Jude P. Morte / Jude P. Morte | September 18, 2006 00:00
Rare breedMinivans are a rare breed, and it would be surprising if a car company would consider a relatively niche product as its best seller. But since its launch last year the Chrysler Town and Country has proven to be CATS Motors Inc.'s (official Philippine distributor of Chrysler products) volume seller, with a claimed estimate of roughly 100 units purchased. Curiosity about why the Town and Country (T-and-C) is one of the EDSA Greenhills-based company's top sellers (the other being the Chrysler 300C) is the reason behind this test drive.
Stow without interruption of flow
Enter the Chrysler Town and Country and you'll find a cabin outfitted with lots of luxurious yet life-simplifying features, chief of which is its Stow 'n Go seating system. If you need to convert your T-and-C to a cargo-carrying workhorse, it's as easy as one-two-three — quite literally. Numbered steps on the straps and handles allow for tumbling the third-row 60/40-split bench AND the second-row bucket seats flat into the floor. For a quick three-hour delivery duty one Friday morning, this writer (along with two colleagues) tumbled the four Stow 'n Go seats in every setup possible and found the rear seats as easy to stow as the other setups encountered. Folding the second-row chairs also proved to be simple. Additionally, the third-row seat may be flipped completely rearward to provide tailgate seating.
Despite the short backrests and headrests, the light graystone leather rear seats are very comfortable, as the said trio found out during a 17-kilometer jaunt from Chino Roces Avenue to the Mantrade area, to C5 and Mandaluyong, to EDSA Greenhills and (lastly) Pasig's San Miguel Avenue. The front seats (also in light graystone leather) in are well fitting and supportive, and it's easy to find a comfy driving position using the tilt steering feature, the eight-way memory power seat and pedals adjustments.
Even the other features felt like a big plus. Rear passengers have several cupholders, including one breakaway holder mounted on the outboard side of each second-row seat. For those unfamiliar with children's antics, a breakaway cupholder is designed to fold away when stepped upon, instead of breaking off clean. There are three power outlets in the T-and-C, and the interior lighting is bright enough to find small items dropped on the carpeted floor. The aircon is strong, and vents around the unit make sure that passengers get cold air at all times. Obstacle detection for the dual power-sliding side doors is standard to protect little fingers and limbs (it WILL happen sooner or later) from getting caught between the doors. The radio replicates tones faithfully, but needs tweeters to highlight midrange and high tones.
Power for pleasure and (fuel consumption) pain
The unit's 205 hp, 250 lbs ft, 3.8-liter V6 engine is sure to deliver you and your passengers/cargo to your intended destination quickly, for acceleration when punched from a dead stop broke the front tires loose (even with the traction control on), and the automatic transmission delivered positive upshifts above 5000 rpm. Shorter, tighter gear ratios would provide even quicker acceleration, but since the T-and-C only has four forward gears, it would also mean higher rpm (and worse consumption) at highway speeds. The results with this writer speak for themselves - a C5-tested 172 kph top speed and 5.04 kilometers/liter on four days of city driving.
Hard cornering produces pitch and body roll (which is a given), but the understeer is controllable thanks to its Michelin 215/65 R16 tires. The steering feels light and nimble, making the Town and Country easy to maneuver. Unfortunately the steering is not so ideal in tight parking lots and u-turns because its 5093 mm length and 1996 mm width make moving the unit tricky, as this writer found out when he parked the minivan at a mall parking lot. The good news is that wide side mirrors and a rear park assist feature helps drivers avoid hitting people or objects who may be behind the minivan when backing out. And four-wheel disc brakes (with anti-lock brake system) grab hard, giving the driver precious additional time to react.
Despite all its positives, there are some downsides to the T-and-C driving experience. The footbrake is easy to activate, but to deactivate it you have to bend over and pull a lever to the left of the steering column (found at knee level). The headlights are bright but needs foglights to enhance night vision due to the tall ride height (1852 mm). The sloping front end can be tricky when maneuvering in tight spots. And the sunglass holder (near the ceiling-mounted menu screen) should be ditched in favor of in-car audio visual entertainment. The good news is that a DVD player is optional.
In a segment where only a handful are still active sales-wise, the Chrysler Town and Country asserts itself as a good option for those who need to carry (as its name implies) the requirements of a town and country. Just don't forget to bring lots of spare change for gasoline.