CHELSEA, Mich. -- A sea of asphalt on a skid pad at Chrysler's vast vehicle test facility in Chelsea, Mich., is the spot where several variations of Chrysler's 2013 Town & Country -- top-of-the-line among all minivans -- park at idle for inspection prior to our road tests.
The five-door minivan, dressed in smooth sheetmetal that stretches over 16 feet long and packing a forceful yet fuel-thrifty V6 powertrain, stocks standard leather upholstery on all trims for 2013 and represents a plush statement of carload transportation bringing a refined ride quality and 40+ available safety and technology features.
Chrysler, the company that invented the minivan concept almost three decades ago, devised a new generational design for Town & Country in 2008 with a two-inch wheelbase stretch and a larger structure for an expanded passenger compartment plus flexible layouts for the three-row seat arrangement.
For the 2013 issues Chrysler piles on addition luxury features across the line including the leather-clad seats and a backseat DVD player with keener-resolution video.
Chrysler offers the 2013 Town & Country in three trim versions -- Touring, Touring-L and Limited -- and all carry a Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 engine which applies all torque to the front wheels through a six-speed electronic automatic transmission.
The twin-cam aluminum-block six-pack engine delivers serious muscle numbers -- 283 hp at 6400 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
Yet it can run on regular unleaded (87-octane) gasoline and earns fuel economy numbers of 17 mpg for city driving and 25 mpg on the highway.
Standard safety systems for all editions include a four-wheel disc brake system connected to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake assist (BA), plus an electronic stability control (ESC) anti-skid device with all-speed traction control (ASTC).
Passive safety equipment for all trims consists of frontal air bags as well as seat-mounted side air bags for front-seat passengers plus curtain-style air bags extending above side windows for all three rows of seats and linkage to rollover sensors.
Further, there are active head restraints in place on front-row seats, the LATCH child seat anchor system for mounting two child seats on second-row seats, power adjustable foot pedals, a TPMD (tire pressure monitoring display), electronic blind-spot monitoring system with radar sensors to locate vehicles in blind spots and signal the driver by lights in side mirrors or a chime, ParkSense electronic rear park assist system, ParkView rear backup camera, remote keyless entry device and Sentry Key antitheft engine immobilizer, even a sliding door alert system with hazard lamps flashing when a sliding door opens or closes.
We slip into the driver's bucket of a Town & Country Touring trim, buckle up and head out to the Chelsea Proving Grounds Ride Road, a 4.3-mile two-lane oval track constructed of concrete and asphalt but with a variety of surfaces to simulated real-world poor paving -- from smooth to cracked, potholed and crumbled.
The minivan rolls over all of the pavement variations without drama or teeth-rattling vibrations, thanks to a tuned suspension that refines ride characteristics.
Suspension components range from independent MacPherson struts in front with coil over gas-charged shock absorbers and a stabilizer bar on an isolated suspension cradle to the rear twist-beam axle with a track bar and gas-charged shock absorbers or optional self-leveling shocks.
Chrysler's minivan uses low-rolling resistance tires. Standard for Town & Country Touring are 225/65R17 all-season touring Michelin Energy Saver A/S.
Town & Country's low platform affords minimal step-up height comparable to a sedan so it's easy to climb aboard. A sliding door on each side positioned behind a front hinged door allows easy entry for back-seat riders.
The expansive passenger compartment contains seats for up to seven passengers plus storage spots everywhere and enough room for everyone in an extended family to ride in plush comfort.
There are three tiers of seats. The first row shows two tall captain's chairs with broad seats to fit American body sizes. On the second row, twin buckets fold the backs forward and seats tip up to allow access to the third row. The third row split-folding bench fits two adults or three children.
Chrysler's inventive Super Stow 'n Go system allows second and third tiers of seats to fold into stow bins in the floor. Behind the third row is adequate storage space, but the maximum cargo room with second and third tiers folded into the floor amounts to 143.8 cubic feet.
Base trim Town & Country Touring stocks standard equipment like air conditioning with triple-zone automatic climate controls, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, leather seating and eight-way power for the driver's seat, power sliding side doors, power rear liftgate, power folding mirrors, a roof rack, standard Trailer Sway Damping, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, UConnect Bluetooth cell phone connection and a six-speaker audio kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3/HDD, 6.5-inch touchscreen and 30-gb hard drive for music storage.
Optional packages include a new dual-screen Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system with HDMI input for video game systems plus GPS navigation, Bluetooth Streaming Audio, Sirius satellite radio and Sirius Travel Link.
Chrysler establishes MSRP figures for the 2013 Town & Country upward from $29,995 for the base Touring trim.