parking at work, with steering that seems heavier than it should be for this class. It drives a bit like one of those playground springy toys that wobbles every which way at the slightest provocation, such as when handling a turn and a ramp simultaneously. Straight line cruising is great and it easily soaks up road imperfections, but speed bumps and lumpy ramps send it pitching and rolling. I was expecting an ungainly beast, but not quite this sloppy.

Of course, dynamics aren’t a key part of the Town & Country’s value proposition. Far more important are concerns like features, functionality, safety, and reliability.

What can you expect as far as reliability is concerned? If you believe in surveys, expect quite a few trips to the shop. Consumer Reports nails the Town & Country with its lowest “Much Worse Than Average” expected reliability rating, and J.D. Power and Associates ranks the Chrysler brand dead last in its 2012 Vehicle Dependability Study (in a survey about 2009 vehicles). The only feather in its cap is that the Town & Country won its segment in J.D. Power’s 2011 Initial Quality Study. Moving over to safety, T&C earns a Top Safety Pick from IIHS, and Four Stars Overall in NHTSA’s new 5-Star Safety Ratings evaluation.

Test Drive: 2012 Chrysler Town & Country car test drives reviews chrysler
Test Drive: 2012 Chrysler Town & Country car test drives reviews chrysler
2012 Chrysler Town & Country. Click image to enlarge

While its crash ratings are reassuring, Chrysler has loaded up the Town & Country with as many safety technologies as it could. In this segment, advanced airbags, LATCH anchor system, ABS disc brakes, and electronic stability programs are expected, but active head restraints, blind spot detection, and back-up camera are all standard. One feature that was tested several times was the power sliding door override – whenever the sliding door encounters resistance when being closed, it stop and reopens, so rest assured that you’re most precious cargo won’t be damaged by any over-eager door closers.

Ordinary cargo will enjoy being transported on the luxuriously carpeted floor of the Town & Country when all seats are stowed, and there is room for 4,072 litres of junk. Other configurations allow 2,359 litres behind the second row and 934 litres behind the third row, with a deep well behind the rear seats. The 60/40 split third row can be stowed or raised at the touch of a button thanks to the $650 power folding third-row seats, with which you can fold either side individually or both together. While Chrysler killed the swivel n’ go seating option that transformed the rear quarters into a lounge with a small card table, they’ve kept the third row tailgating seats.




About Jonathan Yarkony

Jonathan Yarkony is the Senior Editor for Autos.ca, a Brampton-based automotive writer with eight years of experience evaluating cars and an AJAC member.