The Cold Hard Light Of Reality: Three Months With The Town & Country S

Thomas Kreutzer
by Thomas Kreutzer
the cold hard light of reality three months with the town country s

Buying a new car is exciting and if you are like me, you spend weeks comparing the possible candidates. You start out by looking at photos and reading road tests. You gather sales brochures, pour over the spec sheets and examine the option packages. You compare prices, build fleets of similarly optioned virtual vehicles at the manufacturers’ websites and eventually head to the dealership. You kick the tires, poke, prod and handle the merchandise. You find things you don’t like and things you do. You take a test drive, go home to think and come back to drive again. Eventually you buy.

Signing the papers on a new car is pure euphoria. It’s an orgasm of consumerism. Your signature spills out the end of the pen and onto the paper in the ultimate release after weeks of delicate maneuvering and pent-up anticipation. It is the point where years of scrimping and saving intersect with the idea that the future is a real place and that you are committed to going there. When the act is completed, you are exhausted but happy. You’ve made your choice, are locked into the relationship and have no choice but to be happy with what you’ve done. You have invested too much to admit to making a mistake.

Three months into the relationship that surge of emotion is long gone and you are living with the results. The cold, hard light of reality shines upon the choice you have made and the real assessment begins. I am there now. It has been almost three months and 1500 miles since I spent my own hard-earned money on a 2013 Chrysler Town & Country S. Summer is long gone and autumn is turning to winter, how fares the vehicle?

Pretty damn well, actually. With so few miles on the clock, the engine is just beginning to break-in but so far there have been no problems. The mill is smooth, quiet and makes oodles of power. Those ponies drive the car through a slick shifting transmission that has already learned my wife’s driving habits and connect to the road through a well-sorted chassis. As someone who dislikes revving an engine to make a car go, I’m glad that the 3.6 Pentastar piles on the torque early and the van accelerates smoothly all across the rev range. The suspension, which feels plush and compliant on the rough Buffalo roads, keeps the car solidly planted in the curves and allows spirited drivers to silence cranky babies in the back seat through the miracle of lateral G-force induced blackouts. That’s only slightly facetious by the way, this puppy likes the corners.

Mechanically the T&C is a winner but I am also amazed that an amount of thought that went into its interior. I noticed the well thought out controls and good looking instrument cluster on our initial test drives, but it wasn’t until after I purchased the vehicle that I got the opportunity to see what it looked like at night. When the sun goes down and the lights come up, the already beautiful instrument cluster turns into a 1950’s Wurlitzer Juke-Box and the neon theme runs the length of the passenger compartment in the form of dim blue interior lighting that illuminates the cabin from behind the overhead console. There is even a blue LED band that runs around the drink holder in the console between the front seats. To someone more cultured than yours truly that might seem like a trite little add-on, but to me lighting effects are to the new millennium what tail fins are to the 1950s.

Had I purchased one of the lesser models, my inner cheapskate would not have allowed me to check the box that includes all the electronic gizmos that the S package comes with, but they truly add that extra layer of luxury to an already well composed machine. When my family took a day trip to Toronto a week or two ago the in-dash blue ray DVD player and twin overhead flat screens went into instant operation and kept the kids’ attention the entire ride. The navigation, something I have forgone on every vehicle with the exception of the JDM Mazda MPV we owned in Okinawa, usually runs quietly in the background while I drive, but was used extensively during our trip into the maelstrom that is the Toronto area freeway system. With the single exception of the device steering us into the collector lanes for the last part of our trip rather than directing us into the express lanes, the Navi functioned flawlessly.

The best news is that all this technology is easy to use. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but sometime in the last few years the tech aficionado that once occupied my skin turned into a crotchety old man. The days of me sitting down and reading an owner’s manual are long gone. If I can’t learn how something works in less than 5 minutes of trial and error, I’m unhappy. Chrysler’s technology package is simple enough that I was able to learn how it worked on the fly. I will admit that I had to research how to hook the cell phone into the blue tooth system, but even that was accomplished in just a couple of minutes.

Of course there have been a couple of issues, too. The back up sensors my wife wanted installed as a dealer added option are less than satisfactory. The initial install was fraught with problems and the van went to the dealer four times to have the problems resolved. The end result is a system that is far too sensitive for my taste, sounding the alarm at even minor changes in the pavement behind the van as we back up, and with a chirpy warning alarm that is shrill and cheap-sounding in a van that exudes solidity, quiet and comfort. The good news is that the dealer did their best to make things right by giving us free loaner vehicles every time the van visited their shop and by adding a full rust proofing treatment at no cost to me.

Three months and 1500 miles is not a lot of time with a new vehicle, but it is long enough that the rose colored glasses have come off. The euphoria is gone and the hard, cold light of the day after is here. Day to day life with the T&C is smooth and easy and if I was not totally in love when I rolled the dice and took her home, I have learned over the ensuing weeks of our relationship that there is more to her than meets the eye. Pretty to look at, warm, soft and thoughtful when I am in her embrace and with an amazing combination of practicality and unexpected strength she is, I think, a jewel. If she is durable as well, then our love will be one for the ages.

Thomas 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.

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  • Reicher Reicher on Dec 08, 2013

    I love these Vans!! Driving my moms 2000 Caravan through 4 ft high of snow(literally) at 17 was so fun. Never slowed it down. They got rid of it at 340000km (211266 miles). Not a mechanically thing wrong with it other then burning a bit of oil. The 2002 Caravan they got next felt so natural to drive coming from the 2000. They still have it and its at 230000km (142915 miles) so far. They are now looking at the 2011 style Caravan or 2011 style Journey. My mom can't wait lol

  • MattPete MattPete on Dec 17, 2013

    I've said this before, and I'll say it again: last year when we went looking for a minivan to replace our now too-small Mazda 5 (1 kid, with twins on the way), the Chrysler Town & Country won hands down. Handling: The T&C had a firm (but not nearly as bone jarring as the 5) and taught suspension. Comfortable, and with no float. Very predictable and tossable (a BMW 3-series my daily driver). Hefty, manly steering. The Odyssey, on the other hand rode smoother--sorta. Frankly, the Odyssey (2012) is underdamped, which lead it to feeling smoother on some roads, but have uncontrolled jiggling on other roads. It might have had an IRS, but the uncontrolled jiggling gave me flashback to live rear axles. Handling-wise, well, it's floaty. I don't care what the other reviews say, it floats like a boat. The steering is feather-light (and disconnected), which my wife liked. Quality and design: I would rate everything in Odyssey a "B". Nothing higher, nothing lower. The Town and Country is a mishmash of A+ and C-grade parts. Luckily, the "A+" parts are where you encounter them the most (e.g. front dash layout and materials, ergonomics of controls that I can actually reach and do not slope away from me). Ultimately, we bought the Odyssey, because it was my wife's decision and daily driver, and she wanted 3-across seating in the second row. Fast-forward a year, and I needed to take my wife's Odyssey in for warranty work. The loaner they gave me was a …. Caravan (2013)! OK, the Caravan had a nasty, cheap interior compared to the T&C and Odyssey, but compared to the Odyssey I had just driven to the dealership, it felt like a go-kart (must have the same suspension tuning as the T&C). Mazda 5: the Miata of minivans T&C: BMW 3-series of minivans Odyssey: Grandpa's Buick.

    • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Feb 11, 2014

      As a fellow 5 owner also looking for a larger van (the 5 becomes mine now) I'm glad to read this. We are looking to lease and not buy. I'm willing to lease a Chrysler to see how it goes. If it goes well, I'll buy the next one (maybe our lease) if it works out. Caravan too cheap to me and I'd rather have leather with kids (standard in Chrysler now), which can't be had unless moving up to EX-L Oddy or XLE Toyota. Not digging the suede inserts on the Toyota Sienna SE, though I like that van a lot ( though not 19 inch wheels).

  • Wolfwagen Didnt these have an iPad for the owners manual?
  • Ollicat Another crazy thing to consider is insurance. I found out a modest NEW car with all the new safety add-ons will cost $1000 a year less to insure than a 10 year old beater, when insuring teenagers.
  • Dukeisduke Avoid the Ford Windstar at all costs, especially if has the Essex 3.8l V6. Besides the Essex V6, these things had terrible rust problems with the front subframe (if you live someplace where things rust), the automatic transmissions had big problems, and the rear twist beam axle had a tendency to fracture, literally killing some drivers.
  • TMA1 I did an audit of a major Korean chaebol a decade ago, and this is the car they sent every day to pick me up. That back seat was the place to be. Especially on the passenger side with the reclining chair and footrest. I always wanted to get one for myself, but couldn't afford the driver needed to fully enjoy it.
  • Dukeisduke Add audible commands, like, "Stop tailgating, you moron!", and, "Slow down - you're gonna kill us all!" I was going to suggest using the voices of Tom and Ray Magliozzi, but sadly, only Ray is still with us (RIP, Tom).