The reintroduction of the premium minivan with a hybrid/plug-in variant.
In 1984, the Chrysler group changed the family people mover ball game with the introduction of their Magic Wagons. The Plymouth Voyager, Dodge Caravan, and Chrysler Town and Country basically invented the minivan segment as we know it today, “uncool” stigmas or not. Over the last decade though, the minivan has shown signs of going extinct, with crossovers and SUVs taking over as the token family vehicle for North Americans. As the Town and Country (reviewed here) was getting older and older, it paved the path for this 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L. I was sent one for a week to evaluate how it compares to the old van.
The new Pacifica is not to be confused with the ill-fated crossover of the mid-2000s. It’s basically the latest generation of Town and Country, just revamped enough to justify a name change as well. Perhaps it’s the new van’s freshness to the market, or the fact that the old one was so dated, but the Pacifica looks excellent. It incorporates the same front end treatment as the Chrysler 200 (reviewed here), with a stylish side profile and Chrysler’s corporate taillight and decklid treatment. It’s a very attractive van, and instantly ages the Sienna (reviewed here) and Odyssey as well, aesthetically speaking.
The one thing that isn’t all that different from the other vans is the Pacifica’s engine. To no surprise, the entry level engine (and the one we tested) is the 3.6L Pentastar V6 that has become a staple in the FCA family. The aluminum block, port-injected six has 287 horsepower at 6,400RPM and 262 lb-ft of torque at 4,000RPM. Power was never a weakness in the last van after it received this motor, and it’s quite possibly one of my favourite minivan engines out there right now. Chrysler has confirmed that a plug-in hybrid will be available later this year, which will be another game changer for the segment.
My biggest pet peeve with the old vans (apart from the dated interior) was probably the archaic six-speed transmission. It has now been replaced with the transverse nine-speed automatic made by ZF. This gearbox is relatively new, and debuted in the Chrysler line on the Cherokee (reviewed here) in the 2014 model year. It has received a few updates and is a lot better now than it was in its initial days, but needs some updating before it’s up to the level of their eight-speed. Gears are selected using the rotary dial that I personally think is delightful despite controversy. There’s a lockout to prevent accidental changes and it makes great use of the available space, saving valuable dashboard real estate.
The dash itself is very well laid out, with premium touches everywhere. The Pacifica’s platform is obviously going to be shared with the eventual Grand Caravan successor, but for now it’s an upscale entry. The two-tone steering wheel is a lovely touch, with useful buttons on it for commonly accessed controls. The familiar Uconnect screen is flush with the dashboard, and the finish is now glossy. It looks a lot more premium and fits the Pacifica’s image better, but the downside is fingerprints. The rear doors and decklid are power-operated and can be controlled via the key fob.
Of course, with a minivan, even a premium one, the dashboard isn’t what buyers particularly care about – use of space is a huge priority. The Stow’N’Go fold-flat seating is standard fare, and is very well done. Improvements have been made over the decade that this system has been on the market. As in previous models with this feature, the second row seats with S’n’G models fold into two cubbies in the floor, and the third row folds flat into the cargo area. It’s all done at the tug of a clearly marked series of straps and levers, within seconds. On upper trim levels the third row folds at the touch of a button, something we experienced in the last Town & Country (reviewed here) we drove.
With the value-oriented Grand Caravan available for literally twenty thousand dollars, some may find the Pacifica’s starting price of $43,995 a bit hard to digest. However, our base model Touring L test vehicle was very well equipped. The 8.4” touchscreen is standard, along with Bluetooth, 17” wheels, LED taillights, USB charging ports throughout, leather-faced heated seats, tinted rear windows, remote start, and plenty of other stuff. $995 adds the SafetyTec group with blind spot monitoring and park assist, Uconnect with navigation is $700, and the total sticker came up to about $48,000 as equipped.
Chrysler rates the Pacifica at 12.9L/100km city and 8.4L/100km on the highway, on regular 87-octane fuel. Our test consisted of primarily city driving, with one jaunt up north where the van was used as a filming vehicle (it excelled at this, by the way!). We averaged 11.6L/100km, and the trip average for the filming voyage was 9.8L/100km with a full load on board. The hybrid model that’s on its way will obviously improve these numbers significantly, and will create an interesting proposition depending on how much interior space needs to be sacrificed.
The Pacifica’s main rivals are the Honda Odyssey (reviewed here) and Toyota Sienna in their higher trim levels. Though both those models are nearing the end of their respective life cycles, at this point the Pacifica offers a compelling choice. The Sienna offers sharper driving dynamics without compromising ride quality, and the Odyssey is the sportiest overall. It’ll be interesting to see how the focus shifts as the newer Japanese models start swarming the market. Ford, General Motors and Nissan have officially developed new priorities, with great new crossovers having replaced their minivans.
The Magic Wagons came in with a bang, and each subsequent iteration of these vans has had some sort of huge innovation. The first time we saw an example close to this 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L was at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and it was the runaway hit of the show. The reintroduction of the premium minivan, especially with a hybrid/plug-in variant, is definitely going to entice North American families back. More importantly, we’re interested to see what FCA does with the Grand Caravan, as that’s the model that most buyers will opt for.