Driver's Seat / Chrysler has a way to go after Town & Country


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2014 Chrysler Town & Country S: Part two of our three-part minivan mash-up.

Price: $35,025 as tested

Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the “versatile rear seating and cargo bay configurations; plentiful standard and optional features,” but not that it “doesn't ride as well as competitors" or its “limited driver legroom; occasional rough shifts from transmission; seven-passenger maximum.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Designed with innovation; focused on family.”

Reality: I want to like something from Fiat-Chrysler. No, really.

Catching up: Last week we went for an Odyssey — Honda’s minivan. Its handling made it a standout.

I really don’t hop into Fiat-Chrysler products with a mindset of “I can’t wait to cut this thing to pieces.” I know my recent Fiat 500L review was a slam, but the Dodge Dart proved to me that the company still has a few tricks up it sleeve, while the Durango is somewhere in the middle.

Still, I climbed into this van with as open a mindset as I could muster, thinking that maybe I’d put it on my short list of possible replacements for the Seat Family MPV.

It’s more a matter of, “How’s it going to go this time?” There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the accelerator pedal. On one pullout I had trouble making the vehicle move, and on the next I was laying rubber. (There’s nothing more laughable than a middle-aged guy driving a minivan and doing burnouts.)

And that unnecessary roughness appeared with great regularity even after the vehicle was moving. A shudder on the first uphill about a half-mile from home on day one was the first tip that this was going to be a bumpy ride. Little hiccups like this occurred with great regularity throughout the week.

Shifty: The gearshift is awkwardly placed on the dashboard next to the steering wheel. I’m not fond of Chrysler’s left-right shift changing mechanism, and the location of the shifter made it kind of painful to play with while driving.

Driver’s Seat: The front seats provided quite a comfortable space and I never got sore or tired driving this minivan, even on a long trip across Pennsylvania.

Friends and stuff: The middle and rear seats and cabin space are a good match for the Odyssey. They feel low to the floor, and the rear seat sits at an odd angle for my comfort, although that probably helps provide more headroom and legroom.

Interaction: The touch screen had its ups and downs. Buttons on the side of the display allow drivers to change from radio to media and back. And on the touch screen are buttons to change from AM to FM to XM. But changing the station in Sirius XM with the small arrows requires careful aim, and there’s no good place to rest your hand while doing it for leverage. Also, I dislike having to open the screen to access the CD player.

Sounds good: I do like the trigger behind the steering wheel for changing stereo function and adjusting volume.

Clear view: The gauges feature big white letters and are easy to read, standard issue for Chrysler and Dodge.

Night shift: The interior lighting is bright without interfering with the driver’s view outside. But Chrysler’s penchant for sending me vehicles with automatic high-beam control (part of an $1,845 option package that also included rain-sensitive wipers and other toys) is disappointing. The high beams will shut off when a white building appears in their path. Or a porch light. Let me stay in charge of the high beams, please.

Wiper wipeout: The wiper controls are on the turn signal stalk. Twisting the stalk doesn’t allow for easy swipes in light drizzle days. Both front and rear wipers are there, though.

Tight turns: The turning radius seems really large, just like in my old Dodge Dakota. Turning it around in my driveway was a challenge.

Fuel economy: I observed about 20 mpg in a mix of highway and suburban driving, including a long trip across the Keystone State.

Where it’s built: Windsor, Ontario.

How it’s built: Abysmally, apparently. Black dots all across the reliability scores from Consumer Reports.

In the end: The company that launched the front-wheel drive minivan in 1983 still has some way to go to catch up to 2014.

Next week: 2014 Toyota Sienna.

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at mrdriversseat@gmail.com.

“Wheels,” a special advertising supplement, appears inside today’s Post-Gazette.


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