When is a minivan not a minivan? The answer is never. A minivan is and always will be a minivan. What was once as plentiful as mugshots of Justin Bieber however has faded in recent years thanks in large part to the plentiful availability of crossovers and SUV’s.
In 1983 when the minivan erupted on the scene it took only a few years for the all-purpose vehicle became the chariots for soccer moms in suburbia and the chagrin of dads who saw them as a symbol of the loss of their manhood. Today’s minivan has evolved into a vehicle that seems large, cumbersome and hard to maneuver in shipping center parking lots. However inside there are now more amenities, more comfortable seats, DVD players, zone AC and enough storage space to make a chipmunk happy.
Dodge was the first to bring a minivan to market. Seizing upon this success the Chrysler division came out with the Town and Country a few years after the stampede. The model was intended to be a bit more luxurious than its Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager cousins. For many years, sales of the Town and Country rivaled those of their cousins, but recently sales, like those of all minivans, have dropped. One report says that the 2014 Town and Country will be the last; that starting next year Dodge will focus only on its Caravan line. That makes sense given the shrinking market.
After a week spent with a 2014 Town and Country recently, it appears that the focus on the Caravan may have already started. We drove the 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan a few months ago and frankly it’s hard to tell the difference.
The 2014 comes in four trim levels: Touring, S, Touring-L and Limited. The Touring model has a lot of standard features; automatic headlights, foglights, automatic wipers, a roof rack, heated mirrors, dual power-sliding doors and a power tailgate. There’s also an auto-dimming rearview mirror, triple-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar), Stow 'n Go second-row seats, cruise control, full power accessories (including second-row power windows and third-row power vents), rearview camera, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and a 115-volt AC power outlet. There’s also a rear-seat DVD entertainment center with a flip-down screen above the second row; Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, voice-command, rear-seat USB charging ports and a six-speaker audio system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, a USB/iPod interface, an auxiliary audio jack and 28 gigabytes of digital music storage.
Then there is the S, or “Sport” model that we had for the week. Sure you get painted 17-inch wheels a darkened grille, performance-tuned suspension, black leather upholstery with cloth inserts and a rear seat entertainment system with an HDMI input, a DVD/Blu-ray player and two flip-down screens (one each for the second and third rows), but the “Sport” model is in actuality not very “Sporty”. It made us feel as though Chrysler is making a model that will make a man feel better about actually buying a minivan. “Ok your single life is over, but here’s your consolation prize.”
By the way the models above the “Sport” add such niceties as rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, auto-dimming outside mirrors, remote ignition, a power-adjustable front passenger seat and second- and third-row window shades. While the top-of-the-line Limited mode gets you xenon headlights, power-folding exterior mirrors, keyless ignition/entry, power-adjustable pedals, upgraded leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, driver memory functions, heated first- and second-row seats, a navigation system, a nine-speaker premium audio system.
Here’s the problem though. We felt almost like time travelers able to leap back to a few months ago when we drove the Grand Caravan. Most of the same features are here; there seems nothing that makes the Town and Country distinctive like it used to be. Maybe the designers knew this would be the last year; that soon the Caravan and the Grand Caravan would be the only minivan offerings from Dodge. That would make sense given the shrinking market for the once mighty minivan. What we have in the Town and Country is a Grand Caravan with a different badge. In the end this is still a minivan, it drives awkwardly on the road with a 3.6 liter V6 that although rated at 283 horsepower can’t seem to get out of its own way. In addition it’s ungainly in parking lots and the fuel mileage is unremarkable. Sure Dodge and Chrysler make a fine product, but maybe it is time the minivan went away; much like some of the old models of the past ,maybe it’s time to move on.
The 2014 Chrysler Town and Country (S model)
MSRP (as tested) $36,175
MPG (EPA rating): 17 city, 25 highway, 20 combined.
MPG (as tested, mixed conditions) 19 MPG
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6 rated at 283 bhp @ 6,400 rpm. Torque 260 lb.-ft. @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with overdrive
Overall Length 202.8
Overall Width 78.7
Overall Width with Mirrors 88.5
Overall Height 66.9
Head Room 39.8
Head Room with Sunroof 37.2
Leg Room 40.7
Shoulder Room 63.7
Hip Room 58.4
Seat Travel 8.7
Recliner Angle Range (degrees)
Manual recline: 88
Power recline: 59
Front Passenger Volume, cu. ft. 58.4
Head Room 39.3
Knee Clearance 3.2
Shoulder Room 64.1
Hip Room 65.0
Head Room 37.9
Knee Clearance 6.0
Shoulder Room 62.0
Hip Room 48.7
Maximum Cargo Volume, 143.8 cubic foot
Behind Second-row Seats, 83.3 cubic foot
Aft of Third-row Seat, 33.0 cubic foot
Total Passenger plus Cargo Volume, 195.8 cubic foot
3-year, 36,000 miles basic
5-year, 100,000 miles powertrain/roadside assistance