When I think back to family road trips when I was a boy, I wonder how my dad did it.
How did he survive Canada's harsh winters without a heated steering wheel to keep his hands warm and toasty? Lacking the convenience of a remote control on his key chain, how did he open the trunk without hurting himself?
As for us kids, I wonder how we got by without heated rear seats, DVD players and jacks to plug in various electronic gadgets. Answer: By reading books, playing I Spy and, when that got old, punching and kicking each other in the backseat.
Thankfully, as a father myself now, I'll never have to face these hardships.
After putting Chrysler's 2012 Town & Country minivan through its paces with my wife and two kids, I can assure you the company thought of every safety and convenience feature imaginable.
In addition to a heated steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, heated first- and second-row seats, power sliding doors, power tailgate and a dual-screen DVD system that lets your kids watch a movie and play video games at the same time, our top-of-the-line Limited model also came with a rear video camera and a blind-spot alarm that's designed to save you from trouble when changing lanes on the highway.
What's more, the vehicle featured a "three-zone" climate control system that kept all of the occupants warm as we visited friends and family over the holidays, and power-adjustable front seats that made it easy to squeeze my temperature-controlled buns into a comfortable driving position.
The only thing it didn't have was a cappuccino dispenser.
All these amenities don't come cheap, of course: the base Town & Country Limited model retails for $45,995, before incentives, while the optional equipment on our test car pushed the price to $51,545. That's getting into second mortgage territory.
Certainly, there's a lot to like about the vehicle.
Aside from all the electronic bells and whistles, my wife and kids appreciated the expansive interior and abundant storage space. When we're travelling as a family, my wife often places a large bag of snacks, books and other road trip supplies at her feet, which eats up most of her leg room. But that wasn't a problem with the Town & Country, thanks to the large storage area situated conveniently beneath the centre-front console.
When it's time to carry larger items, the Town & Country's second- and third-row Stow 'N Go seats conveniently fold into the floor. If you're frequently carting around bulky items, this is one of the vehicle's best features.
As a driver, I appreciated the minivan's excellent sight lines which, along with the back-up camera, made parallel parking a breeze. The "Eco" mode improved fuel economy, but at a noticeable drop in power from the 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6 engine.
Those positives aside, I found the ride somewhat unsettled, and the steering wasn't nearly as nimble as say, a Honda Odyssey, which handles more like a car. When you're driving the Town & Country, you definitely know you're behind the wheel of a minivan.
Another annoyance, at least to my ears, was the intrusion of engine noise into the cabin, particularly when the vehicle was accelerating. I also found the stereo underwhelming, despite the nine speakers and subwoofer. As for the retro-style, vertical antenna mounted on the front of the vehicle, it's just begging to get broken off by some idiot (it happened to me with another car, which is why I prefer those stubby roof-mounted antennas instead).
If you must have all of the modern creature comforts – and you don't mind shelling out big bucks – the Town & Country Limited may be worth considering. Or you could move down to the less-expensive Touring model. However, keep in mind that while Consumer Reports say the 2012 Town & Country is "much improved" over its predecessor, reliability has been below-average in previous generations.
On the other hand, if you're on a budget you could also consider a stripped-down Dodge Grand Caravan, the sister vehicle to the Town & Country. The entry-level Grand Caravan SE with the "Canada Value Package" currently retails for just $19,995.
Your hands may get cold and you'll have to lift the tailgate yourself, but dad certainly survived.
2012 Chrysler Town & Country Limited
Base Price: $45,995; as tested, $51,545
Engine: 3.6-litre, V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 283 hp/ 260 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.2 city/7.9 highway; regular gas