08/03/04 — Seats are thing in 2005 Town & Country

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Seats are thing in 2005 Town & Country

Chrysler Town & Country (2005)

Let’s talk seats. Because that’s what Chrysler wants us to talk about when addressing the 2005 Town and Country minivan.

Seats are a big part of minivans. They allow families to transport seven or eight youngsters and adults to the soccer match or the movie or on the family vacation.

Chrysler Town and Country, 2005

But it’s not so much the seats themselves. Minivan seats are comfortable, especially when they are of the captain’s chair variety. Even in the back row, the seats are generally user friendly compared to the torturous third-row seats in sport utilities.

The big problem is what to do with the seats when the minivan must be used for hauling objects, not people.

Back in the dark ages of the minivan, seats had to be physically removed and stored if cargo space was paramount.

When Chrysler invented the segment in 1983, no one complained about hauling out the third-row seat and storing it in the garage. It was the only game in town.

Back then, improvement was measured in how light they could make the seat. It was big news when manufacturers developed a seat that one person could wrestle out of the van and haul into the garage without the aid of another person and without having to visit a chiropractor the next day.

Those days are gone, given way to modern technology. Lifting and carrying are no longer part of the equation. Virtually every new van now has a third-row seat that flips and folds into the floor.

Chrysler was late joining the disappearing seat crowd. But the world’s minivan sales leader has now come on board and it calls its new invention “Stow ‘n Go.”

Chrysler had to come up with something new and useful because of the renewed interest in the minivan segment, which has created fierce competition after years of comparative neglect.

Toyota’s new Sienna, introduced last year with a myriad of innovations, has earned rave reviews and has been off the chart in sales. It has a fold-in-the-floor rear seat. The Honda Odyssey, introduced five years ago as the first minivan with the disappearing seat, still commands nearly sticker price. And Honda is introducing an all-new Odyssey this summer promising many advancements.

Ford introduced a new van in 2003 for the ’04 model year, the Freestar, that includes an easy-to-use disappearing seat. General Motors is putting the finishing touches on a new fleet of minivans to be introduced next year. Presumably they will come with rear seats that fold out of sight.

Besides the new fold away seats, the Town & Country has a lot going for it including outstanding styling that still ranks the best in class, a car-like driving experience, excellent handling, a quiet and comfortable interior and an attractive dashboard layout.

The seat issue aside, Chrysler has come up with its share of innovations in recent years including power sliding doors and a power rear hatch.

But the seat thing has been a bugaboo for Chrysler Corporation. Now we have “Stow ‘ Go.”

We thought we’d give the seats a test putting ourselves in the place of a new owner.

When we get a minivan we normally don’t mess with the seats. But since this is the big deal in the new T&C, we decided to try the “Stow ‘n Go” system by reading only the instructions attached to the side of the middle-row seats and pasted to the rear quarter panel.

There were no Chrysler experts or educated salesmen standing over us to offer helpful hints. If we could operate “Stow ‘n Go,” then you should be able to operate it, too, we figured.

The rear seat, which is split in a 60-40 configuration, is a snap. Pull strap one to drop the seatback, pull strap two to release the seat and pull strap three to pull the seat over and tumble it into the well. The seatback can also be pulled down and used as the cushion of a rear-facing seat for a tailgate party.

Chrysler’s big bragging point is stowing the second row seats as well. Instructions were simple. Follow steps 1,2,3, and 4. We had to scratch our head a couple of times and figure out some things, such as moving the front seat up on the tracks to completely expose the storage well. Then we had to make sure the headrests were completely recessed.

From that point, stowing a seat was a snap. Mrs. America, with very little practice, will have no problem quickly converting her Chrysler into a cavernous 168-cubic-foot cargo hold.

By the way, the second row seats when in use can be moved several inches fore and aft to create legroom.

And there’s another rather interesting feature of “Stow ‘n Go.” When the second-row seats are not stowed, the in-the-floor seat storage bins can be used as nifty receptacles for everything from camera equipment to laptops to the kids’ toys.

We think Chrysler is on to something worthwhile here.

Chrysler definitely has a leg up on the competition, although we don’t know yet what Honda has up its sleeve when it unveils the new Odyssey this summer.

The Town & Country comes in four trim levels — base, LX, Touring and Limited. The base model is the only standard wheelbase version, the other three are extended wheelbase. The extended wheelbase is now the norm, basically the same size as the Toyota, Honda and Ford.

The “Stow ‘n Go” seating is not available in the base model, which otherwise includes a fair amount of amenities — air conditioning, power locks and windows, stereo with CD player and cruise control — for a base price of $21,000.

Two engine sizes are available, a 3.3-liter V-6 generating 180 horsepower and a 3.8-liter V-6 making 215 horsepower.

Although we think either engine is acceptable depending on your circumstances, we would opt for the bigger powerplant if hauling large numbers of people or big loads of cargo are a general rule.

For empty nesters who usually have no more than two people aboard and only occasionally carry the neighbors to dinner, the 3.3-liter is adequate. The 3.3-liter is standard in the base and LX models. The 3.8 is standard in Touring and Limited.

You can make your Town & Country as safe as you feel necessary, but you may have to pay for some of that safety in options. For instance, side-curtain airbags that cover all three rows are a $595 option. If you have kids riding in back, get the curtain airbags. And traction control is an option except on the top trim level.

Our LX test van came with four-wheel disc antilock brakes and a driver-side inflatable knee blocker as standard equipment.

Chrysler officials stress that the 2005 Town & Country is actually less expensive than the 2004 model. Trim lines start at $21,000 for the base, $25,450 for LX, $27,750 for Touring and $35,750 for the lavishly equipped Limited.

Our LX came minus the power sliding doors and entertainment system, but was otherwise well equipped for $27,295 with a few options including upgraded stereo, roof rack, rear air conditioning, garage door opener and power driver’s seat.

Chrysler encountered quality problems with the Town & Country in the ’90s. But we think many of those issues have been cleared up.

For peace of mind, Chrysler has included a 7-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty on the Town & Country.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on August 3, 2004 2:25 PM