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.