BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Meandering along Sunset Boulevard through Beverly Hills, swank California home to movie stars and media moguls, we´re ensconced in an unconventional limousine on a street clotted with exotic and expensive automobiles.
Fine leather hides, chamois soft and shaded in a subtle tone, drape every seat in this vehicle´s expansive cabin.
Real strips of Medrona burl hardwood streak along the dash and door panels.
Armrests on either side of the high-back buckets fold down for additional comfort, and individual controls for movable pinpoint LED reading lamps as well as vents of the climate system are positioned within easy reach.
Seats rise to chair height, allowing for an erect posture unlike the slinky sofa of the usual limo. Because of this elevated position, we have a commanding view of the boulevard as it meanders past mega-bucks domestic palaces fringed by towering coco palms.
The passing street scene seemed like a silent movie, however, because all grating noise from the traffic-littered pavement fades behind layers of sound-deadening insulation, door metal and multi-laminate window glass.
What a fine luxury car this one is: Refined with fancy passenger comforts, liberated with exacting handling mechanisms, and enthused with power from a forceful -- yet also fuel-efficient -- engine.
Considering such well-heeled manners, we must remind ourselves that the vehicle we´re steering through the broad curves of Sunset Boulevard is actually a minivan.
That family-hauling box-on-wheels can be luxurious, agile and even powerful?
It surely can when it´s the all-new Town & Country from Chrysler, the company which pioneered the minivan´s concept back in 1984 and set the competitive pace for every subsequent year.
The 2008 Chrysler Town & Country, top-of-the-line among all minivans, becomes a plush new statement of carload transportation laced with many clever innovations.
Town & Country in the new generational design for 2008 begins with a two-inch wheelbase stretch and a larger and stronger structure which contains more space for riders in a cabin outfitted with plush comforts and new convenience features, flexible layouts with three different three-row seat arrangements, far more standard equipment for safety and a choice of three trims -- LX, Touring and Limited.
A low platform affords minimal step-up height comparable to a sedan so it´s easy to climb aboard the minivan. The sliding slab door on each side positioned behind a front hinged door allows easy entry for back-seat riders.
Exterior styling of the minivan appears contemporary with crisp tailored lines etched across angular sheetmetal and a distinctive prow featuring quad headlamp clusters and a large chrome-plated egg-crate grille flying the winged chrome badge of Chrysler.
A new design for the minivan´s cabin brings storage spots everywhere: Doors contain useful storage compartments; the dash makes room on the right side for twin glove boxes; there´s an optional multi-function sliding console between the two front buckets and it slides rearward for 21 inches so riders on the second row can use it too; up to 13 cup and bottle holders show up in the cabin, including bottle holders integrated into the sliding side doors; the overhead console houses revamped storage compartments; there are covered stow bins below deck in the second row and these containers can hold a lot of gear out of sight; another stow spot is located in the third-row area.
As to the cabin layout, all three seat plans provide twin buckets on the first row, a pair of buckets on the second row and a bench for two on the third row.
Options to vary this format include a second-row bench with fold-in-the-floor third-row seat, the inventive Stow ´n Go with second and third tiers of seats folding into the stow bins concealed in the floor, or a new Swivel ´n Go plan with second-row seats rotating to face the rear bench and a fold-up table to set in the center spot between the rows -- so the riders on second and third tiers face each other for chatting, playing board games or even dining on the move.
Another option is a one-touch button for power-folding the third-row bench into the floor.
And an optional dual DVD video entertainment system can play different media on the two ceiling-mounted video screens at the same time.
Safety gear standard on all Town & Country editions includes frontal air bags and curtain-style air bags extending above side windows for all three rows of seats and linking to rollover sensors.
Also standard on all editions is a four-wheel disc brake system connected to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake assist (BA), plus an electronic stability program (ESP) anti-skid device with all-speed traction control (ASTC).
A rear back-up camera -- ParkView -- is on the option sheet, as are an integrated child safety seat and a built-in child booster seat.
For motivation, the 2008 Town & Country offers three different V6 engines.
Stock plant for Town & Country LX is a 3.3-liter V6 pumped up to 175 hp with torque at 205 lb-ft.
The standard engine for Town & Country Touring is a more powerful V6 displacing 3.8 liters and generating 197 hp with 230 lb-ft of torque.
Optional for the Touring edition but a stock item for the line-capping Town & Country Limited is a new 4.0-liter V6 with 251 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque.
An electronic automatic transmission works in all engines, with a four-speed variation for the 3.3-liter plant and a new six-speed for the 3.8 and 4.0 plants.
The list of optional features for comfort and convenience ranges from leather upholstery and heated seats on the first and second rows to a remote starter, power windows on the second row, power to slide the two side doors, a power liftgate, movable pinpoint LED reading lamps and a tri-zone climate system. And electronic gear includes the twin DVD multimedia entertainment system and Sirius Backseat TV with three channels of family programming.
Chrysler casts MSRP figures on 2008 Town & Country well below the 2007 models yet provides more on-board content.
The prices start at $22,460 for a base Town & Country LX. Town & Country Touring trim lists for $27,700, and top-end Town & Country Limited tallies to $35,670.