Recently, Fiat Chrysler’s Windsor, Ontario assembly plant celebrated the 33th anniversary of the production launch of the original T-Wagon. If there was any one single vehicle that really defined Chrysler in the 1980s and early 1990s, this was was it, the minivan. The minivan no longer holds the position of importance in the American marketplace that it once did, but as a people-mover, no SUV or crossover can hold a candle to this form factor and FCA knows it. This year, FCA has rebooted its icon once again with a new design and the revival of a previously failed nameplate. Can the 2017 Pacifica still haul in the cash for Chrysler?
In recent years, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been at least trying to rationalize its model lineup to some degree. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, it was commonplace to have Dodge, Chrysler, Plymouth and for a time Eagle-branded variants of exactly the same car. For Chrysler, the practise was so blatant that with the Neon, they didn’t even bother to change the nameplate, there were Plymouth Neons and Dodge Neons.
Plymouth is long dead, but with the launch of the sixth-generation minivan this year, even the other original brand, Dodge is losing its variant. While the old fifth-generation Grand Caravan will stay in production for a while as a price leader, only Chrysler gets this new edition.
The choice to use the Pacifica name for this new van is a curious one. The first incarnation was on a 1999 concept for a big wagon based on the minivan platform that was meant to appeal to the growing market of consumers interested in SUVs. This was followed four years later by a production model four years later that marked one of the earliest uses of the term crossover utility although the basic premise was really born at least a decade earlier. For a variety of reasons, that Pacifica was not a commercial success and only lasted four years.
Apparently not enough consumers even took notice of that model to taint the brand permanently. When Chrysler unveiled the all-new minivan last January at the Detroit Auto Show, they opted to revive the nameplate. Whether or not Pacifica is the right name for this vehicle is probably too early to say, but the retirement of Town and Country is long overdue.
The previous generation minivans were among the last models designed and developed under the DaimlerChrysler regime and like most vehicles from Auburn Hills in those years, they came to market with a decidedly dowdy appearance and cheap-looking interior. In the rush to refresh the lineup in the immediate wake of the 2009 bankruptcy reorganization, the cabin got decidedly better, but still not great and the outside remained a dull box.
This time around, the design team has created what is arguably the most stylish minivan ever. Granted, the fundamentals of a minivan mandate what is essentially a box on wheels, but it’s an amazingly sharp looking box. The design language that debuted a couple of years ago on the midsize 200 sedan translates remarkably well to this big people mover.
The mostly darker colors including the dark brown on my tester are very nicely accented by the chrome trim around the side glass and the front of the van. The effect is both more subtle and vastly more upscale than any prior Town & Country could have hoped for. Chrysler’s approach of hiding the door tracks under the lower edge of the rear quarter windows keep the sheet metal clean and ready to be sculpted.
The slight tapering of the glass towards the rear of the body also helps to cut down the impression of boxiness. This is further enhanced by the wrapping of the glass from the tailgate into the rear corners and slight forward lean of the rear glass combined with the laid-back stance of the rear pillars.
Inside, the Pacifica also echos the design themes of other recent Chryslers including the rotary shift knob on the center console and the 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen display. The materials and fit and finish are excellent for a vehicle in the $30,000 to 40,000 price range.
Regardless of what you might have thought of the build quality of prior Chrysler vans, they have always led the way with functional innovations in the interior and that continues with this edition. One of the big advantages of a van is the ability to carry lots of people (up to eight in this case) while also having the flexibility to transform into a convenient cargo hauler for trips to Ikea or Lowes. In the early days, you’d have to plan ahead and remove the seats, leaving them in the garage before heading out to hit the estate sales. Like the last couple of generations of Chrysler minivans, the Pacifica retains the stow-n-go seats for the second and third rows. Wells in the floor ahead of and behind the respective seats can either be used to stash stuff or fold the seats down and into for a completely flat floor. No hefting out the seats and looking for a place to stash them.
Unfortunately, when the aforementioned plug-in hybrid variant arrives, owners will have to sacrifice the second-row stow-n-go. Those wells that normally hold the seats will instead hold a 16-kWh lithium ion battery. Such is the cost of saving the planet with 30 miles of electric driving range.
With the seats in position to carry passengers large and small, this test van also offered the Uconnect theater package that comes standard on the Touring L Plus and Limited trims. A pair of 10.1-inch touchscreens are mounted on the back of the front seats. If you’ve ever travelled with multiple youngsters squabbling over what to watch, you’ll be glad to know that each of the screens can display completely different content from different sources including the in-dash blu-ray player, USB thumb drives, or they can even run any of several built-in games like checkers, tic-tac-toe, sudoku and more. Below each screen there’s also an additional USB port for charging devices or playing content and an HDMI port so you can connect a game console.
Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal of SUVs for people with young kids. Installing a kid into a booster or child seat and secure them is enough of a hassle at the best of times. Reaching up to do it in an SUV is genuine pain. Minivans have always been at the perfect height for dealing with the little ones, and the large sliding doors are so much easier to deal with.
All Pacificas are equipped with Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 which just got an update last year. In the non-hybrid minivan, the output is pegged at 287-horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque with Chrysler’s ubiquitous ZF-designed nine-speed automatic transmission. The hybrid uses a more efficient Atkinson combustion cycle to achieve 248-hp and 230 lb-ft. This gets paired with a Chrysler-designed and built hybrid transaxle that we can expect to see more of in the coming years.
In conventional form, the Pacifica offers more than adequate performance for a minivan. It’s not going to keep up with the Hellcats that it shares dealer space with, but then van owners won’t expect it too. It will however, handily accelerated up to merge with traffic or make a pass. It can even do some modest towing when needed with a 3,600-pound capacity.
The last generation minivan was one of the first vehicles in the U.S. market to debut brlindspot monitoring and cross-traffic alerts, an incredibly handy feature when backing out of parking spots in a crowded lot. As you might expect of a new 2017 model, it now offers plenty of advanced driver assist features including full stop and go adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and active parking assist. This latter feature largely automates the process of both parallel and perpendicular parking which is very handy for a comparatively large vehicle where objects near the corners may be difficult to see.
On the road, the Pacifica is quiet and the powertrain is refined. The ride quality is exceptionally smooth and well controlled regardless of the road conditions. Again, this isn’t a sports car, but the braking feels confident and steering is precise if not particularly communicative.
If you regularly need to haul up to eight people or large cargo and don’t need to go off-road or tow really heavy trailers, I highly recommend that you consider a minivan over a utility vehicle. You’ll find it a lot less hassle to deal with and your passengers will probably be more comfortable. Sure they have the image of a soccer mom ride, but really who cares what others think? Do what’s right for your needs.
The 2017 Pacifica runs from $28,595 for the LX up to $42,495 for the Limited. My Touring L Plus model came to $43,765 including options and the delivery charge. There’s no word yet from Chrysler on how much the plug-in hybrid will cost. If you need or want a minivan, Chrysler has kept the old Dodge Grand Caravan in production for now as a value leader with a starting price $5,000 lower than the Pacifica. While the standard Pacifica isn’t going to compete with the hybrid on efficiency, it’s hardly a gas hog considering its capabilities and if you factor the gas used per person moved, it’s actually a lot more efficient than most vehicles. The EPA rates the Pacifica at 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined and I saw 21 during my time driving it.
Minivans are no longer all the range and most automakers have abandoned the segment. But if you decided that a minivan is right for your lifestyle, right now you really can’t do better than the Chrysler Pacifica. Of course its two chief competitors, the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are also due for redesigns in the next year so that may change. However, even in a shrinking segment, competition can improve the breed.