2014 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan Road Test and Review: Introduction
Three decades ago, Chrysler Corporation debuted the modern minivan. At first, it was offered only as the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, but demand for more interior space begat the Dodge Grand Caravan and Plymouth Grand Voyager, while buyer requests for added luxury resulted in the creation of the upscale Town & Country. These original Chrysler minivans were a sensation, and the automaker virtually owned the market.
Two decades ago, I was a hotel shuttle driver who worked the morning shift. My shuttle van was a first-generation Town & Country, a bedraggled mess that I was flatly embarrassed to drive back and forth to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport. But at least it wasn’t one of those weird “Dustbuster” minivans from General Motors.
A decade ago, Honda and Toyota were just starting to get serious about building minivans that could compete against the models from Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth, while at the same time Ford and General Motors were starting to get serious about exiting the minivan game because consumers were flocking in greater numbers to SUVs. Around this time I drove one of Chrysler’s latest vans on an epic cross-country family trip, and found it comfortable, refined, even good looking. Y’know, for a minivan.
Today, it seems like the only Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan models that I see in my area of Southern California have little bar code stickers in the windows, the sure sign of a rental car for tourists. On national sales charts, Chrysler still commands a healthy chunk of total minivan transactions, but lots of those vehicles are landing in fleets instead of suburban driveways. The mommies and daddies that I know who own a minivan own a Honda or a Toyota.
How and why this happened is irrelevant. And I’m not going to speculate about where Chrysler might be headed with its next-generation minivan, which if history is any indicator, ought to be arriving next year or in 2016 at the latest. Instead, I’m going to evaluate the 2014 Chrysler Town & Country on its merits, keeping in mind that this is a model that is always available with rebates, low-rate financing, and cheap lease payments in order to keep the factory humming and to retain as much market share as is possible. If it’s not the newest minivan design, and if it’s not a bestseller with everyday consumers, is the Chrysler worthy of consideration? To find out, I borrowed one for a week of family-hauling duty in the ‘burbs.
2014 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
Chrysler sells the 2014 Town & Country in Touring ($31,760*), Touring-L ($34,990), and Limited ($42,590) trim levels. The Touring model is the one you might rent at the airport. The Touring-L offers the look and equipment most buyers want most of the time. The Limited is a luxury-lined, loaded version of the Town & Country.
Additionally, the Town & Country S ($33,390) and new-for-2014 Town & Country 30th Anniversary Edition ($36,690) models are available. The former is a sporty looking version of the Chrysler minivan, while the latter is a special model commemorating three decades of Chrysler minivan production.
My test vehicle is the Town & Country S, and frankly, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I prefer this version’s toned-down glitz, achieved through the use of a black chrome grille, smoked headlamp bezels, body-color side mirrors, Piano Black interior trim, and 17-inch wheels with polished spokes and black-painted pockets. Plus, it has a sport-tuned suspension, which effectively transforms the Town & Country from a vehicle that feels like it is rolling around on underinflated tires into a family mover with competent ride and handling characteristics. Additional upgrades include unique cloth inserts for the standard black leather seats, an upgraded steering wheel, a Super Console between the front seats, and a dual-screen DVD entertainment system for rear passengers.
To these features, my Deep Cherry Red Crystal test model added the SafetyTec Group ($1,845 – Blind Spot Detection, Cross Path Detection, ParkSense rear parking assist sensors, rain-sensing wipers, individual tire pressure monitoring, automatic high-beam headlights), a navigation system ($995), and window shades for the second- and third-row seats ($100), for a grand total of $36,330.
* All prices include a destination charge of $995.
2014 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan Road Test and Review: Design
- 30th Anniversary Edition has power folding outside mirrors, chrome door handles, and a unique wheel finish
Designed, engineered and launched during the same period of time that the old DaimlerChrysler “merger of equals” fell apart and that Chrysler became a ward of Cerberus Capital Management, the current version of the Town & Country was created during the most tumultuous period of Chrysler’s history. Since 2009, when Italy’s FIAT began buying chunks of Chrysler, the minivan has been on a steady program of improvement, and is now better than ever, especially in sporty S trim.
As I mentioned, the Town & Country S eschews the shiny chrome and fake interior wood that Chrysler employs in order to market its minivan as a luxury model, and this family hauler is much better for it. Though the T&C will never be regarded as one of the best-looking vehicles on the road, it is nevertheless a clean, conservative, and contemporary design, more appealing in many ways than the Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest, and Toyota Sienna. Plus, the sliding door track is hidden under the Chrysler’s rear quarter glass, a trick that Toyota has adopted but not Honda.
To my eye, however, the Town & Country looks smaller than its competition, and in some respects it is. A narrow track, necessitated by the fact that this model was originally designed for European customers as well as Americans, combined with a roofline that curves down toward the van’s tailgate contribute to more compact cargo and rear seating dimensions than key competitors, even if the Chrysler matches up favorably in terms of length and width and weighs in as the heaviest minivan on the market.
Inside, the Town & Country S features soft, black leather seats with cloth seat inserts, white contrast seat stitching, and embroidered “S” logos on the front seat faces. This model’s thick-rimmed steering wheel is wrapped in premium leather, a smart move considering that it is a constant touch point for the owner, and the 2014 Town & Country employs soft-touch materials for the front door panels and armrests. Matte-finish dashboard and console plastics feature tasteful graining and texture, the headliner is plush and premium in appearance, and many storage spots have rubber liners to quell vibration from items placed there.
Generally, the Town & Country S looks good inside and out, but people don’t buy minivans for their looks.
2014 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- 30th Anniversary Edition with heated front and second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, a power-folding third-row seat, and Alcantara seat inserts
Style doesn’t sell minivans. Instead, people buy minivans because they frequently need to haul a bunch of people and a bunch of stuff. Though the 2014 Chrysler Town & Country can’t match the Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna for maximum passenger capacity or cargo room, it does match or best the Nissan Quest and Kia Sedona. Plus, the Chrysler has standard Stow ‘N Go second-row and third-row seats, which collapse into wells in the van’s floor and never require removal from the vehicle in order to maximize cargo space.
That’s great for people without the strength to lift heavy captain’s chairs into or out of the van, or for couples who like to make spontaneous purchases of large items when its just the two of them aboard, but to make Stow ‘N Go work, the seats are designed with severely canted lower cushions that provide excellent thigh support but also make it harder to get into and out of the Town & Country. Plus, the second-row captain’s chairs are really quite narrow, which is fine for kids but not for overfed and under-exercised adults. Furthermore, they don’t slide back to improve legroom, which is tight for taller people.
While the third-row seat cushion also features a surprising degree of thigh support, it sits up high off of the floor and provides decent legroom combined with an excellent view out. Families with older kids might just want to fold the second-row seats into the floor and use the third-row seat most of the time. I decided to do that with my little ones, but unfortunately the Lower Anchor parts of the third-row seat’s Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system were mounted in an odd location, and I couldn’t find a spot to hook the tether strap behind the third-row seat.
So then, the front seats are the best ones in the house. These supportive thrones have inboard armrests and sit high in the van for a great view out. Again, though, taller people might be unhappy in the driver’s seat, which provides just enough legroom and comfort for my own comfort. For reference, I’m just under six feet tall and have a 33-inch pants inseam.
Expanding cargo space beyond the 33 cu.-ft. supplied behind the third-row seat is easy. The 50/50-split third-row seat is designed to tumble into the floor using a 4-step process and just one hand. With the third-row folded into the floor, the Town & Country can carry up to 83.3 cu.-ft. of your stuff, as much as a midsize SUV with all of its seats folded down.
Maximum cargo capacity measures 143.8 cu.-ft. once the second-row seats are tucked into the bins built into the floor. This operation takes more time and effort, mainly because both front seats must be moved all the way forward in their tracks to open the floor bins, but the process is infinitely easier than yanking seats out and hauling them into the garage for storage.
In addition to carrying cargo and people, minivans excel at something else, as I was reminded every time I parked the Chrysler and started unloading my offspring. Thanks to those sliding side doors, it is really easy to put children into and to extract children from their child safety seats, no matter how little space exists between the van and the car parked next to it.
2014 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- 30th Anniversary Edition with power folding exterior mirrors and keyless passive entry with push-button starting
As evidenced by the numbered straps that help a Town & Country owner quickly complete the 4-step process to fold the third-row seat, as well as by the color-coded yellow maintenance points under this minivan’s hood, Chrysler thoughtfully goes the extra mile to help make it easier to understand and use its vehicles. That extends to the Town & Country’s primary controls, which are placed right where the driver expects to find them and are clearly labeled as to their intent and use.
Additionally, the Town & Country comes standard with a Uconnect infotainment system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen display. Powered by a 40-gig hard drive, of which 28 gigs are available to the van’s owner to store photos and music, the system includes a free year of satellite radio service, Bluetooth connectivity and streaming audio, USB ports, an auxiliary audio input jack, and a reversing camera. A single-screen rear-seat entertainment system with a remote and wireless headphones is also standard, upgraded in the S model to the same dual-screen setup and Blu-Ray DVD player as is found in the top-of-the-line Limited model. Chrysler also offers mobile Wi-Fi capability for the system as a dealer-installed extra.
Though this particular version of Uconnect looks and feels outdated, it is nevertheless easy to use and responsive to the touch, and as much as I’d prefer to have my daughters looking out the windows at the world, the rear entertainment system kept them from napping in the van, which translated to everyone going to sleep each night right on schedule. When they did happen to look out the windows, both kids marveled at how much they could see while riding in the Chrysler. The things we adults take for granted, eh?
2014 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- No changes
Every Town & Country is equipped with a reversing camera, and all but the base Touring and sporty S models have a SafetyTec Group that installs practical technologies that are actually useful the majority of the time. They include individual tire-pressure monitoring, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high-beam headlights, rear parking assist sensors, a Cross Path Detection system, and a Blind Spot Detection system, and my test van had them. In a short period of time, each of them came in handy except the rain-sensing wipers, and that’s only because I seriously cannot recall the last time any moisture fell from the sky onto my little part of the California dream.
2014 Chrysler Town & Country Crash-Test Ratings:
Last year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) called the Town & Country a “Top Safety Pick.” However, the van had not been assessed in the difficult new small overlap frontal-impact test, one that the structurally updated and upgraded 2014 Honda Odyssey recently aced.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Town & Country an overall crash-test rating of 4 stars. Note, though, that the Chrysler doesn’t get fewer than 4 stars in any individual test assessment, unlike the Toyota Sienna, which protects its front-seat passenger at a 3-star level in a frontal-impact collision.
2014 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- No changes
Just one engine is offered for the 2014 Chrysler Town & Country, a 3.6-liter V-6 engine generating a healthy 283 horsepower. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, delivering power to the van’s front wheels, and the Town & Country is rated to tow up to 3,600 pounds, a bit more than key competitors.
Where the Chrysler can’t match most other minivans is fuel economy. The V-6 is powerful, but it’s also got a couple hundred extra pounds to motivate, and this translates into slightly lower fuel economy ratings than competitors from Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. The EPA says the Town & Country should return 20 mpg in combined driving. I got 19.4 mpg, without the powertrain’s “Econ” mode engaged.
2014 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
The Town & Country’s V-6 engine is very powerful, and very loud. In fact, both of our children admonished us for what they assumed was excessive speed due to the level of racket encroaching upon the cabin. Though Chrysler’s 3.6-liter V-6 isn’t as smooth, refined, or fuel-efficient as a Honda Odyssey’s V-6, I don’t mind the more visceral driving experience it delivers. My wife, however, was none too pleased with this powertrain.
Citing “drivetrain lash” as a reason for her dissatisfaction, in addition to the way the engine sounded when revved, she was describing an increasingly common driving trait as auto manufacturers chase greater fuel economy numbers. The Town & Country’s transmission is designed to upshift rapidly to conserve fuel, but is also designed to downshift quickly when the driver demands more power. The result is sometimes busy shifting and an occasionally unrefined gear change, either of which can be resolved by manually shifting gears using the transmission’s AutoStick function.
My Town & Country S test model came with a sport suspension, but don’t let the description deter you from choosing this version of the van. Rather, this is a competent suspension, one that eradicates the Chrysler’s tendency to wallow and sway, and to feel like it is riding on four underinflated tires. In my opinion, this suspension setup should be standard equipment for all Town & Country models.
The van’s brakes definitely need an upgrade. Under normal driving conditions, they feel strong and responsive. On my mountainous test loop, they faded and started to grumble a bit, but that’s not the source of my ire.
One night, my family and I decided to try a new restaurant in the next town over, which requires a 1,000-foot descent down the side of a mountain. Traveling this stretch of freeway in heavy traffic required regular use of the brakes, and as we approached sea level the Town & Country’s brake discs heated to the point that they were shuddering and groaning, loudly, about their dissatisfaction with the driving conditions. Two adults, two kids aged 5 and under, and no luggage or cargo of any kind were aboard the van at the time. Yeah, Chrysler, you need to upgrade the Town & Country’s brakes.
2014 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
After a week of driving the 2014 Chrysler Town & Country S, this 7-year-old design has finally had most of its kinks worked out. It’s not perfect, but it makes a strong case for itself if you’re absolutely certain that there’s no way you’ll ever park a Honda Odyssey in your driveway. Chrysler knows that the Honda is the minivan to beat. It’s gonna be interesting to see what they roll out to replace the current Town & Country in a year or two.
2014 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Strong V-6 engine
- Impressive suspension tuning
- Simple and easy controls and features
- SafetyTec technologies
- Good crash-test ratings*
- Decent value (with rebates)
- Feeble brakes
- Unimpressive fuel economy
- Second-row seat comfort
- Class-average space for people and cargo
- Dated Uconnect infotainment system
- Definitely time for a complete redesign
Chrysler supplied the vehicle for this review
2014 Chrysler Town & Country S photos by Christian Wardlaw
* As of October, 2013
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