Today's minivan is the most versatile, space-efficient passenger vehicle you can buy. Compare one side-by-side with an SUV or one of the new crossovers that are popping up everywhere to see what I mean. Note how much of the SUV's length is in front of the windshield, making the space unavailable for people or cargo, as opposed to the minivan, which compresses its mechanicals into a smaller area to allow more room for passengers and their possessions.
The roomy interior of a minivan is designed to satisfy the needs of the active family or even those of the ubiquitous sales person who requires a "mobile showroom." The same minivan that shuttles groups of kids between designated activities can also provide hauling space for that weekend trip to the local home renovation center.
In addition, minivans distinguish themselves from the pack with sliding doors for second-row passengers. Since these doors don't swing out, they can be made larger and still be opened in tight spaces -- great advantages when loading up.
For many years, Chrysler had a lock on the minivan market. At first they were the only game in town; then years later, they simply offered the best minivans out there. And when other manufacturers tried to snatch away their crown by offering new designs, Chrysler was a moving target, coming back at the competition with new features and ideas that left them reeling. Now General Motors has decided to stop making minivans altogether by the end of the decade, relying instead on their line of crossover vehicles. And Ford is doing the same thing by phasing out their current models.
Chrysler, on the other hand, still believes that the minivan market is alive and well and will account for over a million sales per year. This is a segment in which they plan to remain the dominant player, so for 2008 they have put together a volley of winning features designed to help them retain their crown as minivan leader, a position they have held since inventing the minivan in 1984.
But maintaining their place hasn't always been easy. Remember just a few years back when Honda armed their Odyssey with a third-row seat that could disappear into the floor at a time when Chrysler was touting their suddenly less-than-impressive easily-removable third-row seats. While caught off-guard at first, Chrysler came back with a vengeance, brandishing their Stow 'n Go seating, where both the second and third row seats could be slipped into the floor in less than a minute.
Now for 2008, Chrysler has added a new choice to its seating arsenal. With "Swivel 'n Go" the third-row seats are the same as with Stow 'n Go, but the second-row seats can rotate to face the rear. The shoulder belts for the second row are attached directly to each seat frame, which moves with the seat, so that passengers can remain belted with the seat in any position. Facing the second row toward the back forms a cozy conversation nook, which can be made even more useful by pulling up the table that is hidden in the floor between the two rows.
With Swivel 'n Go, you give up the ability to fold the second row seats into the floor. Instead, you can easily remove them and then roll them around on their handy wheels. This gives rise to an added bonus: the large bins under the floor once used to accommodate the Stow 'n Go seats are now available for storage. In fact, Chrysler claims there's as much room in those bins as in one of those roof-top carriers perched on so many vehicles these days. In addition, the Swivel 'n Go seats are more comfortable than the Stow 'n Go version, which had to be thin enough to allow them to be folded and concealed in the designated space in the floor.
Versatile seating systems are not the only features calculated to maintain Chrysler minivan's winning edge. Check out the available heated first- and second-row cloth or leather seats, remote engine start, second- and third-row sunshades, personalized navigation backgrounds, YES Essentials stain resistant, odor resistant, anti-static fabric, an umbrella holder next to the drivers seat, removable, dishwasher-safe cup holders, second-row power windows and an available third-row power folding seat. These features represent the type of creature comforts that give this new minivan a distinctly people-friendly character.
Now add to all of the conveniences we've mentioned so far, a family entertainment system that takes on new dimensions with options, like a dual DVD system that can play different media at the same time -- a minivan first. Then kick this up a notch with Satellite Streaming Video, a MyGIG Multimedia Infotainment System with a 20 gb hard drive and SIRIUS Backseat TV, whichreceives its signal from an in-vehicle satellite video receiver and two small roof-mounted antennas, so the kids can enjoy TV programs on the second and/or third-row video screens. These rear seat occupants can don wireless headsets while watching TV so that Mom and Dad can listen to SIRIUS Satellite Radio undisturbed up front. Passengers can even operate the system using a remote control unit from the rear-seat in addition to the radio controls on the dash and they have the ability to watch TV on one screen while another plays a DVD movie or runs a video game. And when the vehicle is in Park, the front seat occupants can display TV programming on the center dash screen as well.
While the entertainment options are versatile, don't expect the new Sirius Backseat TV to treat you to the 200 channels that you may be used to viewing at home: not even close. This system kicks off with a very select, child-friendly lineup featuring 3 channels only: Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel and the Cartoon Network. Chrysler is pricing the SIRIUS Backseat TV at a Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $470, which includes the first year of service, when packaged with Chrysler Groups Rear Seat Entertainment System (not included in the $470 price) and SIRIUS Satellite Radio. After the first year, the SIRIUS Backseat TV service is available for $7 per month when packaged with SIRIUS Satellite Radio ($12.95 per month).
Looking for more features? Chrysler minivans may win you over with their handy pop-down conversation mirror in the overhead console that allows you to monitor the goings-on in back. And if that's not enough, the 2008 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan. also offer an ambient halo light package, second-row power windows, second- and third-row sunshades, a removable, rechargeable flashlight in the rear cargo area and a new D-pillar-mounted power lift-gate button.
Now that we've sorted out the people-friendly aspects of these new Chryslers, let's get a bit technical -- these are motor vehicles after all and, even if you're not particularly technically minded, before investing in one, you should have some facts on such mechanical necessities as the motor, the transmission and the chassis.
There are three power train combinations available in the 2008 models. The base LX model uses the venerable 3.3-liter Flex-Fuel V-6 engine mated to a four-speed transaxle. This year, the 3.3 liter engine can be fueled with either regular gasoline or E85 where available. E85 means that the fuel is made up of 85 percent Ethanol, a renewable resource made from corn or other agricultural products.
The Touring model has 3.8 liter engine, which is a carryover, but now, it is mated to a new 6-speed automatic transmission. But the big news is with the upscale Limited model which sports a new 4.0 liter 251 horsepower V6, also mated to the 6-speed automatic.
This is the first 6-speed automatic transmission ever for a minivan and should give these vehicles added smoothness and efficiency as well as more spirited acceleration due to a lower-ratio first gear.
Chrysler has also refined the aerodynamics of these vehicles to minimize wind noise and used acoustic treatments to improve interior quietness. In addition, they've added high-strength and hot-stamped steel to improve structural body stiffness by 10 percent over previous models, which helps reduce noise, vibration and harshness.
The new Chrysler minivans make safety standard. Features include all-row supplemental side-curtain air bags with added rollover protection, antilock brakes, Electronic Stability Program to intercept an impending skid and react to keep the vehicle on the driver's intended course by applying individual brakes and cutting engine power before most driver's would realize there was a problem.
Chrysler also offers the ParkView rear back-up camera as part of an option package, but in my opinion, this safety feature should be standard on any tall vehicle with restricted views to the rear. Heck, it should be standard on all vehicles. It saves lives.
Bottom line: If you're in the market for a versatile vehicle with creature comforts and efficient space utilization, don't overlook the people-friendly Chrysler minivans. Chrysler is fighting hard to show Americans how the new feature-rich Town and Country and its sister, the Dodge Grand Caravan, can suit their busy lifestyles. Of course, SUVs and crossovers are vying to win your attention with macho looks and off-road capabilities that you may never use, but before you succumb to the call of the wild, make sure that down the road you won't be wishing you had the extra space, versatility and simple pleasures that these minivans can readily deliver!
Standard Equipment (partial list)
175 horsepower, 3.3 liter V6 Flex-Fuel engine
4-speed automatic transmission
P225/60R16 all season tires on steel wheels
Full wheel covers
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Manual sliding side doors
Front, rear and third row head airbags
7 person seating capacity
Removable 2nd row bench seat
Manual folding split-bench third row seats
Remote power door locks
Tilt-adjustable steering wheel
115V auxiliary power outlet
Interior conversation mirror
AM/FM in-dash single CD player, CD-controller with CD MP3 Playback and 4 speakers
Touring adds... (partial list)
197 horsepower, 3.8 liter V6 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
Exterior temperature display
Front fog/driving lights
8-way power driver seat
Stow 'n Go seating
2nd-row power windows
Rear air conditioning with heater
Air conditioning with 3-zone manual temperature control
AM/FM in-dash single CD player, CD-controller with CD MP3 Playback and 6 speakers
Power mirrors with heating element
Illuminated cup holders
Leather-wrapped steering wheel & shift knob
Overhead ambient surround lighting
Overhead storage bins
Removable rechargeable flash light
Power adjustable pedals
Power sliding passenger doors
Rear power liftgate door
Steering-wheel-mounted audio controls
Universal garage door opener
power opening rear quarter windows
Limited adds... (partial list)
251 horsepower, 4.0 liter SOHC V6 engine
P225/65R17 all-season tires on 17 inch chrome alloy wheels
Xenon high intensity discharge headlamps
Rear view camera
Rear parking sensors
Premium leather upholstery
Three zone automatic climate control with interior air filtration
8-way power driver seat with memory
8-way power passenger seat
Heated front and second row seats
Remote engine start
AM/FM in-dash single CD/DVD, CD-controller with CD MP3 Playback 506 watt stereo with 9 speakers and a built-in hard drive
Major Available Options (Partial List, depends on model, some options are only available as part of a package, see your Chrysler dealer for details)
Climate Control Group: Rear air conditioning, heavy-duty alternator (LX only)
LX #2: Includes Climate Control Group, Cruise Control and YES Essentials floor mats
LX #3: Includes LX #2, Stow n Go seating, second-row power windows, third-row power vents, power adjustable pedals, remote start, comp/temperature/trip readout in I/P, power heated mirrors
Entertainment Group #1: Second-row eight-inch overhead DVD screen, video remote control, two wireless headphones, six speakers, 115-volt inverter, MyGIG radio without navigation, SIRIUS Satellite Radio (with first-year subscription provided by SIRIUS) (LX only)
Power Remote Entry Group: Power sliding driver and passenger doors, power liftgate, power driver seat, driver lumbar, power second-row windows, power third-row vents, power heated mirrors (LX only)
Stow n Go Seating and Storage System: Second-row bucket seats that fold into the floor, third-row 60/40 fold-in-the-floor bench seats (LX only)
Swivel N Go Seat System: Second-row quad chairs which swivel 180 rearward to face the third-row seats, removable, storable table that installs between the second- and third-row seats, third-row fold-in-the-floor 60/40 bench seat
Entertainment #2: Second- and third-row eight-inch overhead DVD screens, single CD/DVD player, MyGIG entertainment system without navigation, two two-channel wireless headphones, switchable video remote control, SIRIUS Satellite Radio (with first-year subscription provided By SIRIUS) (Touring only)
Family Value Group: Second- and third-row retractable sunshades, premium removable front sliding center console (Touring only)
Security Group: Security alarm, UConnect Hands-free Communication system that is Bluetooth compatible, rear auto-dim mirror, chrome signal mirrors, ParkSense rear back-up assist system
Surround Sound Group: Ten speakers with subwoofer and 506-watt amplifier (Touring only)
Touring #2: MyGIG Entertainment System without navigation, heated first- and second-row seats, second- and third-row retractable sunshades, premium removable sliding front center console, SIRIUS Satellite Radio (with first- year subscription provided by SIRIUS), leather seats, eight-way power passenger seat (Touring only)
Touring #3: Touring #2, three-zone automatic temperature control, 17-inch aluminum wheels/tires, EVIC with premium TPM system, remote start, Entertainment Group #2 (Touring only)
Entertainment Group #3:Second- and third-row eight-inch overhead DVD screens, single CD/DVD player, two two-channel wireless headphones, switchable video remote control, SIRIUS Backseat TV with first-year subscription provided By SIRIUS (Limited Only)