Test Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
The automaker formerly known as Chrysler Corp. launched its first minivan models—the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager—in 1984. Now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Chrysler remains a dominant, innovative player in the midsize van segment, which once accounted for 6.6% of the U.S. market but now holds a 3.5% share, according to sales data collected by J.D. Power and auto forecasting partner LMC Automotive.
To usher in its next-generation midsize van that raises the bar on exterior and interior design and will challenge competitors—including volume leaders Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey—Chrysler’s successor to the outgoing Town & Country bears a new name: Pacifica. Before the Town & Country gets kicked to the curb, however, it should be noted that it is no slouch in terms of quality, having ranked highest in its segment for three consecutive years in the J.D. Power U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS), including the 2016 study, released last week.
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica may be the most elegant, contemporary front-wheel-drive (FWD) midsize van being sold. Built on a new, stronger steel unibody architecture that is 250 lbs. lighter than that of the Town & Country, Chrysler uses aluminum and magnesium to keep vehicle weight down. Streamlined with curves even around rear-window panels, the Pacifica pulls away from minivan nomenclature. It’s loaded with technology and convenience features to create an ultimate vehicle for family ferrying, sporting events, vacation travel, home improvement cargo, mobile office uses, and even date nights.
The new Pacifica launched in May 2016; first-month deliveries totaled 2,982. Based on my drive in a fully equipped, Nappa-leather-upholstered Limited at Chrysler’s Chelsea, MI, test grounds, I believe this next-generation midsize van will please dads, moms, and kids; executives; mobile business owners; and even services like Uber or Lyft. With so many electric easy-to-use features, it also will be appreciated by less nimble older buyers.
The Pacifica reflects changing parental needs and is available in 243 unique seating configurations for optimal personalization, according to brand manager Patrick Keitz. Standard seating is for 7-8, but Pacifica can be reconfigured as a limo with middle seats stowed and the 10-in. screen on the back of the front seat playing a movie for parents’ night out.
Safety is the byword for midsize vans, and Chrysler offers as many as 100 standard and optional features on the Pacifica, according to the company. An available Safety package on the van that I drove featured 360-degree cameras with fish-eye lens, plus ParkSense Parallel/Perpendicular Park Assist; adaptive cruise control with Stop and Hold; cross-traffic and lane-departure alerts; and forward-collision warning among advanced driver-assistance systems.
Inside, Pacifica’s soft-touch dash features a user-friendly instrument cluster with simple dials and a shift knob that frees up space in front of the console for a handbag or purse. A 7-in. color information display and 8.4-in. touch screen allow the driver to access navigation, and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity are standard. The stylish leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls adds an ultra-premium feel.
The Pacifica Limited features leather upholstery and trim with matte metal accents. Every nook, seatback, door, and available under-floor area has bins, pockets, hooks, and cupholders for maximum storage and convenience. An extra touch is a vacuum stowed behind a second-row side panel with a 14-ft. hose that can sweep up cereal or pick up pet hair (the Honda Odyssey has a similar feature).
Entertainment for children and adults comes from Chrysler’s available Uconnect Theater system with USB ports that includes two 10-in. screens for the second row and remote touchpad controls. A special feature is 8 free videogame apps, called “Are We There Yet?” and developed in-house at Chrysler. For surround sound, the 2017 Pacifica is available with premium audio systems from Alpine (13 speakers) or Harman Kardon (20 speakers).
Power comes from a standard 3.6-liter V-6 engine that produces 287 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque matched with a 9-speed automatic transmission instead of a 6-speed—a first in a midsize van, Chrysler says. Pacifica has been EPA-rated to average 28 mpg on the highway, which is 10% more fuel efficient than the Town & Country, according to the company.
In addition, Chrysler will offer the first hybrid powertrain in a midsize van. The Pacifica Hybrid partners a reduced-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 with an electric variable transmission (CVT) plus electric motor that relies on power from a 16-kWh Lithium-ion battery pack to generate an estimated 260 horsepower. The hybrid Pacifica gets up to 80 MPGe, according to Chrysler. All-electric range is 30 miles, while combined range is 560 miles, the automaker claims.
The Pacifica’s ride is quiet, with laminated windshield and window glass helping to keep interior noise levels low. A new vehicle architecture is engineered to be stiffer, and handling has been enhanced by use of independent rear suspension. Driving the Pacifica is more effortless than taking a turn in the Dodge Grand Caravan, its sibling on the older vehicle platform with less compliant ride.
Trim levels for the new Pacifica include LX, Touring, Touring L, Touring L+, and Limited. Hybrid Touring and Hybrid Limited Platinum also will be offered. Extra features on the Limited that I tested included a new tri-pane panoramic roof, where two panels can be opened, and an optional Uconnect Theater system.
Pacifica’s Stow 'n Go systems for convenience are electric and push-button fast, as are hands-free sliding doors and liftgate. A neat feature for parents is a tilt-forward second-row seat that allows access to the third row without removing a child seat. For a more efficient and streamlined look, the van’s roof racks also fold down.
The Pacifica may not quite fit young parents’ budgets, as the entry-level model begins at a suggested sticker of $28,950. To have the complete package with advanced safety and infotainment systems plus convenience and comfort amenities, the Pacifica can retail for $43,000 or more.
Also, the new Pacifica Hybrid will seat 7, but second-row Stow 'n Go seats are unavailable due to battery storage. Pricing for the hybrid van will be higher, although there likely will be a tax credit.
Great looks; a nearly premium, full-featured interior; smooth ride and handling; lots of storage; and safety systems and media technology make the new Pacifica a worthy family carrier. Ease of access and egress and light-touch controls take the van into a new realm of transport. It’s definitely a surprise inside, which should please adults and children alike.