It’s ironic that the brand that invented the minivan ditched all-wheel drive (AWD) back in 2004, but Chrysler could be preparing a return to the AWD minivan market.According to Chrysler Group LLC CEO Sergio Marchionne, the next-generation Chrysler minivan will have all-wheel drive. Marchionne says Chrysler will continue to produce a “classic” minivan – as well as an unnamed but companion crossover that will also get AWD.
The Detroit News reports the timetable for the new Chrysler minivan, originally due out in 2014, is now bumped up – and could be timed to coincide with the agreement to build the Volkswagen Routan through the end of the 2013 model year.
Marchionne told the publication that Chrysler needs to be “more competitive,” and they’re making it “a priority to replace it faster than we originally thought.”
Competition is fierce
Chrysler had ditched AWD to make way for its unique Stow ‘n Go seats, which fold into the floor of the vehicle for ultimate flexibility. In the meantime, the Toyota Sienna has been the only minivan with available AWD.
Considering that the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans sold a total of 16,056 units in May (9,427 and 6,629, respectively), compared with 9,428 for the Honda Odyssey and 8,618 for the Toyota Sienna, Chrysler isn’t doing so bad with its front-wheel-drive-only minivans. That’s in total, since the Chrysler Town & Country is actually down 23 percent year-over-year while the Dodge Grand Caravan is up 12 percent.
All four minivans have V-6 power and plenty of safety features, but the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey – both all-new for 2011 -- can carry up to eight passengers compared to seven for the Chrysler and Dodge minivans. But the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country do have a slightly bigger maximum towing capacity of 3,600 pounds (versus 3,500 each for Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey).
As for starting price, here’s how they slot: the Dodge Grand Caravan begins at $23,995, the Toyota Sienna at $25,060, the Honda Odyssey at $28,075 and the Chrysler Town & Country at $30,260.
The Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey are also Top Safety Picks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The 2011 Honda Odyssey received a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), while the 2011 Toyota Sienna earned a four-star overall rating. The 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country were not rated overall or in frontal or side testing, but did earn a four-star rollover rating.
Odds are Chrysler minivans will never sell anywhere near the 209,895 sold in 1984, the year they were introduced. But having all-wheel drive and a next-generation design certainly should keep them at the top of the game – especially as a prestige minivan that’s outfitted right for family use (Chrysler Town & Country) or the lowest-priced minivan in America (Dodge Grand Caravan).