Final Decision: There Can Be Only One

Thomas Kreutzer
by Thomas Kreutzer

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.

Thomas Kreutzer
Thomas Kreutzer

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  • Nurburgringer Nurburgringer on Aug 27, 2013

    Congrats my T&C brother!!! 2 months ago I traded in my 6-sp 2012 Mazda 5 (first new car) on a 2011 T&C “Touring-L” when I learned my wife and I (and two dogs) would be relocated to Houston TX (i.e. the 10th cicle of driving Hell) for my job. Always like the latest gen GC/T&C, and while we wouldn’t make use of the full cargo capacity all that often that was my excuse to get one. Criteria were brown interior (black would be too hot in TX, and the off-white too easily stained. Learned that approx. 95% of all GC/T&Cs have either black or white interiors…), white or silver ext (again, TX), 2011-2013 model for engine and better interior. After quite a bit of visiting various dealers within 150 miles of Milwaukee and driving a number of 2011 or 2012 models w/ 30k miles that “oh yeah, this was a rental from FL or KY……” found a 2011 “Touring-L” with 11k miles for $24k. Only option lacking from my wish list is hands-free phone, because the 75yr old previous owner evidently didn’t have a cell phone…. And of course memory seats which probably costs Chrysler $50 in parts but they cruelly withhold for the top-dog Limited model. Mine does have Nav, Sat rad, 340N 20gig HD head unit, back up cam, power doors and seats etc. Could have gone with a new one for probably only 5k more but this dealer gave me $14k on my Mazda trade-in, over $1000k more than the other nearest offer. The two-day, 1200 mile drive from Milwaukee to Houston went very smoothly and so far it’s been WAY quieter, smoother and more comfy than the Mazda5 would have been in Houston. Looking forward to camping out in it for the US GP in Austin come November! Mine handles better than the 2010 I once rented, but is still pretty wallowy so may investigate suspension differences in the 2013 ‘S’ model. If it’s only bigger sway bars I may have to upgrade. One interesting thing, is that in Houston a T&C is virtually an exotic. They’re everywhere in Milwaukee but here new Camaros probably outsell all Minivans combined. Now I just need to find a “Texas” or “King Ranch Edition” badge to stick on the back :) Best of luck with yours!!! icon

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    • Nurburgringer Nurburgringer on Aug 29, 2013

      @beanbear Thanks! Sold the 308 last month in Milwaukee since there's no AC, there is a manual trans and it would be torture to subject the car and driver to Houston. The CRX, however, isn't worth nearly enough to pry it away from me so that came along. Matching color scheme as the Town&Country makes for a funky pair. Like a car and the box it came in :)

  • Beanbear Beanbear on Sep 04, 2013

    We just bought this exact one last night, after testing the Odyssey and Quest (no Sienna because we can't stand the center stack/cockpit). Comparably equipped, the latter 2 were about $7-8K more. Cost as no object, it could have been a toss-up with the Odyssey. It felt like a 3-row Accord, but the driver ergonomics were too “Honda” (good overall layout, but when in doubt, they added 10 arbitrary buttons per function), the “lightning bolt” profile is awful, and it drives rubbery like a current-gen Sonata but with the Honda road noise. The Quest was a polished limo, but overlooked obvious details... the 2nd row’s seat belt receivers are in small wells that will overflow with crushed Cheerios and raisins; LATCH hooks are partially obstructed by fabric overlap; the up-level side skirts bang against the curbs; etc. The T&C S isn’t perfect. The post-'11 interior upgrades really are stunning, but some fit & finish is still pretty Chrysler... a few buttons and controls feel hollow and cheap; a ceiling bin is slightly misaligned; a couple dials (lights, IP panel illumination) feel vague; etc. These are minor, but there's a noticeable difference between it, and our '07 Element and our '02 Sportcross, and even my sister-in-law’s ’08 Sedona. But that said, the big things feel well-executed – the seats are great and firm – more like modernist furniture than Lazy Boy; Stow N Go is terrific; the TTAC-noted driving dynamics and front cabin setup (with the “super console”) make it feel like a premium sedan; it’s quiet and feels solid. We paid in the high $28k’s, and it has a ridiculous amount of content for the price. It’s so much content that I might buy the 10yr/100k mi bumper-to-bumper warranty for $1300-ish. I’d be shocked if the power lift gate and both doors make it that long, much less the backup camera, the nav’s HDD, or any of the entertainment system gizmos. On a side note, our dealer was open late wrapping up their “must take delivery by” deals yesterday. The finance/paperwork guy complained that they were going to be there until midnight. I said “it’s good, right? Moving a lot of cars?” He shook his head and said in a beleaguered, not sales-y, way, “it’d be nice if we made money on 1 of them.”

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    • Beanbear Beanbear on Sep 04, 2013

      @Thomas Kreutzer >> Now you need to tell Chrysler that TTAC’s articles helped you decide to shop their vehicles. It’d be nice if this author could get a test ride or something out of the deal. Will do. FWIW, TTAC moved the T&C up the priority list and - in particular - was a very good counterweight to other reviews that, well, just seemed blatantly biased re: the Odyssienna. We'd rented a 2011 GC in FL a couple years ago, and I was impressed. Had my eye on a T&C S once they were announced because it seemed like the right combo for us: the add'l T&C sound insulation, GC R/T-esque suspension, the nav/window shade bundle, less chrome throughout. Re: the nylon seat inserts, I had them in a '99 G20t. They wore extremely well, stayed cooler in summer/warmer in winter, didn't feel "furry" like most conventional auto cloth. Although I did find you needed to use more common sense re: potential tearing (e.g. - our dog's nails). Seems harder to seamlessly repair a nylon tear. >>Perhaps if the F&I guy was a little more customer focused, he could make a better commission by selling you that service contract right then and there. If not you, maybe someone else. What's everyone's instinct on the service contract? My gut tells me something electrical & >$1K is bound to fail sometime after year 3. Not a dig on Chrysler per se, though my True Delta skimming indicates something like a power lift gate is more likely to fail in - say, year 5 - than in an Odyssienna.

  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.
  • Akear What is GM good at?You led Mary............................................What a disgrace!
  • Randy in rocklin I have a 87 bot new with 200k miles and 3 head gasket jobs and bot another 87 turbo 5 speed with 70k miles and new head gaskets. They cost around 4k to do these days.