By on March 9, 2012


Brian writes:


Heeding the call for silly, not-really-that-good letters…plus I wrote you a while back about my Freestyle.  Since then, my wife actually sat in a minivan, and that’s the direction we are heading.  We are looking at replacing it quickly so that she can take the three kiddos to Grandma’s house while I enter Lemons South this March. 

Her peace of mind at Grandma’s house is well worth my ‘not-having-the-phone-ring-contantly’ while at the race, so I agree with her timeline (she doesn’t trust the Freestyle enough to make the trip – she had good ears and hears something bad in the transmission already at 10k on the latest reman unit).  So here is the thing: in 2011, Dodge went to the Pentastar in the minivan.  I am of two minds regarding my decision of a 2008, 2010 or a 2011 (Karesh will love the fact that Truedelta eliminated 2009’s for me – gotta love actual data!).

Pentastar: New, efficient, clean, powerful, 6 speed auto

3.8/3.3: Well known, service proven, 4 speed auto

At first I was reluctant to get a Pentastar, but since it’s going to be the only V6 Chrysler makes, chances are the flaws will be fairly well worked out, and since they started putting it in cars in 2007, it has been along for a while.  The older engine has been around FOREVER, which is pretty nice, although the fuel economy and performance will suffer.  Sounds like the 6 speed transmission is mostly based on the four speed, so I guess I should not be worried about that, but feel free to chime in here as well.

What say you?

Sajeev answers:

Wait, you are a LeMons racer? No wonder you actually considered the CVT to 6-speed swap on your old Freestyle! You are nuts!!!

Wait, that’s being real mean: I meant to say that people like you aren’t normal.  I should know, as I listen to your collective bullshit on a regular basis as a LeMons judge in Texas. That said, it’s nice to see that you and your wife have agreed on something far better for your situation.  Minivans rock.

Except they are all under-transmissioned for the loads carried in them. And while Chrysler’s transaxles are legendary for their LeMons-like durability in pure street circumstances, we might not have enough data to verify the new 6-speed’s worthiness in modern Mopar Minivans.  Cue Michael Karesh!

I would buy the new model simply on performance alone.  Modern close ratio 6-speed gearboxes are absolutely wonderful for launching oversized beasts while retaining decent highway cruising. If anything, the new technology will be more durable simply because they move a van more effortlessly, less stressfully.

My advice is always the same for all Minivans, as they all have the same Achilles’ heel: flush the transmission fluid every 1-3 years (depending on mileage and the weight of your cargo) and install the biggest damn transmission cooler you can find.  Run it in series with the factory radiator/coolant system, if applicable.

Do it and you’ll never feel like you’re Freestylin’ ever again.


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9 Comments on “Piston Slap: LeMons racer seeks Minivan Normalcy...”

  • avatar

    FYI, the Phoenix V6 installed in current Chrysler vehicles (from 2011? I can’t remember – whatever year the minivans got the heavy refresh) is not the same engine as the 3.5 that came out in 2007. Just so you know. That said, having driven all powertrains offered in the RT over the years, I think the current one is easily the best.

    • 0 avatar

      Major Refresh style-wise in 2010, new drivetrain didn’t come in until 2011.

      I drove a Journey with the 3.6/6-speed combo as a rental and was very impressed, both with the driving and the 28mpg I was able to get on the highway. Now Journey != Caravan, but it’s big, same year, and seats 7, so might be a good comp.

  • avatar

    I currently have a 2011 Town and Country that replaced a 2008 and the new one is light years better than the old one. The Pentastar V6 has 80+ more horsepower than the old 3.8 and also manages to get better gas mileage. The suspension on the newer vans is also a vast improvement with a better ride and substantially improved handling. The first time my wife drove the new one even she commented on how much better it handled–I didn’t know she even knew what handling was. Read Jack Baruth’s reviews of the 2011 vans because he’s nailed it. Finally the interior on the newer vans is a huge improvement with a better looking dashboard and higher quality plastics.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      +1, thanks for sparing me the typing. I’d just like to add that we’re on our 3rd Chrysler minivan, this time a 2011 T&C, and it’s been wonderful. The Pentastar engine’s acceleration is practically V8-like.

  • avatar

    My wife’s Grand Cherokee has the Pentastar,and I think it’s a great engine. It has plenty of power, and we average 21 mpg. Our Jeep only has the 5-speed, so I can imagine it would feel even better with 6 gears.

  • avatar

    Out of the Ford CVT and into the recently released Mopar AT. Live and lear… Nope. That’s not the phrase I’m looking for.

  • avatar

    We rented a 2011 Grand Caravan for a cross country road trip and it was amazing, excellent power, decent economy.

    You may also want to shop the VW Routan. Sometimes you can find amazing deals on them, and the trim packages are nicer than the more base GCs. The high end GCs are euqally as nice as equivalent
    VWs, though I prefer the wheels VW uses.

  • avatar

    The 2011/12 GC is a really nice ride. Almost made me want to ditch my bulletproof 2008 Sienna. Do test drive the 2011/12 Sienna SE; it’s the only thing that compares to the GC. Pretty sure you’ll save $10K going with the Mopar, so it’s an easy decision in the end.

  • avatar

    We just traded in our 2006 Freestyle for a 2013 Town & Country. Consensus on the internet seems to be to buy the latest one you can afford. Get a 2011 or later. You won’t regret it, the Pentastar is a great engine. And it’s nice to be back to a “real” transmission. My wife never totally warmed up to the Freestyle, but she loves the T&C.

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