Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Tito F. Hermoso | posted July 15, 2010 14:35
The Soccer Moms runabout
If there was a car that was designed by the soccer mom for the soccer mom, it must be the 1984 Dodge Caravan. It was categorized as a minivan in the good 'ol USA, just as the soccer mom blossomed into a new social phenomenon, some say, social force for good. That's when the Mother of the house, usually tethered to the kitchen, living room and bedroom, now had to take care of shopping for the groceries, taking the kids to school and weekly soccer practice. She also had to juggle a 2nd part time or even full time job, even as Mr. Hubby had to spend even more time at the office and flying off to conventions all over the "hub-and-spoke" frequent flyer life ushered by the Reagan era.
The Chrysler Town and Country, the cousin of the Dodge Caravan, continues to epitomize the practical efficiency of a kitchen and the relaxing mood of a living room. The latest T&C has a quieter and more absorbent ride while concealing considerable usable under floor stowage space, with less vehicle height. The steering, which is weightier than the average Yank-mobile is a good match if one chooses the sports car-like near-the-floor seating position that can be concocted via the 8-way power seats, height adjustable steering column and the height adjustable brake pedal. The same features can also re-create a van or SUV's high perch, if that's momsie's thing.
Lower than an SUV, higher than a station wagon
What can't be denied is that the minivan's lower floor makes walking in easier than climbing over into an SUV. As many van gear shifters move to knee or elbow height, Chrysler places its mini-T-bar on the dash, right in front of the steering wheel. It's quite a reach, farther than the old fashioned column shifter, especially when you want to engage the side-to-side auto-stick manual shift feature, but its easy to get used to. The brakes have a typical American spongy feel but do not shame a product developed by the former DaimlerChrysler AG.
Ambience of a working home
At night, Chrysler's homage to the soccer mom, the genesis of the minivan craze 26 years ago is apparent in the kitchen bright LED lighting of the interior. Unlike the soccer mom's domestic realm, the Touring version is not lined with wall to wall Formica and floored by Rubbermaid. In fact, the burled maple and alloy accents on the dash could have well come from a Maybach. Vertical and overhead space is always put to good storage use. And anything that's not needed after use, can be tidied up and stowed.
Stow n' Go vs. Swivel n' Go
In fact, the Town and Country pioneered the stow n' go seats a concept understood by Japanese and Koreans who live with daily keeping of futons in their traditional homes. Whenever the seats are serving their intended purpose, huge lidded storage cavities become available for more stuff for keeps. Ironically, the Japanese and Korean minivans, taking a page out the Captain's chairs of big US vans of the late 70's, made seats that swivel n'go, the other seating option that Chrysler offers. The difference between the 2 is that the more substantial swivel n'go armchairs do take up a little more space. Those accustomed to the budget airline like padding of the stow n' go seats have learned to fully utilize the folding armrests and extended head restraints to make up for lean seat mass.
Those pesky Germans
Still, it certainly wasn't a practical woman of the house who designed the key used to open the fuel filler cap; the regular steel shaft is inserted in the Mercedes style stubby plastic fob. The German engineers must have sneaked into the soccer mom's kitchen. Ah, the ways of the gentler sex are not always plainly obvious. But, women, like the Town & Country have come a long way. Its debatable whether to give credit to the women or the German engineers during the DaimlerChrysler AG era, but the rear view camera view and the power fold 3rd row of stow n' go seats makes a perfect calming and convenience match to the power doors, tailgate and power rear vent windows.
At long last, Chrysler Town and Country variant we've been clamoring for is here. Though the excellent turbocharged diesel engine Town and Country has been a staple in Europe, and at one time was made in Graz, Austria, it quite while before it got here. In fact, it took several changes in Chrysler's owners/managers - Daimler Benz, Cerberus, US Federal government, Provincial government of Ontario, the Autoworkers Union and FIAT - and its second near death experience in its lifetime for our market to get this most appropriate variant.
Though FIAT and Mercedes Benz are quite cutting edge when it comes to common rail direct injection [crdi] multi-valve turbocharged diesel engine technology, the Chrysler Town & Country diesel engine was a product of an earlier production joint venture. VM Motori of Italy is better known to car manufacturers as an outsourced engine designer and manufacturer. VM Motori has created many diesel engines that are now being mass produced by the car giants that commissioned them and sold under their brand name. That's why VM Motori's designs are found in some Korean and European mass produced engines.
Comparable to the Germans and Koreans
The smooth running 4-cylinder diesel pumps out 163hp from 2.8 liters of displacement. All Chrysler Town and Countries have the latest 6-speed automatics. If the diesel's power looks deficient compared to the 197hp of the 3.8-liter V-6 gas T & C's, pay attention to the torque. The diesel produces 359Nm at 1,600rpm while the gas does 312Nm at a highish 4,000rpm. While short rpm bands are typical of diesels, its impressive bursts of acceleration betters the V-6 and allows the 6-speed transmission to keep up the momentum. In fact its 0-100km/h time is 2 seconds faster than the V-6 gas and easily 2km/liter thriftier on the highway on cheaper diesel fuel.
Having been designed as an appliance, the T & C has attained the status of white goods. The front grille, the angle of the steering, the easy utility dashboard and the overhead utility array with mood lighting keeps to the original concept. Style wise, the modern and upright T & C has enough Euro accents to make it look "global". Makes translating the T & C into the Routan, the Volkswagen version made in the Windsor, Ontario factory, easy. As a minivan, it is actually dwarfed in height and width by Grand Starexes and Grander Grandia's.
Not far away from home
It's a mobile hearth, made even more practical for our streets by the introduction of diesel power. There is always something soothing and heartwarming about home, something the Town and Country exudes. Credit this welcome homespun feel, the infinitely practical and yet efficient ways of a woman's touch at the center of domicile life.