I have learned over the years that is a lot more fun to shop for a car than it is to actually purchase one. In my mind’s eye every vehicle is perfect and every feature, every positive point comes to the fore. Every problem is easily fixed or is otherwise so minor it doesn’t even bear thinking about. Money is never a problem either and I can seriously think about leather, satellite radio and a giant, gas sucking V8 without wondering how I am going to pay for it all. Yes, locked up inside my head, everything is always perfect and so I like to take the time to savor the moment before committing myself. Ultimately, however, the rubber must meet the road.
There was never any real question about what I was going to buy, was there? Although I toyed with some of the foreign competition, I knew what I wanted from the moment I determined we needed to replace our ailing Freestar and we did, in fact, choose exactly that: a Chrysler Town & Country. Of course, I know that some of you are scratching your heads right now, the competition is good and even the T&C’s close cousin, the Dodge Grand Caravan, is a hell of a deal right now, so why step up?
To be honest it was the Dodge Grand Caravan that brought us into the show room. We rented one on a trip home to Seattle last Thanksgiving and found it to be utterly competent in everything it does. The problem is that we wanted a few additional features not offered on the $19,990 American Value Package, things like a powered lift gate and doors, a back-up camera and other interior comfort options, and so, once we really got to looking at what we could buy in a Dodge, I figured we might as well step up to the Town & Country Touring. Then of course, one thing led to another and I ended up taking the next step to a T&C “S” model.
So, what the hell is a “Town & Country S?” Well, Chrysler’s website says that the S Line is a “fusion of edgy design and American grit that defines the Chrysler brand. These are vehicles for the uncompromising and the sophisticated, those who crave aftermarket excitement as much as elegance.” That’s me in a nutshell right there. I am such an edgy, gritty guy that I wanted my wife’s minivan to have extras like a built-in navigation and a good looking set of wheels. The S was the only van on the lot that had those two things together and so I picked that one. As a bonus, the package also added some nice stylistic touches and included some extra technology. With a list price of just $32,050, and with incentives I didn’t pay anywhere near that, it seemed like a good deal so we bought it.
The S line is an option and appearance package offered on the Chrysler 200, 300 and the Town & Country. It comes in just four colors, Brilliant Black, Cherry Red, Billet Silver and Stone White and other than that, as far as Chrysler is concerned, S means “black.” In the T&C, the package adds black trimmed alloy wheels, black chrome grill, blacked out badges and blacked out headlight surrounds. Inside, the seats are black leather with grey stitching and black cloth inserts. A black console sits between the seats, and the dash has piano black trim insterts. The most elegant touch of all, I think, is a black headliner.
The package also includes a fair amount of technology including a Blu-Ray disc player with 9 inch folding screens for both the second and third rows, navigation, satellite radio, UConnect with Bluetooth integration for our cell phones, and a sound system that includes a 40 Gig hard drive and on and on and on. I was born in the 60s and my first car came with an 8 track tape player, which was a big deal at the time, so the amount of technology loaded into the T&C amazes me. Had it not been included in the package, I would not likely have purchased a lot of the tech separately. The sat nav/UConnect is almost $900 on its own and the Blu-Ray would have added another $1000 and would have required us to step up to the T&C “L” which starts at $32,840 so you can see that the S model adds a great deal of real value in addition to the extra style.
Under the hood all of Chrysler’s vans offer the 3.6 VVT 24 valve engine backed with a smooth shifting 6 speed transmission and the combination is a good one. Out on the road the van is quite spry off the line and will squeal the tires if I really stomp on the gas. Chrysler says the T&C S comes with a “sport suspension” and I must confess that I don’t really understand all that entails at this point but I do know that there is no way a van this size should handle as well as this one does. The 65 series tires hold the road well and the 17 inch rims allow enough side wall to keep the ride smooth. Grip is great and the T&C hangs in the corners with the best of them. It’s a lot of fun to charge into a cloverleaf interchange just a little hot and slide that big sucker through the curve. Seriously, it does better in a corner than my 300M Special did.
Fit and finish is great. Inside, the grey stitching sets off the black leather on the seats but the embroidered “S” is a detail I may have forgone if I had the choice. The dashboard is a good combination of black and chrome and it looks positively jewel like from behind the wheel. The touch screen is big and easy to read, but changing the radio requires touching the screen which leaves fingerprints. Although a plastic touch screen is state of the art, a glass facing ala the i-phone would have looked and felt better under my fingers. The black headliner makes the van feel darker inside and I thought I would dislike it but the effect is not at all, as I had feared, cave-like. In fact, I think the darker interior helps brighten the view out the front and helps to better focus my attention on the road ahead.
The attention to detail on the van’s interior is matched on the outside. I wasn’t sure how I would like the black chrome effect on the front of the van, but I think now it looks good. Chrysler was smart, however, the leave the chrome strip down the side of the van and although I barely noticed it at first it has become one of my favorite touches. Another detail that Chrysler’s design team got right was where they hid the body gap for rear sliders’ rollers, tucking them smartly beneath the back windows where they blend in well and are easily forgotten about. I opted for the grey and, as you can see in the photos, the T&C wears it well. The photos fail, however, to catch the metallic paint to its best advantage and in-person the effect is amazing as the sun’s rays strike fire from a million different facets.
Right now I am in that special place a man goes to whenever he brings home a new vehicle. It sits now in our garage and the aroma of fresh paint, new leather and curing rubber permeates the whole house. Although it is primarily my wife’s vehicle, I look forward to sliding behind the wheel and even spent most of Saturday afternoon sitting in the driveway loading Japanese MP3s into the audio system’s hard drive just so she would be “more comfortable.” This is the fifth new car I have purchased in thirty years as a licensed driver and, barring incidents and accidents, I know it will be with us for a long, long time. No one can know what the future holds, but right now, firmly in the honeymoon period of new car ownership, I am completely satisfied with our purchase. It is everything I imagined it would be.
Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.