2011 Chrysler Town & Country: First Drive

November 23, 2010

The usual flurry of new vehicles that comes each year is a confirmed blizzard at Chrysler. Everything's changing, mostly for the better. And though the most dramatic upheavals are taking place inside and outside the 2011 Dodge Charger and Durango, and the 2011 Chrysler 300 and 200 (nee Sebring), the company's minivans haven't been left untouched.

With the 2011 Chrysler Town & Country minivan, the sum is some subtly reworked sheetmetal, a much-refined cockpit and a single new drivetrain swapped in for a host of old bits and pieces.

Maybe most important of all is the Town & Country's better defined mission--and the accompanying big new sticker price. From now on, in Chrysler's eyes, the Dodge Grand Caravan is its minivan value leader. The Town & Country goes where its name implies--straight to the $30,000 and over crowd where a pricey minivan doesn't sound so much like an oxymoron, but more like an existential necessity for the staff.

There are precious few differences between the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan (reviewed over at TheCarConnection) and the Town & Country, aside from the cosmetics and the plush standard-features list. To recap, the new 283-horsepower V-6 is the front-driver's only power choice, and it's fine for tugging a full crew around from shopping spot to shopping spot. Steering's a bit quicker to the touch, while the softly tuned suspension bounds more than the more keenly responsive Honda Odyssey. Acceleration's a touch more brisk, but fuel economy is flat against last year's numbers. The Odyssey and Sienna are dynamic leads here; the Chryslers, character actors praised more for their versatility. 

Chrysler hopes the finery will help the T&C's luxury message land. So while the Grand Caravan remains a more upright, square-jawed Dodge, the Town & Country softens its approach with a broad chrome band wearing the latest iteration of the Chrysler logo, and a smaller grille that fades a little more readily into the background. The rear glass bows out a bit, LED taillamps light up the night, and a slightly reshaped hood tie together the low-impact changes made to the same basic one-box architecture that bowed back in 2008.

You'll notice more substantial re-imagination inside the Town & Country. Its new interior blocks out the same physical space as the one in the Caravan--they're both taller, and more imposing than the dash structures in an Odyssey or a Sienna--but Chrysler's skin wears more chrome bangles and bracelets around groups of major controls. Its dash is also studded with an analog clock, fresh out of the rounded-corner mold, and its steering wheel is rendered more like a shield versus the Caravan's bricky block. From the middle row of seats back, there's not much new to report, but the up-front reworking puts big distance between the unappealing textures of last year's T&C, and gives a decent clue into the current thinking on what "the new Chrysler" really is. 

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