The all-new Chrysler Pacifica should finally signal the end of the outdated term "minivan." It's been a long time since most family vans were small. And the Pacifica replaces a direct descendant of the original minivan that Chrysler invented in the 1980s, the aging Town and County.
But traditions die hard, so people will probably keep calling the Pacifica a minivan, even though it is even larger than the last generation Town and County. It is also much more luxurious than Chrysler's last attempt at an upscale family van. And — most amazing of all — it is available as a plug-in hybrid that can travel up to 30 miles on electricity alone before switching over to conventional hybrid power.
So even if people keep calling the Pacifica a minivan, they should do so with respect. No one should be embarrassed to be seen driving a Pacifica instead of a sport utility vehicle. In fact, with its swoopy exterior styling and clever interior design touches, they should be congratulated for making the smart choice.
The truth is, despite being seen as uncool for many years, minivans have always been more practical that SUVs for hauling people and gear. The sliding side doors make getting in and out of the back seats a lot easier, especially when child safety seats are involved. And even though the driver doesn't sit up quite as high, the seating is still higher than in a car, increasing visibility.
As minvans from Honda, Kia and Toyota got larger over the years, their interiors expanded to make trips even more comfortable. Chrysler held back redesigning its Town and County and companion Dodge Grand Caravan minivans for a long time. But since it was introduced a few months ago, the 2017 Pacifica has been widely recognized as the most advanced of the lot. It was recently named the North American Utility Vehilce of the Year at the North American Auto Show.
In a week of driving, the Pacifica proved itself to be a solid, quiet and capable people hauler. The standard 3.6-liter V6 proved plenty of power through a well-calibrated nine speed automatic transmission for around town and freeway driving. Although there was no getting away from the size, the steering was precise enough to take advantage of openings in crowding streets. And the backup camera took the challenge out of parallel parking.
As practical as the Pacifica is for hauling people, it is even better at carrying lots of stuff. The second and third rows of seats easily fold flat into the floor, creating a huge amount of enclosed cargo space. That's not the case with the hybrid verion, however, because the batteries are under the floor.
Our test version was a top-of-line Limited model, which meant it was outfitted with high quality interior materials, including leather seats, an upgraded stereo system, and a rear seat entertainment system that played DVDs and CDs (an increasingly rare option these days). It also came with an optional Advanced SafetyTec Group package lane departure warning, lane departure intervention, forward collision warning, forward collision mitigation with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and a 360-degree top-down camera system.
As good as it was, we admit that in a week of driving, no one came up to us on the street and said, "Wow, is that the new Pacifica." No matter how well designed they are, vans are never going to generate that kind of excitement. But for all around practicality, families should get over their reluctance to be seen in them, and the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is where to start.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
Base price: $28,959
Price as tested: $42,475
Type: Three-row family van
Engines: 3.6-liter V6 (287 hp, 262 lbs-ft); 3.6-liter V6 plus two electric motors in hybrid (260 hp)
Transmissions: 9-speed manual; Continuously Variable in hybrid
EPA estimated mileage: 18/28; 80MPGe hybrid
Overall length: 203.6 inches
Curb weight: 4,330 to 4,510 pounds
Final assembly point: Windsor, Ontario