2005 Chrysler Town and Country

As a minivan owner, and one who researched makes and models extensively before selecting the Honda Odyssey in 2002, I would?ve been hard pressed to ignore Chrysler?s third generation Town and Country had this vehicle existed at the time.

Clearly the hoopla associated with the new Town and Country is its "Stow ?n Go" feature which allows near effortless folding of the second and third row seats into the floor.

Even though Honda first introduced its "magic seat" in the ?97 Odyssey, and subsequently captured huge market share with their 1999 redesign, it amazes me it took until 2004 for other manufacturers to follow suit. That said, Chrysler has introduced a very strong offering that?s turning a lot of heads.

What Chrysler did, frankly, demonstrates American ingenuity at its best. I can picture the Chrysler engineers saying "so what if the Japanese can fold the third seat into the floor, we?ll fold all the rear rows and, just for grins, we?ll split the rows and fold them independently for all kinds of seating configurations."

To illustrate how easily one can fold the seats into the floor, I showed my 5-year-old son how to do it and, within a minute, he was folding and stowing all four seat sections into the floor by himself. It takes an adult about 30 seconds to fold everything into the floor once they?ve done it a couple times.

The days of wrestling with 50 pound seats and storing them in a garage anytime you needed to haul cargo have gone the way of 8-track and cassette players. Manufacturers have taken Honda?s lead and the innovations are coming strong. It?s a great time to be shopping for a minivan.

The rest of the vehicle

Okay, you say, enough with the folding seats talk, what about the rest of the vehicle?

The Town and Country Limited is the flagship Chrysler offering and its interior and exterior styling certainly reflect its higher price point. Even in 2002, I preferred the Chrysler?s styling to my Honda?s and not much has changed my mind there.

Interior creature comforts such as three zone climate control, 8-way and 4-way power adjustable leather seats, height adjustable pedals, electrochromatic inside rearview mirror, leather-wrapped steering wheel, simulated wood dash and suede trim on the doors all help exude the feel of a luxury vehicle.

Basically, just about everything you?d expect to find in any high-end luxury sedan is standard fare in the Town and Country Limited minivan.

Both side doors are fully automated with power remote control as well as a power rear tailgate. While, yes, you can make the argument that a power rear tailgate is a nice feature for moms toting a child in one arm and a bag of groceries in another, it seems more gimmicky than a real necessity. The power side doors, however, are used all the time for quickly getting kids in and out of the minivan.

Of course my kids were fascinated with the built-in DVD player and its cordless headphones and remote control operation. While it seems a little over the top to have a DVD player in your vehicle, I believe any parent can attest to the peace and quiet you ensure yourself on a road trip when the kids are watching Toy Story or Finding Nemo for the ten thousandth time.

Another slick built-in feature was a GPS Navigation unit integrated directly into the AM/FM stereo and CD player unit. While the screen was a little smaller than I?d like for a navigation unit, it performed very well and the database was stock full of everything from gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores and ATMs. No question the Navigation system would be a huge addition for any road trip, especially when searching for a good local restaurant or nearby gas station.

Children's seats and safety

Placing children?s car seats in both the second row bucket seats and third row bench seat was a snap. The safety anchor latch hooks are conveniently placed and extremely easy to connect. As a contrast, it?s always a struggle for my wife to connect the hooks with our Odyssey.

The Town and Country also boasts four-wheel anti-lock brakes, driver and passenger air bags and traction control. The Limited model I tested also boasts side curtain airbags in all three rows.

Powering the 2005 T&C is a 3.8 liter 215 horsepower V6 that was plenty peppy to get me up to speed on any freeway onramp as well as up some of the steep hills around San Diego. One of my complaints a few years ago, when I tested Dodge and Chrysler minivans is the automatic transmissions were not as smooth as import competitors. I was pleasantly surprised to find the 2005 T&C shifted very smoothly.

The Town & Country offers four trim levels -- base, LX, Touring and Limited. The base model is the only standard-wheelbase T&C; the other three are extended-wheelbase. Base models are equipped with basic amenities like cruise control, tilt steering, air conditioning, power windows and locks, an AM/FM/CD stereo and a 3.3-liter V6 engine.

At a base price of $35,070, the Limited is certainly the most painful to your wallet and ranks as one of the more pricey minivans, but it?s also one of the more luxurious. The choice comes down to whether you want to be swathed in comforts and leather.

An all-wheel drive model is also available, but you?d have to forego the Stow ?n Go feature as getting power to the rear axles would interfere with the in-floor seating storage.

With 10 million sold and 20 years of minivan experience, Chrysler and Dodge clearly lead the minivan market segment with a 38% market share and its Town and Country flagship minivan is going to give the Japanese imports a serious challenge.

The T&C Limited will definitely dial you into any of your active lifestyle needs with style, luxury and convenience. Imagine just folding all the seats down and sliding a couple surfboards or bikes inside the vehicle. If you?re not hauling a lot of people around for your sporting adventures, you won?t even need exterior racks when transporting your favorite outdoor toys.

As mentioned earlier, it?s a great time to be shopping for a minivan.

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