June 20, 2014
2014 Chrysler Town & Country. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Jeff Wilson
Thirty years ago a revolution started.
A newcomer to the automotive landscape emerged on the scene innocently enough, but poised to annihilate the hefty North American station wagon market.
Suddenly the cool and contemporary families of the mid-80s were dumping their giant, space- (and fuel-) inefficient station wagons (think Griswold Family Truckster) in favour of the hippest new family machine around: the minivan.
And not just any minivan, but the minivan: the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager twins (cue the record-scratching sound effect here).
That’s right folks, just three decades ago, the minivan was cool.
And you know what? It’s going to come back in fashion again.
Scoff if you will, but think about it. All sensible designs come back en vogue again sooner or later.
Consider denim – the workin’ man’s pants – over-shadowed and uncool during the polyester days of the ‘70s, or when MC Hammer’s baggy pantaloons captured our imagination in the ‘90s, but look at us now, wearing those sensible, durable dungarees everywhere from the boardroom to the bar! Now that’s progress.
Need more proof? How about natural, organic foods that are all the rage these days just as they were in the Garden of Eden before pesticides helped make veggies look nicer.
Or beards? Same deal. Why waste money on razors when the modern man can keep his skin protected from the elements thanks to bulk facial follicles.
These are indeed exciting times marinated in common sense.
Which makes it the perfect era for another sensible comeback with the minivan.
Now I must admit, it took me some time to fully accept my minivan fate during my week with Chrysler’s Town & Country (in 30th Anniversary livery, no less).
Not more than a few days into the test though, I encountered an awakening, much like a balding man who decides to shave his head for the first time instead of wearing a comb-over. Or the maternal figure who accepts the mom-jeans fate because dammit they’re more comfortable and don’t show the world your undergarment choice every time you bend slightly at the waist.
At first there’s the hyper-awareness of what everyone around you must be seeing.
“Ah, that fellow there is a dad. He’s handed in his license for youthful fun and resigned himself to an existence of joyless dutiful fatherhood. I bet he’s wearing socks and sandals in that minivan too.”
But what those observers are missing is the litany of life-improving benefit afforded by my perch of pragmatism; my ride of reasonableness; my steed of sensibility.
2014 Chrysler Town & Country dashboard, gauges, centre stack, overhead monitor. Click image to enlarge
To start with, the big Chrysler is a surprisingly pleasant place to gather up highway mileage. Noise, vibration and harshness are befitting a luxury car. The suppleness of the ride afforded by the combination of limo-like wheelbase, high-profile tires and a butter-soft suspension is the answer to Lincoln Town Car and Cadillac DeVille owners wondering where they can get a properly luxurious ride these days.
Taking full advantage of the serene setting inside the Town & Country is the sound system that comes as part of the Uconnect infotainment unit. It’s powerful with full sound, though lacking a bit of the clarity of the really high-end (and expensive) systems the luxury brands are fitting to high-end sedans. Need even better sound? The top-spec Limited trim Town & Country has a superior Infinity system.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Uconnect arrangement here is an older generation and far from the industry best in terms of graphic styling and usability. Chrysler has shown it knows how to do industry best infotainment with the Uconnect systems found in newer models like the 300 and Dodge Dart, so it’s disappointing to find this unremarkable and clunky version here.
In looking at it, its simple pop-in packaging belies Chrysler’s luxury-car promise in favour of cost-cutting measures that allow the same double-DIN opening to swallow a rudimentary sound system in a bargain-bin Caravan.
2014 Chrysler Town & Country seating & cargo area. Click image to enlarge
Several other areas of the Town & Country’s interior reveal similar budget limitations, most glaring of which is the dashboard material constructed out of recycled Little Tykes Cozy Coupes. The seats too are trimmed here with luxurious leather and ultra-suede materials, but the seat shape and guts are still those built to a budget.
What those smug soft-roader crossover utility vehicle motorists also don’t appreciate is that those minivan-only, power sliding rear side doors just saved their fancy SUV’s skin from the dents and creases of some impatient brat getting out when they park too close in the Whole Foods lot. The convenience of those sliding doors knows no limits, from providing easy access to second and third row seats through the expansive opening, to the remarkable ease with which one can load and unload giant, non-human cargo.
Speaking of convenience, not only is the rear hatch power operated (naturally), but at the touch of a finger, the third row seat motors itself away into the floor, leaving a generous, cubic cargo hold.