The last time I had a couple of minivans we did a head-to-head test between the Dodge Grand Caravan and the Hyundai Entourage. That was way back in the fall of 2006. Since that time, Chrysler has completely re-designed the Town & Country and the Dodge Grand Caravan. Also within that time-frame, Ford have killed off the Windstar and got out of the minivan business altogether, meanwhile General Motors just changed the label from “minivan” to “SUV” while claiming to be abandoning the minivan as well.
Chrysler are committed to building minivans for the foreseeable future, taking on the Japanese and Korean manufactures single-handedly – at least in North America. Never happy to accept that the present van is good enough to carry them through for several years, Chrysler are constantly making improvements and creating unique products that leave other manufacturers scratching their collective heads, wondering “Why didn’t we think of that!” Case in point: Stow ‘n Go seating for the middle seats in addition to the third-row seat, and now they’ve gone and created Swivel ‘n Go seats – complete with a table. Chrysler have a habit of creating things we didn’t know we needed (cup holders) that then turn into mandatory standard features.
So what’s the latest unique feature(s) that Chrysler have seen fit to include and up the stakes in the minivan marketplace? Read this week’s two-for-one Road Test and find out as we review the 2009 Chrysler Town & Country and a Dodge Grand Caravan. While being stable-mates, they are targeted at different buyers. Where they differ in the test I’ll let you know (T&C/GC), but otherwise consider the test two complete reviews within one Road Test article.
The all-new for 2008 minivan from Chrysler has come full circle. Back in 1984 it was very square compared to the then “groundbreaking” look of the Ford Taurus. Twenty-five years later and we have a 2009 Chrysler minivan that is very square, while we have generic-looking vehicles like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. The short wheelbase Dodge Caravan is no longer available, but is being replaced by the Dodge Journey.
No longer looking like a jelly bean, the all-new Chrysler minivans are much larger than the original. Parked side by side with a 2007 model, it’s quite remarkable how different the new version is. With a very squared-off look, logically says it must be more functional and spacious than the previous model. However, interior cargo capacity has surprisingly decreased from 160.7 cu.ft to 140.1 cu.ft.
Headroom in all three rows is the same or minutely bigger. Legroom is virtually the same in front, while second-row legroom is 36.6” versus 34.7”, and the third-row occupants get almost 6 cu.ft of additional space. Shoulder room also increases in the third row from 61.7” to 62”. Hip room is better in the front row of the ’09 version, with the second row dropping to 64.8”, down from 67.6”. The third row is virtually unchanged.
The YES Essentials seats are pleasantly firm and very comfortable. The driver’s side is power-operated while the front passenger has to adjust their seat manually. The driver also gets a lumbar adjustment but the passenger has to make do without. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is quite large, more in keeping with a bus than a van, however it’s not so large that it becomes annoying – it’s just a little odd at first. The wheel tilts and telescopes and the vehicle provides the added benefit of electrically adjustable pedals – the button is right on the steering column. With that combination, there isn’t a driver on the planet that couldn’t get into a comfortable position.
The plastics used around the door and along the top of the dash are good quality – better than previous models, but still not quite up to Toyota and Honda standards. The silver dials add a bit of class and they glow a very pleasant green at night.
There’s a large screen that sits nice and high on the centre dashboard that gives you all of your entertainment information as well as the SatNav if you’ve ordered that feature. The downside though, was that the screen got washed out when I was wearing my polarized sunglasses. The backup camera is also connected to the screen which is a bit redundant when wearing said glasses. I would rather have seen this vehicle incorporate the tiny, yet effective screen of the late and great Chrysler Pacifica that sits in front of the driver – it worked perfectly.
The optional sound system – complete with a subwoofer, was a little disappointing sound-wise. I love the MyGig system with its built-in hard drive – it’s pure genius and is definitely going to be the future of all in-car entertainment systems. The MyGig – only recognizes MP3 songs and WMA files. When I loaded a bunch of WAV songs from jump drive, it only recognized one song that just happened to be a WMA song. I always rip my songs using WAV instead of the very annoying Windows version, so it was a bit of an issue for me. When loading from the jump drive/USB you can still listen to songs already on the hard drive, but if you’re loading from a CD then it’s silence until the songs are all ripped. You can’t listen to the radio at that time either. It is a minor inconvenience, but something to be noted. There is an auxiliary jack on the front of the unit that allows you to connect your MP3 player through the system.
TC – Abundance of legroom in Second Row. The second-row DVD entertainment screen is nicely placed and doesn’t interfere a great deal with the driver’s rearview mirror. There are actually two separate DVD players in the optional system – one for the second row and one for the third. That should keep the munchkins happy!! Getting into the Third Row is simply a matter of folding the seatback forward and then pulling a strap. The seat tips forward and then slides toward the middle of the van allowing easy access to the rear. Third-row seating has plenty of knee and headroom. Foot space is limited due to the second-row’s seat mechanics. It is fine for two adults, but three would be cruel and unusual punishment. The DVD screen is perfectly placed for third-row passengers. The rearmost seat splits 70/30 to add plenty of versatility to the TC’s repertoire.
Interior cargo space
Behind the second-row seats the cargo area measures 59″ at its maximum width, 47 1/2″ high and with both rear seats folded into the floor you have a very usable 88″ in length. According to Chrysler, the Grand Caravan offers “no less than 256 seating and storage configurations.” A 4’x8′ sheet of plywood easily fits inside the rear compartment.
GC – Accidently left both side doors open one night – almost closed, didn’t latch fully. Could be an issue/problem for those with children. Should have a synch close feature like the Mazda5.
The Chrysler Town & Country and the Grand Caravan have the highest government front and side crash rating (5-star).
The 2009 Chrysler Town & Country comes fully loaded, but there are numerous additional packages available and prices/options constantly moving. For more information visit: www.Chrysler.com or www.Chrysler.ca
Unlike their previous model – Chrysler has shown all the other manufacturers that this is how it’s done – the King is back. It’s going to take something really special to top the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country.
Bumper To Bumper for 3 years/36,000-miles and unlimited miles/time powertrain warranty. In Canada it’s 3 years/60,000 kms Bumper To Bumper, plus a 5-year/100,000 kms powertrain. Roadside assistance is also included for 3 years /36,000 miles [100,000 kms]. Towing Capacity is rated at 3,600 lbs. when properly equipped.
Pricing for the 2009 Chrysler Town & Country Touring
As tested: $35,740 [$39,545 Cdn]
Base price: $30,465 [$35,995 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: $770 U.S / $1,350 Cdn
Pricing for the 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT
As tested: $30,135 [$31,945 Cdn]
Base price: $27,910 [$35,995 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: $770 U.S / $1,350 Cdn
Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel]
The 4.0 litre V-6 is rated at 16 mpg City [13.6 L/100 kms] and 23 mpg Highway [8.7 L/100 kms]
I averaged 16.8 – 16.3 mpg [14 – 14.3 L/100km] on both vans during mostly highway driving
More power, more standard equipment for less money
Unfortunately it will always have the mini-van stigma and people will continue to buy SUV’s
Back Seat Driver Test: 10 out of 10
“Getting into the third row is easy – and it’s pretty good when you get back here too!” “This is nice!”
Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona, Toyota Sienna and Volkswagen Routan (essentially the same vehicle with a different badge).
By The Numbers…
Powertrain: 4.0 L 24-valve, V-6; 6-speed automatic transmission; FWD
Horsepower: 251 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 259 @ 4,200 rpm
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (SatNav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
10 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls
9 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish
9 – Engine
10 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling
10 – Bang for the $$
9 – Fuel Economy
147 Total / 150
Copyright © 2009 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland & Chrysler
Also Published on PaddockTalk.com