Our Rental Chrysler Town & Country – Family Review

October 24, 2012 4 By Tad Reeves
Kat & Our Rental Ride by tadnkat
Kat & Our Rental Ride, a photo by tadnkat on Flickr.

We recently got back from a fairly epic trip to LA and Oregon — flying to LA, then taking the Amtrak Coast Starlight up to Oregon. We rented Chrysler vans in both locations – a Dodge Grand Caravan in LA, and its mechanical twin, the Chrysler Town & Country for our week in Oregon. We are recent minivan converts, having sold our beloved stickshift Subaru Outback so as to gain the sliding door and cavernous space offered by a minivan.

Now, the van we purchased for ourselves is a 2012 Honda Odyssey EX. Given that some of our friends are considering going the minivan route, I figured I’d offer my quick review comparing these Chrysler twins to our Honda.

  • Engine:  The Caravan and the Town & Country have Chrysler’s new Pentastar 3.6l V6, which at 286HP is theoretically the most powerful engine you can get in a minivan.  However, it makes all of its power in the upper end of the rev range – so, unless you really stomp on the throttle, the vehicle can feel strained around town or on the freeway.  Contrast this to the 248HP 3.5l V6 in the lighter Odyssey, which actually never feels strained, and regardless of numbers actually feels more powerful around town and in passing.
  • Fuel Economy:  I averaged 21 mpg in the Caravan in almost exclusively highway driving, and averaged 21.5 mpg in the Town & Country in about 80% highway driving.  Contrast that to the Odyssey which averaged 25mpg on a mixed city/highway trip to Connecticut, and 27.5 mpg on a recent all-highway trip.   Another salient feature is that the Odyssey has a fuel-saving, cylinder-deactivation mode (basically turning off 3 of the cylinders of the engine when you’re on part-throttle on the highway).  This feature activates automatically without any input from you.  So, as long as you’re careful on the throttle, it’ll kick in and save you gas.  Contrast this to the Chrysler twins which require you to push an “ECO” button on the dash when you want to save gas.  With the ECO mode active, it does manage to improve mileage, but at the same time makes throttle response lazy, and will also refuse to kick down gears when you’re going up a hill.   So, I’d definitely give the advantage to the Odyssey.Update:  I rented one of these vehicles again (a 2014 model, mechanically identical to the other Town & Country reviewed here) for a drive from DC to Knoxville, TN.   I averaged 23.87mpg over the course of a full-tank driven exclusively on the interstate – well below the 25mpg EPA highway estimate, and again – trailing the Odyssey by a considerable margin — but at least still better than other 3-row crossovers out there.
  • Seating Flexibility: Probably the best case for the Town & Country and the Grand Caravan are the nifty Stow & Go seats it has.  The middle-row captains chairs can fold flat & completely disappear under the floor with a few quick pulls, which came in handy when my daughter insisted on only sitting in the 3rd row of seats, yet we wanted some room for bags & such in the middle.  In the Odyssey, you can physically remove the middle seats or fold them forward, but they can’t do the nifty acrobatics of the Chryslers.
  • Seating Comfort: The actual main reason we ended up getting our Odyssey over the Chrysler vans was the comfort level of the seats.  The Odyssey has these fantastic thrones which are firm, supportive and extremely comfortable over long stretches.  Both my wife and I loathe the front seats in the Grand Caravan, and found the Town & Country’s seats better but still mooshy and not nearly as comfortable as the Odyssey.   Back seats are a similar story.
  • Ergonomics:  This is a mixed bag.  The Chrysler twins have a nice uConnect touch-screen stereo which works well enough, Bluetooth audio streamed with no fuss as well (blasting Cars and The Lion King soundtrack from our phones is essential to surviving road trips).  The HVAC system is a bit of an ergonomic disaster, being confusing to operate and sometimes giving one heat when one didn’t ask for it, etc.  But overall it’s a personal-preference thing between the Odyssey and the Chrysler vans.

So, there you go.  Our verdict basically was that we basically found the Grand Caravan merely passable as a rental conveyance whilst the Town & Country was actually not too bad – as long as you didn’t have an Odyssey to compare it to.