2013 Chrysler Town & Country – in review.

In Summary

  • Quiet, smooth ride
  • Great mileage and performance
  • Good overall build quality
  • Feature packed
  • High depreciation
  • Some “Chrysleritis” to be found

Scores: Exterior – 6/10 | Interior – 9/10 | Comfort – 8/10 | Performance – 7/10

Overall: 7/10 (9/10*)

Recently, during a week of volunteering, I had the opportunity to drive a 2013 Chrysler Town & Country.  The Town & Country is basically a Dodge Caravan for the grown up sophisticated type.  Chrysler puts these vans into the same price point as the Japanese imports; Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.  This puts the van into some very stiff competition, a fact that is hard to shake from the back of your mind as you drive.  Overall, the Town & Country made a good argument for itself.  The week’s drive included over 700 kms of highway driving, family trips, camping and luggage hauling.  The interior was spacious and fit a growing family of four comfortably.  Seats were comfortable and felt well made.  Thick, leather wrapped steering wheel felt pleasant and added to the luxurious feel of the driving cabin.

What this van offers in spades, despite some shortcomings, is exceptional value.  You’ll have to read through to see where I’m coming from.

From the outside

One of the hard facts to overcome with the Town & Country is it’s looks.  Because this is an upgraded Dodge Caravan it, well, looks like a Dodge Caravan.  In fact, while the new Caravan features a stylish LED design in the brake lights, the Town & Country does not.  The box look of the van isn’t very appealing.  From the front the grill and headlight design are simple but attractive.  Large black plastic side mirrors seem to stand out a bit but provide good visibility.  There really isn’t much to talk about from the outside of this van.  Even the wheel design and side trims are simple, under stated even.  Our test van had some build inconsistencies on the outside.  The black plastics on the door pillars are actually hard plastic adhesives that peel, with little effort, from the base metal.  It seems only a couple winters and they would come off all together.  Other plastic pieces don’t fit quite well on the outside and makes the Town & Country feel cheaper.  Considering the price of entry, $37,000 for this model, and its competition you might expect better.

Inside out

The Town & Country is deceiving.  Driving the van caused me to harken back to the days I drove my 2000 Chrysler 300M.  I was enjoying the long list of options that come standard on the Touring trim.  Automatic climate control for driver, passenger and rear, backup camera, integrated hard drive and the Chrysler uConnect system all come standard.  Our tester included navigation, a sunroof and the rear Video Entertainment System.  Interior build, unlike the exterior, features soft plastics and high quality fabrics.  It feels solid and there is no signs of shotty assembly.  Chrysler’s uConnect system is, well, unintuitive to say the least.  As an avid tech geek my first task was to pair the van with my phone via Bluetooth.  There are no menu options to do so on the screen, you have to do it by voice command.  Voice command is a long way from what we see in Star Trek and navigating the phone menu is VERY time consuming.  It took me an astounding 4 attempts and 15 minutes to successfully pair my phone – compared to less than 2 in a Ford Sync.  Chrysler says they’ve made the system easier to use, I’d hate to think how long it would have taken before.  After some time with the system I got a hang of the voice commands and started to make use of them.  It’s a bit of a learning curve for driver and van.  The settings menu for audio and navigation is frustratingly minimal.  Notably lacking is speed adjusted volume.  All in all the system seems functional but basic.

Navigation is an option that, in my opinion, is a must on this van.  The Garmin branded system integrates into the driver information LCD between your speedo and tachometer dials in addition to the center LCD screen.  Navigation is fast and accurate, changing courses happens quickly.  The display is nicer than the Tom Tom plug in I have, even including generated facsimiles of the highway exit – surprisingly accurate to the real thing – to help you visually navigate.  This is a small option to add considering the price of the vehicle.  Other dashboard features are cruise control, full auto up/down driver and passenger windows, power seats and class exclusive stow and go.  Controls for the power door are on the overhead console with the power sunroof.  A rear cabin mirror is a common feature in modern vans but is comically small in the Town & Country.  Steering wheel mounted cruise and audio controls are standard as well.  Radio controls are located on the rear of the steering wheel and rather small.  Anyone with a decent pair of mitts might have trouble using them without hitting the small select button in the middle.

Chrysler’s Vehicle Entertainment System is actually better than what you find in the Honda and Toyota.  While they have chosen to go with a crazy wide screen that can split, Chrysler has front and back 9″ screens.  Located next to the driver sliding door is a big panel of inputs for video game consoles.  Wireless headphones are also included in the kit, more available for purchase.  Chrysler has used LED lighting to create a wonderful ambiance in the van during the night.  It actually feels like you’re in a higher class theater or after hours lounge.  The upgraded audio system does a remarkable job with audio reproduction considering it’s an OEM system.  Listening to music during the drives was an outright pleasure and movies were reproduced in a theater like quality.  The seats are made from a soft fabric and a comfortable foam support.  Considering their size they are very comfortable.  A major drawback, however, is their inability to “breathe”.  On hot days you’ll find yourself sweating through shirts against the seat.

All in all, while inside the Town & Country you forget the simple exterior and actually find yourself enjoying your drive.  Despite being the same cabin as a Caravan, it feels and looks much better, even when comparing the crew level.

All that makes it go

In 2011 Chrysler emerged a privately held company from bankruptcy.  Part of this emergence featured a whole lineup of redesigned vehicles and a new core drive train.  The Pentastar 3.6L V6 was the center of Chrysler’s new product base.  You can find this engine in minivans, cars and even the Ram truck.  Powerful and efficient, it proved to be a suitable power plant for the Town & Country.  It got up to speed on the highway quickly but was smooth through the city.  It’s mated to a six speed transmission that took a day or so to get used to.  The shift points don’t always make sense and I found the van shifting down more often than my old Ford Freestar does.  Chrysler rates it at 8L/100km (35mpg) highway and 12.5L/100km (23mpg) city and I saw an average of 10.3L/100km for the week.  There is also an “Econ” button which alters the valve timing and transmission shift points to squeeze more efficiency out of the engine.  I found this made the van drive a little better in the city but saw no real change in highway mileage; it seemed to do slightly better in regular mode.  I’ve heard owner’s reports that they do in fact see a 15-20% improvement in city driving economy.  Chrysler rates it at 3500lbs towing capacity and a tow package is available, but we didn’t get any experience testing that this week.

Consensus

Don’t buy this van.  Let me clarify that: don’t buy this van new.  The MSRP for the Town & Country Touring as equipped is $37,000.  That price puts you into Toyota Sienna SE and Honda Odyssey EX-RES territory.  While these three vans all share similar features, the build of the Honda and Toyota is slightly better.  The Honda and Toyota offer better styling as well.  Most of all the Toyota and Honda hold their value MUCH better.  The biggest shortcoming against the Chrysler Town & Country is in fact that it’s a Chrysler.  They suffer from apocalyptic depreciation.  At publication there is a good selection of 2012 Town & Country’s with the same equipment for $25,000 or less.  Each has less than 30,000km and all the same drive train and options as the 2013 we drove.  Given the van loses nearly 30% of it’s value in less than a year it’s a hard sell new.  That said, for a mere $25k you get a VERY feature packed van, the best value for your money on the market right now.  *Buy this van, but a year used.

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