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Wheels - Ladue News: Import

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Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 11:26 pm, Tue Aug 9, 2011.

If you have a family, you need a family vehicle. And though SUVs are popular people movers, nothing beats the utility, economy and versatility of a minivan.

One of the best minivans over the last 25 years has been the Chrysler Town & Country, which with its other incarnation, the Dodge Caravan, reinvigorated the market created by the VW bus in 1950.

The Town & Country Limited is an extremely versatile people and cargo mover. It offers such amenities as dual DVD screens for the second- and third-row passengers, a 30 gigabyte hard drive for storing music, real time traffic updates on the navigation system, blind spot obstacle detection, a rear back-up camera, rear cross path detection, and electric side and rear doors. Rear door windows can be opened, as can the sunroof, and three-zone automatic temperature control ensures passenger comfort throughout. A 110-volt outlet in the second row is a nice feature.

There’s plenty of room for second-row passengers, and a surprising amount for third-row passengers. Cargo room behind the third seat is generous as well. The second- and third-row seats can be folded into the floor to create a cavernous cargo carrying area. The third row folds 60/40 at the touch of a button for maximum cargo/people carrying flexibility. A panoramic mirror folds down from the ceiling, allowing the driver to see the entire interior, so kids had better assume they’re being watched.

The leather power-heated driver’s seat is surprisingly well bolstered and has memory buttons so that different drivers can quickly and automatically get the seat and mirror adjusted to their preferences at the touch of a button. The radio is a touch screen affair in the middle of the dash and pretty easy to use. It also has connection points to plug in auxiliary audio devices. Cupholders are everywhere, and the storage compartment between the front seats is especially versatile, offering a large hidden area for a purse, laptop or other valuables, and the ability to slide backward to serve second row passengers.

The Limited has a 4.0 liter V-6 engine making 251 horsepower mated to a 6-speed automatic driving the front wheels. Gas mileage is 17 city, 25 highway. Two other engine sizes are available: a 3.3 liter 175 horsepower V-6 that is a ‘flex fuel engine,’ meaning it can run on E85 ethanol; and a 3.8 liter V-6 with 197 horsepower.

Acceleration is good, as is the braking, and it has a smooth, comfortable suspension. Handling is adequate, but the steering doesn’t provide much road feel. Electronic stability control, ABS brakes, traction control and side curtain air bags for all three rows provide the safety desired in a family vehicle.

According to Mark Winstead, general sales manager at Royal Gate Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, “The new Town & Country has better quality materials and better fit and finish; it’s very resourceful and offers lots of utility. With the rear seats down, it offers the cargo carrying capacity of a pick-up.” Base price is about $36,000, over $40,000 with options.

Another popular minivan has been the Honda Odyssey. For 2011, Honda has created a redesign that promises to take what was already a great minivan and make it even better. The most notable change is in looks. With a staggered belt line and aggressive new front end, the Odyssey has finally added a little style to its many attributes. It almost has a sporty look.

With seating for seven or eight, the Odyssey offers its famous ‘magic’ third row seat that folds 60/40 into the rear floor. Cargo area behind the third row is big enough for grocery shopping. Second-row seats have to be removed from the vehicle for maximum cargo carrying capacity, but cargo room even with them is pretty generous. On higher line models, the side doors and rear hatch all are electronically operated, and front-seat passengers get heated seats and a panoramic rearview mirror. The second row comes with a third, albeit very small, removable middle seat for an eighth passenger.

Room in both the second and third rows is plentiful, with separate temperature controls, and though there are ceiling air vents for all outboard passengers, they seem awfully small. A single drop-down DVD screen provides entertainment for both rows of passengers, but it can display two separate things on the two sides of the screen. With the DVD player you even get a 110-volt outlet in the third row. A navigation system will help you avoid getting lost, and doubles as a screen for the back-up camera. A ‘cool box’ at the bottom of the center console can keep your juice boxes and other beverages chilled. If you want to spend the extra money, the Odyssey offers many of the latest and greatest conveniences and gadgets. If you’re willing to forgo some of those toys, the base Odyssey offers the same engine and utility for thousands less.

The Odyssey offers a 248 horsepower 3.5 liter V-6 mated to a 5- or 6-speed automatic that drives the front wheels. Power and acceleration are plentiful for most situations. Gas mileage is 18 city, 27 highway with the 5-speed, and 19 city, 28 highway with the 6-speed. The Odyssey offers stability control with traction control, ABS brakes, a blind spot monitoring system and three row side curtain air bags for safety. It’s a nice driving minivan, with a relatively firm suspension and good steering feel, brakes and handling.

Mike Jackson, general manager of Honda of Frontenac, says, “The new Odyssey is an outstanding vehicle. It has real time traffic updates for the navigation system, the ability to play two video sources on the screen, and three backup camera modes.”

An Odyssey LX runs about $28,500, and the EX goes for about $31,800 and $35,000 with leather. The top of the line Touring model costs over $40,000.

Robert W. Paster is also an attorney in private practice.

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