Chrysler invented the minivan and has now reinvented it with the all-new 2017 Pacific, a vehicle packed with technology, boasting at least 100 safety features, chock-a-block with family-friendly enhancements, available in two versions, including the segment’s first plug-in hybrid.
Reinvention entails a new platform, sheetmetal that can reasonably called sleek, and a new name. The name is a little curious. Previously, Pacifica was the name assigned to a mid-size crossover that lacked only sliding rear doors to be called a minivan. Its lifespan was brief, 2004-2008, and it is not one of Chrysler’s treasured memories.
Be that as it may, Chrysler wanted to replace the Town & Country name, as a symbol of the new vehicle’s break with the past. No one is trying to pretend it’s not a minivan; those sliding doors are impossible to disguise. On the other hand, the marketing troops think the multitude of features, increased versatility and slick new skin will dilute the irrational prejudice against the minivan.
Basics: Chrysler Pacifica is offered in seven- and eight-passenger configurations, with middle-row seats that recline and also adjust fore and aft.
The standard engine is Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, mildly tweaked to deliver 287 horsepower and 282 pound-feet of torque. The V6 sends power to the front wheels (no all-wheel drive option) via a 9-speed automatic transmission. It’s EPA-rated for 18/22 mpg City/Highway on Regular gasoline.
The V6 is augmented by an electric motor in the Pacifica Hybrid, along with a continuously variable transmission. Chrysler anticipates an MPGe rating (miles per gallon equivalency) of 80. Chrysler predicts an electric-only range of 30 miles.
The 2017 Pacifica comes in five trim levels, plus the late-arriving hybrid version: Pacifica LX ($28,595); Pacifica Touring ($30,455); Pacifica Touring L ($34,495); Pacifica Touring L Plus ($37,895); Pacifica Limited ($42,495). (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge of $895.)
With its sculpted body panels, wider stance, laid back windshield, upper grille morticing into wraparound headlights, and available 20-inch alloy wheels (a segment first), the Pacifica is as close to sexy as any minivan has ever come. Chrysler’s trick of hiding the sliding door tracks just below the rear windows does a better job of disguising their presence than competing vans, and the rear window has a wraparound appearance.
An available three-panel sunroof, the rearmost pane is fixed, the other two open, runs from front to rear, amplifying a bright interior that feels airy even in base trim.
Another nifty new feature: Waving your foot beneath the rear bumper will activate the power rear liftgate. That’s been with us for awhile, thanks to Ford. But Ford doesn’t have a minivan, so it was left to Chrysler to develop the idea for sliding side doors. The side doors will also operate simply by touching the handles.
Pacifica’s gestation included a lot of wind tunnel time, which paid off in terms of reduced interior noise and at the gas pump.
The new Pacifica comes with the latest version of Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go fold-flat second- and third-row seats, re-engineered to make folding them into the floor even easier, leaving a truly flat surface and a vast cargo hold. This is the best design of its kind in the business, and it optimizes the fundamental trait in which minivans excel: versatility. These seats are not available on the hybrid version, however, due to the space taken up by the battery packs.
Another nifty feature is the Stow ‘n Vac on-board vacuum cleaner. Yes, the Honda Odyssey was first with this idea, but Chrysler improves on it. The system stows in the left side of the body, just behind the second-row door, the readily accessible bag is in the left side wall of the cargo compartment, and the vac includes a 14-foot hose, with an additional 14 feet offered as an accessory.
Like all contemporary minivans, the Pacifica offers a rear seat entertainment system, this one equipped with a pair of 10-inch touchscreens integrated into the upper front seatbacks. In addition to movies, games, and other visual and audible diversions, Chrysler furnishes apps, including Are We There Yet, allowing rear seat occupants to track the progress of their journey.
Up front, Chrysler has adapted its dial-a-gear transmission control, pioneered in the Ram pickup truck (the Rotary E-shift), into the attractive and intuitive center dash array, which also includes a big (8.4-inch) color screen and a sensible array of switches and knobs. The test of any system is whether it can be operated without resorting to the owner’s manual, and here’s one vehicle whose primary and auxiliary controls present no mysteries.
Chrysler boasts more than 100 safety features for the Pacifica. Among them: adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, auto emergency braking, 360-degree surround view, and rear view camera.
Chrysler Pacifica’s structure is all new, and distinctly more robust than that of the outgoing Town & Country; the suspension has been refined; and the engineering team expended a lot of effort on making this the most civilized minivan going. However, civilized does not necessarily mean fun to drive.
The Pacifica is responsive, with adequate power from its updated Pentastar V6 engine, and the 9-speed automatic transmission is a smooth operator. But all of these traits have limits, limits you’d expect of a large front-drive vehicle whose dynamic development priority was comfort. Understeer is easily achieved in any cornering activity that resembles haste, passing performance on two-lane highways takes a little longer than one might like, the electric power steering could be a little more informative, and the transmission hunts up and down a little too much in hilly driving.
But all those traits could also be ascribed to any number of SUVs, and the Pacifica excels in dynamics important to the all-around family mission: excellent ride quality without going too squishy and quiet interior at any speed on any surface. This is a pleasant place for a family to be as the miles slide by, especially when the Pacifica is equipped with the rear seat entertainment system.
We can’t comment on the behavior of the hybrid version, since our first drive was confined to the standard gasoline edition. The hybrid comes along later. But we anticipate that its behavior will be similar, with the addition of pure electric propulsion and exceptional fuel economy.
Quiet, comfortable, competent, and potent enough to avoid feeling sluggish, the Pacifica is loaded with tech, safety, and infotainment features. Its stylish exterior makes most crossover SUVs look boxy, and its practicality index is top-of-the charts. The pace of change in contemporary automotive development is dizzying, and it’s rare for any carmaker to maintain leadership indefinitely in any category. But for now, Chrysler once again rules the world of minivans.
Driving impressions by Tony Swan.