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2017 Chrysler Pacifica Test Drive Review
A new name ushers in a new era for Chrysler minivans. Is the Pacifica enough to make owning a van cool?
You say, “It’s never going to be me.” You tell yourself it can happen to others. Then you’re there, standing under the piercing lights, the cold air sending chills down your spine. You’re in an air-conditioned dealer showroom on a Saturday afternoon… and you’re shopping for your first minivan.
The truth is minivan ownership has come a long way since the last time you sat in the back seat of one as a child. What was once a wood-paneled group transport is now replete with all the latest in-car technology—not to mention innovations that are completely unique to the minivan market.
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is the embodiment of all these advancements. It is an entirely new platform from the ground up. Chrysler wiped the slate clean and invested $2 billion to make sure an American automaker had a cutting-edge entrant in the minivan market.
But is there enough of that innovation in the Pacifica to get you to consider it? Will you ever feel cool driving a minivan? Does is it even matter? And are there better options than Chrysler’s new minivan? For the answers to these questions, read on.
Look and Feel
The Pacifica name originally belonged to a short-lived crossover sold from 2004 to 2008. Chrysler owned this name, as well as the that of the Town & Country, its long-running minivan, and the one that really started it all. So why dump the time-honored T&C name in the marketplace for this "new" one? Because this new minivan is enormously different than the model it replaces.
The last Town & Country fell near the back of the pack in the minivan market, outgunned by versatile and nearly luxurious competitors like the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.
Seemingly overnight, Chrysler has leapfrogged those competitors in the style department. The flowing curves and lines of the Chrysler 200 are well grafted onto this minivan platform. The smooth corners and other little design tricks actually cover up the size of the minivan and result in a very pleasing outward appearance. One such trick is the integration of the guide rails for the power-sliding side doors into the bottom frame of the rear window.
Inside, it gets even better. The cabin of the Pacifica is the ultimate blend of form and function (more on that later). It's hard to imagine so much storage space being concealed in such an attractive interior.
The Pacifica comes in three trims, LX, Touring, and Limited. Also available are Touring L and Touring L Plus versions. The LX comes with standard Bluetooth hands-free calling, a ParkView backup camera, and Stow-N-Go seating. Stow-N-Go is a neat way of folding the second row of seats into the floor for loading cargo. The seats don’t give up any comfort to enable this trick, and stowing them is easy. All versions of the Pacifica come standard with active noise cancelation, ensuring a quiet cabin—at least until the kids join you.
The Touring L gets leather seats, but also adds a power rear liftgate and heated rear seats as well as a host of other options. The Touring L Plus adds the Uconnect Theater, which features two large rear touchscreens with quasi-educational games like the States Game and the License Plate game. It also has a variety of media inputs if you want the little ones to watch whatever show will keep them quiet on a long drive.
The top-tier trim is the Limited. It features front-seat ventilation in addition to heating, navigation, a full-length panoramic sunroof, and even a built-in vacuum. It’s also got 20-inch wheels, something you never would have seen on a minivan a decade ago.
Like many other products in the Fiat Chrysler Automobile family, the Pacifica is powered by the venerable Pentastar V6. Displacing 3.6 liters, it makes 287 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. That’s nearly 30 more horsepower than the Odyssey and 21 more horsepower than the Sienna V6. That added power is quite welcome, and I noticed it pulling away from stoplights and accelerating on the highway.
Power is sent to the front wheels through Chrysler’s 9-speed automatic transmission, operated via a dial-like rotary shifter. Although Chrysler has not explicitly announced an all-wheel-drive (AWD) version, it has stated that the platform is designed to accept AWD.
EPA estimates for fuel economy are 18 mpg city, 28 highway, 22 combined. That is pretty good for a minivan, but if you want better fuel economy, a plug-in hybrid version is on the way. It will travel up to 30 miles on electric-only power and achieve 80 MPGe. When it arrives later this year, it will be the first-ever hybrid minivan sold in America.
Form and Function
It’s just amazing how many cubbies and cupholders can be crammed into one vehicle's interior. The front center console alone has a rear tray that slides out, an upper cubby area, and a lower bin in front of it. The bin has a little Easter Egg—engraved into the rubber liner are the profiles of all four generations of Chrysler minivans, dating back to the wood-paneled first-gen Town & Country.
Keeping the kids at bay is no easy task, and Chrysler has responded with an incredible six USB ports spread throughout the cabin. There are several up front, one in the seatback of each front seat, and one in the side of the third row.
If you need to move a lot of gear instead of kids, Chrysler provides standard Stow-N-Go seating. This impressive innovation allows both second- and third-row seats to fold up and disappear into the floor of the Pacifica. On most trims, this is done manually, but the Limited is available with a power folding third row. The only seat that does not fold away is the middle seat of the second row, which you’ll have to store in the garage. With all the seats folded and put away, the rear of the Pacifica can hold up to 64 sheets of quarter-inch plywood.
With all the seats up, getting the kids in and out is a snap, with one-touch functionality for the sliding doors and easy fold-forward second-row seats. There are open-close buttons in the second-row door pillar, on the exterior door handle, in a toggle pad up front, and even on the key fob. They really have thought of everything when it comes to every which way you cart kids around on a given day, including the wide-angle mirror that deploys from the front ceiling, letting you keep an eye on the kids out back.
The base LX trim comes standard with Bluetooth hands-free calling and the smaller Uconnect 5-inch touchscreen. The larger Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen system is optional for the Touring L Plus and standard for the Limited. As the latest incarnation of this system, it features incredibly crisp graphics, has a tablet-like layout, and is customizable. You can actually drag icons like the heated-seat button out of the controls menu and down to the dock of buttons at the bottom of the screen.
Long rides can start to wear on the patience of parents and kids alike. With that in mind, Chrysler offers the Uconnect Theater standard in the Touring L Plus and as an option for the Limited. Featuring second-row seatback touchscreens, it lets the kids play those games we mentioned and even play against each other. With various video inputs, you can also connect a device to play movies and shows.
All models come standard with a full array of front and side impact airbags, the LATCH child-seat anchoring system, and a standard backup camera.
The available SafetyTec Package ($995) features blind-spot monitoring, the ParkSense system, and rear cross-path detection, which watches for passing cars when backing out of a parking spot.
Also available the to Touring L Plus and Limited versions is the Advanced SafetyTec Package ($1,995). It features a 360-degree surround-view camera, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist.
Lane-keeping assist is a bit weird. Past versions of this from other automakers will warn you that you are driving out of your lane before the computer physically intervenes, but this system doesn’t even warn you anymore. It gently adjusts the steering, which is better than early versions of this tech from other automakers. But the system doesn’t always know why I’m veering. With New England roads, it could be anything from a cyclist to a pothole. That said, it doesn’t take much steering input to break that nudge free.
This system can be shut off, and you’re still left with an incredibly comprehensive suite of safety features. But the Advanced SafetyTec package is available only on up-rated trims. It would be nice to see this package available as an option on any trim, in case you want a model with no frills, but all safety.
Base MSRP for the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is $28,595 for the LX. The Touring comes in at $30,495. The Touring L is $34,495, the Touring L Plus comes in at $37,895, and the top-tier Limited starts at $42,495. Our test model came in at $45,660.
The competition's pricing falls into quite similar territory. The Toyota Sienna ranges from $28,850 for the base model up to nearly $47,000 for a Limited loaded up with options. The Honda Odyssey starts at $29,400 and goes up to around $45,000 for a Touring Elite.
A fully loaded Pacifica may fetch a pretty penny, but considering this vehicle will be your mobile base of operations, it brings all the tools you will need to keep the little ones safe and occupied.
At first, we wondered why Chrysler did away with the Town & Country name for its new minivan. Our contacts over at FCA say it's because the targeted buyers grew up in a T&C and want a new name to start their own family. We tend to think that it’s because Chrysler developed such a completely different and world-class minivan that a new name was needed to usher in a new era. In this new era, the Pacifica looks to be right at the front of the minivan pack.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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