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2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Test Drive Review
With its first plug-in hybrid, Chrysler looks to the Pacifica minivan to add some eco esteem to a rather sparse lineup. A bit of a trim shuffle sees some new names and a brand new level—the Touring Plus—acting as the entry trim for the Hybrid. With newly standard blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, an updated Uconnect system, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay joining the mix, Chrysler’s made sure owners get a hefty slice of tech even at the minivan's most basic level. Higher up, Limited trims now get a standard 20-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, while the Uconnect Theater can now stream from Android devices wirelessly. Toss in a little 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity for the navigation system, and Chrysler’s bringing plenty of tech bona fides.
Look and Feel
If you ignore the plug-in port on the front driver-side fender and the hybrid pages buried in the back of the Uconnect infotainment system, you’d never know this was anything but your standard Pacifica. Until, that is, you try to use the famous “Stow ‘n' Go” seats that set the Pacifica apart from competitors like the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey. A 16.0kWh lithium-ion battery pack beneath the floor means there’s no room for such luxuries here, although the rear seats still fold flat to open up the minivan's 140.5 cubic feet of total storage.
The Pacifica Hybrid starts with the new Touring Plus trim, skipping over the L and LX trims from the gasoline model. That means you start with standard luxuries like 3-zone auto climate control, auto headlights, LED taillights, heated mirrors, and keyless entry and ignition. Front seats get power, and the sliding doors operate with the touch of a button, whether they're open or closed. You also get a 6-speaker stereo with HD and satellite radio, Bluetooth, and voice commands, plus a USB port and Auxiliary jack. And to combat visibility issues, the Pacifica Hybrid comes standard with a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors.
Move up to the Touring L and you’ll be treated to a standard power liftgate that's optional for the Touring, remote engine start, heat for the front seats, window shades for the second and third rows, roof rails, an upgraded center console, and leather.
You can spec a Touring L with a navigation system and a rear-seat entertainment system with an overhead display screen and DVD player, but with the top-tier Limited trim—which Chrysler was kind enough to send along for this test—that system is upgraded with dual seatback screens and a Blu-ray player. The Limited also gets you hands-free operation for the sliding doors and liftgate, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, and auto high beams and wipers. The leather upholstery is better, too, and the second and third rows get USB ports, plus a conventional outlet. Additionally, Chrysler provides the Limited with a second “KeySense” fob that allows you to set limits on speed, volume, and radio channels, and it lets owners lock in all driver safety systems. That’s a lot to look forward to for the Limited's $44,995 starting price, but there are options you can add. If you want to pay for added safety, the Advanced SafetyTec Group gets you adaptive cruise control with forward-collision warning and auto brake, a 360-degree camera, plus front parking sensors, lane-departure warning, and an automated parallel- and perpendicular-parking feature for $995, while a panoramic sunroof will tack another $1,595 onto the price, and 18-inch alloys add another $895. My Pacifica came with all of this. Add the $1,095 destination charge, and the drive-away price on my Hybrid Limited came to $49,575.
The Pacifica's standard 3.6-liter V6 has been heavily modified for extra efficiency with different pistons, camshafts, and valves, as well as increased compression and an Atkinson timing cycle. This means a slight drop in total horsepower down to 260. You won’t notice it, however, thanks to dual electric motors paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), meaning power is immediately on tap right from the start. Even more important, acceleration between 50 and 70 miles per hour actually outpaces the gasoline version for effortless highway passing.
Charging the battery via the 6.6kW onboard charger will take 14 hours on a standard outlet or just two if you use a 240-volt outlet designed for larger appliances. With a full charge, you’re looking at more than 30 miles of electric-only operation. One caveat: Most plug-in hybrids have an “electric-only” mode you can select, but here it’s determined solely by your right foot. If you’re not careful, it’s very easy to give the Pacifica the business and end up starting the gasoline engine when you meant to stay on electric power.
The Pacifica Hybrid's powertrain isn’t the smoothest I’ve experienced in a hybrid setup, but it inserts itself into the proceedings with relative grace. That said, while the EPA estimates that the gasoline-only operation will net a combined 32 mpg, I could never get it to go over 21 mpg in my long test loop of varied driving conditions. That’s more than a little disappointing, especially considering how much of my testing was in stop-and-go conditions—where the hybrid is supposed to shine.
Form and Function
Don’t think Stow ‘n' Go seating is the only thing you’re sacrificing with the Hybrid, either. A gasoline-powered Pacifica can tow up to 3,600 pounds. The Hybrid? Well, Chrysler recommends you limit your towing to… nothing. Yup, nothing. That matters. Most families can’t afford a wholly separate vehicle for towing, especially if that vehicle doesn’t allow them to carry the whole family to wherever they're towing that boat or camper.
The hybrid features other small changes that can lead to some big annoyances. The built-in vacuum cleaner that everyone loves so much? For some reason, it's not available in the hybrid. And I hope you like second-row captain’s chairs, because they’re the only available setup in the hybrid, meaning it's limited to 7 passengers. Otherwise, things are just as practical and easy to use as in any minivan, with an extra bit of luxury in the Limited I tested, thanks to its upgraded leather and active noise control.
Technology gets an extra bump this year thanks to the Pacifica's standard blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert systems and an updated Uconnect system that now offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. That’s added to an already stout list of tech standards like Bluetooth with voice command, HD and satellite radio with USB and Aux inputs, rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, and ambient lighting. Technically, we could add the auto headlights, power sliding doors, and keyless entry and ignition to this list, depending on how much of a completist you are, but it’s not until the upper trims that the tech really starts to take over.
A navigation system with 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity and a backseat entertainment system can be ordered, which will get you an overhead display for a DVD player. But to get the dual seatback screens and the Blu-ray player with wireless streaming for Android devices, you’ll need to jump up to the Limited trim. While you’re there, you’ll be treated to additional tech upgrades like a 20-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, adaptive cruise control, front parking sensors, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning with auto emergency braking, a 360-degree parking camera, and an automatic parking system that works for both parallel and perpendicular parking.
The Limited also comes with a separate key fob that allows you to set limits for valets and teen drivers while making sure that all driver safety systems and aids remain active. Chrysler calls it “KeySense.” With it, you’ll be able to set maximum speeds and volume levels, as well as restrict satellite stations. It’s a standard feature on the Limited, but it is available as an option for the lower trims as well.
As mentioned earlier, the Pacifica Hybrid starts with standard safety like blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a rear-view camera, and rear parking sensors, and builds to the Limited’s full suite of adaptive cruise control with full stop-and-go capability, front parking sensors, lane-departure warning and intervention, and a forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking. Thanks to this, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has awarded the Pacifica Hybrid its highest rating of Good in all tests except the small overlap front passenger side test and the headlight test, in which it received an Acceptable rating in its lower trims. The Pacifica also received a Marginal rating for the ease of use of the child-seat anchors. Likewise, the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests resulted in a 5-star rating for every category but rollover, for which the Pacifica Hybrid scored 4 stars.
It should also be noted that the Hybrid’s batteries add more than 500 pounds to the Pacifica’s curb weight, which results in increased braking distances. Some testing has seen increases of 20 feet or more from 70 mph, and while I was unable to independently verify those distances, I can tell you that repeated hard braking did result in noticeable brake fade.
The Hybrid carries a $7,000 price premium over the same trim level of the gasoline Pacifica model, but that premium is effectively eliminated as long as the $7,500 federal tax incentive is still in effect. How long that will last, we can’t be sure, but you also have to factor in the reduced utility for the hybrid thanks to the loss of the Stow ‘n' Go seating, the towing capability, the limited seating capacity, and the loss of the built-in vacuum. Chrysler hopes that will all get overshadowed by the $900 per year or more it estimates you’ll save on gas, but I’d adjust those numbers a bit based on the real-world mileage. After all, I was getting around 21 miles per gallon versus the advertised 32. That said, if the loss of towing and Stow ‘N' Go doesn’t bother you and you drive less than 30 miles a day, the Pacifica Hybrid could fit your automotive needs nicely.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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