2011 Chrysler Town & Country Driving Impressions

The Chrysler Town & Country is tall, heavy and long, which makes it a bear to handle in tight quarters and on winding roads. Thanks to the 2011 changes, though, it is much better controlled, with less body lean than the 2010 model.

The ride height has been dropped one inch and the suspension has been retuned. The spring rates are firmer front and rear, new low-rolling resistance tires have been chosen, the bushings and shocks are firmer, and the steering is quicker. If you drove the last one, you won't recognize this one, and that's a good thing.

The Town & Country still leans a bit in turns but not annoyingly so, and it gathers itself much better to head back in the opposite direction. The steering is quicker and more direct, with more road feel. The steering isn't sports car quick, but it does inspire more confidence. The 2011 changes bring the Town & Country in line with the Honda Odyssey, which is widely considered the sportiest minivan.

The ride is still quite good. The Town & Country irons out most bumps well, and only the sharpest of ruts will crash through to give the passengers a start. The long wheelbase helps prevent larger humps from causing up and down motions, and the suspension tweaks eliminate the floaty feel of the last model. Still, it's not as smooth as the Toyota Sienna, which has an almost luxury car feel.

The 2011 engine is also much better. Instead of three elderly V6s, the 2011 Town & Country offers just one, the new Pentastar 283-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. It has 32 more horsepower than the most powerful of the 2010 engines. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg city/highway. Chrysler provides a fuel economizer switch that will change the shift points for optimum fuel economy.

The new 3.6-liter V6 is now class competitive, while only the 4.0-liter V6 on the 2010 model was close. Chrysler has come up with a fine new engine. It's smooth and quiet, offering decent punch from a stop and enough in reserve for passing. However, it doesn't feel as powerful as the 283-horsepower figure would suggest. That's odd because this same engine feels stronger in the rear- and four-wheel-drive Jeep Grand Cherokee. Perhaps the 6-speed automatic transmission is the culprit. The transmission doesn't seem to communicate well with the engine or react very well to the driver's right foot.

On the road, the Town & Country cruises quieter than ever, thanks to the smooth new engine and additional sound-deadening measures. Those sound measures are another reason why the 2011 model is better than the 2010. The 2011 Town & Country also features a couple of standard safety features that are worthy of note.

The Blind Spot Monitoring system uses radar sensors to detect vehicles in the van's blind spots and warns the driver via lights in the side mirrors or a driver-selectable chime. It works well, but like similar systems offered by other manufacturers it can sometimes give false readings. It's still important to look before you change lanes.

The Rear Cross Path system is activated when the van is in reverse. It uses radar sensors to detect vehicles crossing behind the Town & Country and warns the driver with lights in the side mirrors and that same chime. The system won't detect small objects, like pedestrians, so it's still important to proceed slowly. It does, however, detect vehicles up to 20 meters away, and is programmed to recognize the speed of oncoming vehicles and alert the driver only if they are traveling at a speed that could lead to an accident (in other words, stationary and very slow moving vehicles probably won't register). We like this system. It works well and we found it especially useful in parking lots.

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