2003 Chrysler Town & Country
    MSRP
    $24,020
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    2003 Chrysler Town & Country Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    The luxury of versatility.

    Introduction

    For some people, luxury means a deserted beach, a bottle of sunscreen, a new mystery novel, leaving everything behind. For others, luxury means traveling with all the comforts of home. If you fit in the latter category, if you're certain that luxury means never having to say, 'I'm sorry, but there isn't enough room to take that with us,' then Chrysler built the Town & Country for you. 

    With its responsive engine, smooth, quiet ride, upscale appointments and power accessories, the Chrysler Town & Country drives like a refined luxury vehicle. But it also offers seating for seven (available in leather, of course) and cavernous cargo space, so nothing (and no one) will ever have to be left behind. You can even order Town & Country with all-wheel-drive. How much more luxury can you stand?

    Okay, some upmarket SUVs make similar claims. But the Town & Country does it without the excess weight and bulk. It even fits in your garage. You enjoy the same chair-height seating as your SUV-driving neighbors, but with a low, flat floor, so you don't need a ladder to climb in. And you don't need to be a Houdini to squeeze into the third-row seats, either. Once in, the Town & Country delivers better handling than most of those truck-based SUVs. And it costs less than most of them. 

    Chrysler last redesigned the Town & Country for 2001, and it remains among the best minivans on the market. The interior is versatile with seats that fold and remove. Powerful V6 engines deliver crisp performance. The ride is smooth and quiet. And it's wrapped in an attractive design. 

    For 2003, Chrysler has added standard equipment at most trim levels, an optional power sunroof, and three new option packages for the Town & Country LX. Power adjustable pedals are expected to be available late in 2003. 

    Lineup

    Midway through 2002, the Chrysler Town & Country line expanded to five trim levels, with the new high-value eL joining the existing LX, eX, LXi, and Limited. For 2003, the LXi and Limited are offered with either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive; all eL, LX, and eX models are front-wheel drive. 

    All models are built on a long, 119.3-inch wheelbase, making the Town & Country among the biggest minivans on the market. 

    The standard engine in the eL and LX is a 3.3-liter overhead-valve V6 producing 180 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. A 3.8-liter overhead-valve V6 developing 215 hp and 245 lb-ft is optional in eL and LX, standard in eX, LXi, and Limited. All models come with a four-speed automatic transmission with adaptive electronic control (so it learns your driving style and shifts accordingly). All come with four-wheel-disc brakes and ABS (anti-lock brakes). 

    Retail prices range from $23,870 for the eL to $37,945 for the Limited AWD, the latter loaded with leather and other features. Chrysler's Town & Country Limited feels like a luxury vehicle that happens to be a minivan. In between, a broad range of models meet varying needs and price ranges. 

    The model lineup can be a little confusing, because the bargain-priced eL comes with some standard equipment (such as three-zone climate control) that the $25,165 LX does not. On the other hand the LX offers some options (including the rear-seat video system) that are not available on the eL. Both come with power windows, heated mirrors, cruise control, tilt steering, seven-passenger seating, multi-stage air bags and ABS. Both feature dual sliding doors, with power an option for the passenger side. 

    The eX ($26,315) represents a definite step up, with a power-up and power-down rear liftgate, dual power sliding doors, a removable powered center console, AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo with six speakers, second-row bucket seats and split 50/50 roller seats in the extreme rear, a power eight-way driver's seat, and three-zone temperature control. The eX also comes with traction control and 16-inch tires and aluminum wheels. Dual power sliding doors, a security alarm, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls have been added to the eX equipment list for 2003. 

    The LXi ($29,460) adds automatic temperature control, an air filtration system, 10-speaker Infinity audio, a universal garage door opener, an electroluminescent instrument panel, and, new for 2003, an Electronic Vehicle Information Center (trip computer, etc.), auto-dimming mirrors, third-row lamps and assist handles, and a roof rack. Color-keyed lower bodyside cladding distinguishes the LXi as an uplevel model. 

    Leather upholstery is optional on both eX and LXi. Options added last year include DVD video and remote audio for the rear seat passengers (complete with wireless headphones) and a tire-pressure monitoring system. 

    The ultimate-luxury Limited ($35,620) coddles its occupants with premium-grade leather, memory seats, and a six-disc CD changer. It is distinguished externally by its color-keyed roof rack and chromed aluminum wheels. 

    All-wheel-drive editions of the LXi and Limited list for $33,333 and $37,945, respectively. 

    Side-impact airbags are optional on all models ($390). 

    In addition to the Town & Country line, Chrysler also markets the Voyager minivan, which is built on a 113.3-inch wheelbase and, with more basic equipment and appointments, represents a strong value in the family-transport market. (See separate NewCarTestDrive.com review of the Voyager line.)

    Walkaround

    Form follows function in the minivan world; that's why we don't usually think of minivans when we think of stylish designs. In spite of this, the Chrysler Town & Country presents a sleek, solid stance. 

    It looks aerodynamic in profile, with its raked windshield, rising roofline and beltline, and fast D-pillars framing canted rear windows. Crisp, formal creases have replaced the rotund forms of the 1990s. Pronounced wheel arches complement sharp character lines that flank the integrated grille. Rear-end styling tends to make Town & Country look wider and not as tall as it really is. Huge taillamps feature clear red lenses and jewel-like reflectors. 

    There's really nothing mini about this minivan. Compared to other minivans, the Town & Country ranks among the largest, at 200.5 inches long and 78.6 inches wide. Its wheelbase stretches a full-size 119.3 inches. The Honda Odyssey is 201 inches long on a 118-inch wheelbase; the Oldsmobile Silhouette 201.4 inches long on a 120-inch wheelbase; and the Ford Windstar 201 inches long a 120.7-inch wheelbase. 

    Dual power sliding doors (standard on eX, LXi and Limited) can add considerable convenience to your daily life, particularly when you find yourself herding children or carrying two armloads of gear. Press a button on the remote transmitter and the door slides open; press the button again and it slides closed and seals. From the second-row seat, the power sliding door can be opened and closed by pressing a button; it can also be opened manually. A safety lock switch hidden on the trailing edge of the door can be engaged to prevent a child from opening the sliding door from inside. The power sliding doors can be fussy when passengers are in a hurry, however, and they usually are in a hurry. 

    Pulling on the outside lever opens the power door manually, with just slightly more effort than opening a regular manual door. Our LX came with a power sliding door on the passenger's side and a manually operated sliding door on the driver's side; the manual door is easy to operate, smoothly sliding open and closed with the pull of a nicely designed lever. The outside door handles are comfortable, easy to operate and well designed; they impart a feeling of quality in appearance and operation. All door handles should be this good, but they aren't. 

    A power rear liftgate (optional on eL and LX, standard on eX, LXi, and Limited) adds further convenience when picking up groceries or supplies. Press a button on the remote control and the liftgate opens or closes automatically. It's great feature for those all-too-frequent times when you approach the van with an armload. 

    Interior

    The Chrysler Town & Country is a comfortable place to spend some road time. It provides seating for up to seven people, and all positions are roomy and comfortable. That's something that can't be said for a lot of sport-utility vehicles. Cup holders are available at each seat, and the rearmost passengers each get their own storage console, though the plastic lid is flimsy. Seat belt anchors are height-adjustable in the front and middle rows. Our one complaint is that the center row isn't adjustable, and can be tight when the front seat is adjusted all the way back. 

    A low floor makes getting in and out through the side doors easy. Caesar, our 160-pound English mastiff puppy, requires a ramp to get into an SUV; but he stepped easily and without hesitation through the side door of the Town & Country. Judging by his expression, this is one of his favorite vehicles. 

    Access through the rear hatch is a bit higher, however. Caesar prefers a ramp to get in that way. Loading groceries is no problem, though. Plastic grocery bags can be looped onto special hooks on the backs of the rear seats. There's a fair amount of cargo space behind the third row, which is not true of the Voyager and other standard-length vans. An adjustable cargo organizer (optional on front-drive LX, LXi, and Limited) fits on the floor behind the rear seat and provides a bin for six grocery bags, handy for keeping things from sliding around in. 

    We found the second-row bucket seats and third-row split bench easy to remove. All or any one of the four seats can be popped out and rolled away in three quick steps, providing a wide variety of seating and cargo configurations. Reinstalling them takes a little more practice, as you need to learn how to line them up before snapping them into place. Each seat is heavy enough that care should be exercised when lifting it off the garage floor. The seats can also be folded down to form a continuous load floor for 4x8-foot sheets of plywood and other large items. 

    Many other features add day-to-day convenience. A time delay switch leaves the headlights on while you walk from the van to your door. Auxiliary outlets, two up front and one amidships, provide convenient power for gadgets. Four serious coat hooks make picking up the dry cleaning a more elegant chore; few manufacturers do coat hooks this well. Three dome lights illuminate the cabin well. An available overhead console houses power switches for the rear hatch and sliding doors, along with compass and outside temperature readouts. The rear quarter windows, as well as the front door windows, are power operated. Dark tinting on the side windows provides privacy. 

    A center console houses a cellular phone holder, power outlet, storage tray, light, tissue holder, and a map holder. The console is removable and can be placed between either the front or middle seats. The organizer inside the console seemed a bit high on the bogusity scale. 

    Small buttons make the audio system a challenge to learn and use while driving, and the column shifter blocks the driver's view of the volume knob and seek button. Steering wheel audio controls are available on selected models and should eliminate this problem. A new feature for 2003 is the availability of Sirius satellite radio. 

    Cruise control buttons are conveniently located on the steering wheel. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) controls are functional, but rudimentary, on the LX, with his and hers sliders for temperature control. Automatic temperature controls on LXi and Limited models are nicer. A separate knob controls the rear fan, a great feature for kids and pets on hot days. Handsome and straightforward analog instruments use black-on-white graphics that reverse at night. An electronic odometer doubles as the trip meter when a button is pressed. Turn signal indicators and warning lights reside in a thin hooded panel above the instruments. 

    Lots of glass means good visibility all around, though the t. 

    Driving Impression

    Driving the Chrysler Town & Country is pleasant and enjoyable. It rides smoothly and feels very stable at highway speeds. It handles competently and seems surprisingly nimble for its size. Its power-assisted steering is light, making it easy to maneuver and park in crowded lots, and the front air dam isn't so low to the ground that it scrapes on curbs. Careful suspension tuning, a new steering system and a rigid structure have raised the Town & Country's handling prowess to that of the leading minivans. 

    Our LX came with the base 3.3-liter V6. It delivered lively acceleration; we felt like we had plenty of motor to jackrabbit away from standstills or pull off that big pass. The engine is smooth and quiet when cruising, although it makes itself known under full-throttle acceleration. 

    Wind noise is minimal. Chrysler engineers worked hard on this, and as a result, carrying on a conversation inside the Town & Country is easy and pleasant. Special gaskets, re-engineered suspension attachments and other measures have resulted in a quiet cabin, even when cruising at 70 mph. 

    Four-wheel disc brakes stop the Town & Country quickly and without drama. Heavy-duty brake rotors and new calipers ensure strong braking performance, durability, and improved pedal feel compared to previous-generation models. ABS helps the driver maintain steering control in an emergency or panic stop. 

    Traction control (standard on front-drive eX and Limited, available on LXi) reduces front wheelspin on slippery surfaces. Even better is the available all-wheel-drive system, which redirects power to the tires with the best grip; all-wheel drive is a smart option for drivers who live in the Snowbelt or in the Pacific Northwest or anywhere it rains a lot. An automatic load-leveling system is available that automatically trims the Town & Country to a level ride height. That's nice when towing. 

    Summary

    Chrysler Town & Country is among the best minivans available. Chrysler wrote the book on minivans and the Chrysler Group has sold more than 9 million minivans since 1983; it continues to dominate the market, outselling GM and Ford by a two-to-one margin, and outselling Honda by nearly four-to-one. 

    This new Town & Country shows why. It's roomy, comfortable, practical, powerful and nimble. Order the Limited model and add the word luxurious to that list. 

    Model Lineup

    eL ($23,870); (LX ($25,165); eX ($26,315); LXi ($29,460); Limited ($35,620); LXi AWD ($33,333); Limited AWD ($37,945). 

    Assembled In

    Windsor, Ontario; St. Louis, Missouri. 

    Options As Tested

    side airbags ($390); Package 25K ($3040) includes overhead console with trip computer, headlight off time delay, illuminated entry glovebox light, dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors, power right-side sliding door, eight-way power driver's seat, cloth lowback bucket seats, second-row bucket seats, split rear bench seat, AM/FM/CD/cassette, keyless entry with two transmitters, plus Climate Groupe III (three-zone temperature control, rear heat and air conditioning, air filter, 160-amp alternator, windshield wiper de-icer); power liftgate ($400). 

    Model Tested

    LX ($25,165). 

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    Read 2003 Chrysler Town & Country EL FWD Passenger Van reviews from auto industry experts to gain insight on the Chrysler Town & Country's drivability, comfort, power and performance.
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