NYT Automobiles Gives Chrysler Minivans A Seemingly Unnecessary Smack-Down

Illustration for article titled NYT Automobiles Gives Chrysler Minivans A Seemingly Unnecessary Smack-Down

We don't know if New York Times Automobiles writer Christopher Jensen's got kids, but if he had them, he'd know that handling is not really the most important requirement for a minivan. More important is the need — which he admits in his smack-down this weekend on the new minivans from Chryslerberus almost reluctantly — to pacify children to the point of "superstupor" (Yes C.J., we do like that one and may use it as often as is possible). But to levy charges of inadequacy against the new 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan and the 2008 Chrysler Town & Country simply because the handling is merely "average" misses the point. No self-respecting driver's driver would ever be caught dead driving one of these, or any other people hauler down the road. No amount of fine-tuning, mechanics or changes in structural rigidity's going to make a minivan with this level of options (and weight) fun to drive.

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Yes, yes, we know that's not the normal tack our site takes, but can you blame us? What in the segment is really all that fun to drive? Frankly, the Econoline's too big to compete, despite our desires to make such a head-on competition happen, and C.J.'s not impressing us with comparisons to "fun" vehicles like the Buick Enclave and most definitely not winning points with a Honda Odyssey. Sure, you could get a Honda Odyssey, but the average selling price — as C.J. points out — is almsot five grand more than the average selling price point on the Town & Country and Grand Caravan. It may not necessarily (it may be, someone check this one out for us — do some configurator work in the comments below if you could) be because they're just so much cheaper (re: crappier), but rather that the toys Mom & Dad want to keep the little brats quiet in the back two rows of seats are so much cheaper to get to in the Dodge and the Chrysler.

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Also, let's be clear here — Dan Neil says the twin Chrysler minivans are the bestest people movers ever built. And if you're going to go negative on it, you certainly don't have the same panache as Clarkson. Frankly Ms. Cregg, you sir are no Jeremy Clarkson.And that's all there is to it. [NYT Automobiles]

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DISCUSSION

Chrysler is still very competitive in the shrinking minivan field. However, when they finally overhauled the design, they missed out on three very crucial elements that Toyota and Honda have.

1) A Silky Smooth, yet powerful V-6. The 3.8 V-6 has a very gritty feel to it, and the 4.0 isn't that much better. At least they included a modern 6 Speed Automatic. Chrysler needs to learn how to make silky smooth powerplants, and the best way of doing so is to tear down a dozen or so Toyota and Honda engines, and reverse engineer their secrets (hey, the Chinese do this all the time!)

2) Adopt an independent rear suspension, for a smoother ride, and to take up less cargo (and passenger) room. Honda has this feature, while the Toyota had a torsion beam setup. The Chrysler twins still use a solid axle.

3) The lack of quality materials used for the interior. If you really compare the interiors of the latest Chrysler vehicles with Toyota or Honda, The pentastar boys come off as second rate.

It may be too late for Chrysler to change these short comings, but they have to be addressed if they want to stay on top of the market they created.