NEWPORT, R.I. — We parked atop a hill at Fort Adams State Park, overlooking Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay. We opened the windows of the 2012 Chrysler Town & Country Limited minivan and went to sleep.
I slept in the driver’s seat — a rest made comfortable by supple leather covering and eight-way power adjustable capability. Rosa Parks Brown, our chocolate Labrador, flopped into her favorite spot on the floor between the first and second rows of seats.
Miss Parks and I like the Town & Country Limited. It’s become our favorite man-dog road cave. We can hide in it without recrimination when my wife, Mary Anne, and daughters, who forbid use of their names in these casual epistles, stop somewhere to examine another shopping outlet.
Stores generally don’t like dogs, especially big, jump-on-you, affectionate types such as Labradors. Staffers at folk music festivals, such as the one that brought us here, also want dogs to keep their distance tethered to a leash.
That’s no problem for me and Miss Parks as long as we have something large and comfortable to lounge in, which is what we had with the front-wheel-drive Town & Country Limited. We bid the women adieu, opened the windows, turned on our favorite satellite radio jazz station and took a snooze.
Dogs have their schedules. Miss Parks certainly has hers — walking, toiletries, water, food, sleep. She awakened from her minivan floor nap and stuck her long nose between the two front seats, breathed on my neck, stuck out her sticky tongue and licked my face. . . . Time to get up.
The Town & Country Limited has myriad amenities, including automatic side sliding doors and an automatically operated rear hatch. Miss Parks thinks this is cool. After waking me up, she stood there, not moving until I exited the minivan, walked around to the right side and pressed the electronic key fob to signal the sliding door to open.
Miss Parks then popped from the vehicle like a fur cannonball, barely giving me a chance to grab her leash. She wanted to “go to the bathroom.” With her business done, she marched back to the Town & Country Limited, sat on her haunches and stared intently at the rear hatch. I pressed the key fob again. The hatch opened, revealing a bag of dog food and water bottles, much to Miss Park’s delight.
She politely stepped back, nose in the air. She waited until her food and water trays were filled, jumped up and wagged her tail in thanks, bowed her head, waited for her “Amen” signal and begin eating.
With the concert over and all passengers collected, Miss Parks again staked out her position on the Town & Country Limited’s floor — telling me that the minivan had a good suspension system. Miss Parks never sleeps on the floors of vehicles with bumpy rides.
The suspension (front independent with McPherson struts/front and rear stabilizer bars) is nothing exceptional. But it was smooth and comfortable enough rolling over the hilly state park grounds.
On the highway, the Town & Country was good, but nothing many automotive journalists would call superior. For higher ratings in the ride and handling categories, many folks in my business choose models such as the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, both of which supposedly have a road finesse the Town & Country Limited and its trim siblings — the base Touring and mid-level Touring-L — lack.
I don’t get it. I’ve driven all three minivans. My conclusion: They are all minivans, all equally bedecked with safety, amenities, utility and family features. All family and stuff haulers. They all do an excellent job of handling those duties. Not one is designed for the competitive strips of a racetrack.
That said, all three have enough chutzpah to get the job done. The 2012 Town & Country Limited, for example, comes to us with a 3.6-liter, unleaded gasoline/E85 engine (85 percent ethanol alcohol/15 percent unleaded gasoline; 283 horsepower, 260 foot-pounds of torque).
There is nothing spectacular about that setup. But it is reliable, and it works quite well.
And you don’t have to worry about that E85 fuel, engineered to reduce consumption of oil. We could find no convenient service station selling the stuff on this road trip through the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions. We just used 87-octane gasoline, getting about 20 miles in the city and 24 miles per gallon on the highway. No problem.