Windsor Star

2011 models impress critics

WAP starts production Monday

- GRACE MACALUSO

As the Windsor Assembly Plant revs up for production Monday of the new Town and Country and Dodge Grand Car- avan, the 2011 models already are receiving high marks from at least some of the auto critics who recently test drove a selection of refreshed Chrysler vehicles in San Francisco.

“It’s important to say that Chrysler, across the board, has done a pretty standup job of improving the interiors of their vehicles, and the Town and Country is no exception,” said Zach Bowman, associate editor of autoblog.com.

Bowman joined a group of auto writers invited by Chrysler Group to test vehicles which had undergone interior and exterior changes.

As part of the Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker’s attempts to update its product line, it is modifying both cars and light trucks.

In the case of its bread-andbutter minivans, Chrysler seems to be hitting the right mark.

“What Chrysler does best is they understand people and stuff,” said Eric Mayne, news operations editor at WardsAuto.com.

“ Minivans are all about moving people and moving stuff, and they’ve refined the way these two vans accomplish that.”

Among the notable improvemen­ts are an easy to use Stow’n Go feature and improved power and handling.

“ That was the most significan­t change,” Mayne said.

“ It was a fairly cumbersome mechanism before. Once you did get it stowed in the floor it was marvellous, but getting it there was a wrestling match. What they’ve managed to do was — without altering the dimensions of the under body which would have been a major investment — they’ve increased the size of the seat to make it more comfortabl­e and improved the ease of use. The mechanism that helps you fold it into the floor is child’s play now. It really is a marvel of engineerin­g.”

The Stow’n Go feature “ already set Chrysler apart,” added Mayne. “ Now they’re even farther ahead because there really is no knocking that Stow’n Go like there was before.”

Chrysler also did its homework on distinguis­hing the two brands, said Mayne.

“You can still tell these two vans are related, but the styling enhancemen­ts for the Chrysler van really give it a much more upscale fashion statement,” he said.

“There are very sculpted, co-ordinated lines in the sheet metal and a lot of attention to detail in terms of some of the trim pieces. I was not a big fan of the new Chrysler logo, but boy, they did a nice job of refining that. It looks stylish and upscale.”

The auto critics drove the vehicles on the highway and inner city roads. With the new 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6 engine, both vans offered improved power and handling, said Bowman.

“It’s pretty fuel efficient. It’s very smooth, smoother than General Motors’ equivalent of V-6 and it has plenty of power. It’s coupled to a new six-speed automatic transmissi­on. It’s just surprising­ly competent.” Mayne said minivan drivers will appreciate the vehicles’ accelerati­on.

“ If you look at accelerati­on, it was pretty effortless. That’s a big safety feature for that customer who wants to know he or she can pull out and pass when they have to, when they’ve got a soccer team in the back.”

Chrysler’s improvemen­ts have addressed many of minivan’s longstandi­ng quality concerns, which have left the vehicles at the bottom of influentia­l industry surveys, like Consumer Reports and J.D. Powers, said Mayne.

“ If you look at the third-party studies, like the J. D. Powers, they give a lot of weight to niggly, little annoyances, like difficult-to-use features,” he said.

“If you can check that box and say ‘We’ve got that covered now,’ you’re improving your industry scores. That’s a big selling feature.”

 ?? ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images ?? Olivier Francois, president and CEO of Chrysler Brand, introduces the new Town & Country (shown in background on video screen) at a news conference at the L.A. auto show in Los Angeles this week.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images Olivier Francois, president and CEO of Chrysler Brand, introduces the new Town & Country (shown in background on video screen) at a news conference at the L.A. auto show in Los Angeles this week.
 ?? ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images ?? The interior of the new Chrysler Town & Country at the L.A. auto
show in Los Angeles.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images The interior of the new Chrysler Town & Country at the L.A. auto show in Los Angeles.

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