2017 Chrysler Pacifica Review
Christian Wardlaw | Jul 18, 2016
IntroductionChrysler once owned the minivan segment, and by "owned" we mean the company invented it and dominated it before Honda and Toyota arguably perfected it. Last redesigned for the 2008 model year, the Chrysler Town & Country has for the past decade enjoyed a necessarily continuous program of improvement, and by 2014 had once again eclipsed its primary rivals in terms of sales.
Here's the caveat: a huge chunk of those sales were to rental car companies, businesses, and governments, making the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna the popularity contest winners among American families.
For the 2017 model year, Chrysler has redesigned its minivan in a concerted effort to woo moms and dads back to showrooms. The Town & Country name is ditched in favor of Pacifica (last used on a crossover SUV), and Chrysler has packed in just about everything your clan might need or want for road trips both short and long. Highlights include significant upgrades in the areas of driving dynamics, technology, safety, and utility. You might have also noticed that the new Pacifica is actually stylish, too. For a minivan.
Available in LX, Touring, Touring L, Touring L Plus, and Limited trim levels, every 2017 Pacifica comes with front-wheel drive, a 3.6-liter V-6 engine, and the unparalleled practicality inherent in a minivan.
For this review, our expert evaluated a Pacifica Limited with the Uconnect Theater and Sound Group option and the Tire and Wheel Group option. The price came to $47,280, including the $995 destination charge.
What Owners SayBefore we discuss the results of our evaluation of the new 2017 Pacifica, it is helpful to understand who bought the previous version of Chrysler's minivan and what they liked most and least about it.
Based on J.D. Power research data, Town & Country buyers are more often men, older, and less affluent than the average minivan owner. Just 31% of Chrysler minivan buyers are members of Gen X (born 1965-1976) or Gen Y (1977-1994), compared with 49% of minivan buyers across this vehicle segment. Median annual household income for Chrysler Town & Country buyers is $95,909 compared with $101,193 for the segment.
Not surprisingly, 87% of Chrysler minivan buyers agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company, compared with only 59% of all minivan buyers. Surprisingly, 60% of Town & Country buyers agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd, while only 54% of minivan buyers agree with that sentiment.
Whereas Chrysler minivan buyers agree that they prefer to buy from a domestic company, at the same time just 51% strongly agree that their first consideration in choosing a vehicle is reliability, compared with 61% of owners in the segment. In all other measured psychographic aspects, Chrysler Town & Country buyers align with owners across the minivan segment.
What Our Expert SaysIn the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the new 2017 Pacifica performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM
ExteriorAs the 1970s taught us, it's tough to make a van look good. Yet Chrysler succeeds with the new Pacifica, which draws clear inspiration from the current Chrysler 200 sedan. Thanks to its narrow headlights, frowning front fascia, hidden sliding door tracks, upswept rear side windows, and wrapped rear glass and taillights, the Pacifica is instantly recognizable as Chrysler's new minivan.
Thankfully, Chrysler doesn't try to fool anyone by adding SUV styling gimmicks, either. Given that popular crossovers like the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander employ nothing more than gray plastic wheel arches and lower body trim combined with fake front and rear skid plates to convey their alleged SUV credentials, only the location of the Pacifica's sliding door handles instantly gives it away as a minivan.
InteriorInside, the Pacifica's place on the automotive continuum is more obvious. In the test vehicle, a "super console" divided the front captain's chairs, but in other trim levels, mom or dad can ostensibly move to the second-row seating area without exiting the vehicle.
Rounded, organic shapes dominate the dashboard, which houses a rotary knob for selecting transmission gears. Instrumentation is busy and compact, neither trait useful for quick reference by the driver. Controls are remarkably simple, mainly because so many of the Pacifica's features are accessed solely using the driver information display between the gauges or via menus in the Uconnect infotainment system.
The Limited version looks upscale thanks to the 2-tone decor, tastefully textured and patterned surfaces, and appealing metallic and gloss black trim. The Limited's triple-pane glass roof bathes the cabin in natural light, and manual side window shades help to keep the sun out of a baby's eyes, though large gaps do exist.
SeatsIf you're familiar with the Town & Country, you'll recall that it offered an intimate, nearly bus-like driving position. That's gone, replaced by a roomier arrangement that taller people will almost certainly appreciate.
The Limited has standard perforated leather upholstery wrapped around front seats that supply impressive comfort even on longer drives. Heating and ventilation are standard for this version, but to activate them it is necessary to dive into the Uconnect system's screen. A heated steering wheel is standard for the Limited, too.
Second-row seats are an improved version of Chrysler's exclusive Stow 'n Go setup. For 2016, a button powers the front seats out of the way, making the second-row seat storage bins easier to access. The seats are also easier to collapse into the bins.
When in use, the second-row chairs remain narrow, but the seat cushions are not as sharply angled. They cannot be adjusted to increase legroom, an unfortunate compromise for their ability to store in the Pacifica's floor. An 8-passenger seating arrangement is available.
Third-row seating is quite comfortable for adults, providing plenty of room for legs and feet. Second-row seats tilt forward to guarantee easy access even if a child safety seat is installed in that location. The third-row seats can be stowed into the rear cargo area well, the operation requiring just one hand to complete.
Climate Control SystemThe new Pacifica is available with a triple-zone automatic climate control system, one that works overtime on sunny summer days if the panoramic roof shade is left open.
The front climate controls are easy to use. The rear control panel is located over the right sliding door, convenient to just one of the van's passengers. Drivers can adjust rear temperature by using the appropriate Uconnect menu. It would be better for parents to have a button on the dashboard for adjusting the rear temperature.
Infotainment SystemChrysler installs a new version of Uconnect in the Pacifica, one equipped with an 8.4-in. glass touch screen that looks like a tablet computer. Increasingly, however, Uconnect is in need of an update.
For example, a Wi-Fi hotspot connection is available, but it is 3G rather than speedier 4G. Siri Eyes Free is integrated into the system, but smartphone-projection technology, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, remains absent. Apps load slowly, and the voice-recognition system could be better at recognizing natural language directives.
The test vehicle also had an optional Harman Kardon premium surround-sound audio system with 20 speakers. It sounded muddy unless the bass was dialed almost all of the way down and the treble was turned nearly all of the way up.
An optional Uconnect Theater rear-seat entertainment system was also present in the test vehicle. Equipped with dual 10.1-in. touch-screen displays mounted to the front seatbacks, it included several games for children to play. During a multihour road trip, my own kids did not ask to see a movie, preferring the mix of entertainment and brain-teaser games offered by the system.
Storage and SpaceMinivans excel when it comes to providing storage and space, and the Chrysler Pacifica is no exception. However, instead of providing a "super console" on certain trim levels, it would be preferable to get a larger console between the front seats, one similar to a crossover SUV. Nevertheless, Chrysler provides numerous places to stash your stuff, as well as a multitude of hooks designed to hold plastic grocery bags.
The cargo well behind the Pacifica's third-row seat measures 32.3 cu. ft., but that's if you stack items to the roof. If you stack items to the roof, or even to the tops of the seatbacks like I did, they tumble out of the van the moment you open the liftgate.
Unless you're carrying extra passengers on a regular basis, you might want to keep the third-row seat stored and enjoy 87.5 cu. ft. of cargo volume. Or, when you need to haul something huge, fold the second-row seats into the floor in order to transform the Pacifica into a locked, weatherproof box capable of carrying up to 140.5 cu. ft. of cargo.
A hands-free rear liftgate is available for the Pacifica, making it easier to load the van when your hands are full. This feature is also offered for the sliding side doors. Just be sure you're standing on solid ground before attempting to wave your foot under the vehicle to activate this feature.
Visibility and SafetyThanks to relatively thin windshield pillars equipped with side quarter windows, oversized side mirrors, folding third-row head restraints, and a standard reversing camera, the Pacifica is easy to drive and maneuver.
Options include blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a 360-degree surround-view camera system, park-assist sensors with automatic stopping capability, and ParkSense park-assist technology that can autonomously steer the van into both parallel and perpendicular parking spaces.
In terms of driving assistance and safety technologies, Chrysler offers a forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking and a lane-departure warning system with lane-departure prevention. Through Uconnect Access subscription services, the van also comes with automatic collision notification, which is free for the first year of ownership.
As this review was published, neither the federal government nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had performed crash tests on the new Pacifica.
Engine/TransmissionThanks to a 3.6-liter V-6 engine making 287 horsepower, the 4,330-lb. Chrysler Pacifica has no trouble accelerating–even with a full load of passengers and/or cargo aboard. Obviously, the less weight aboard the van the friskier it feels, but even with 6 people and a trunk full of luggage the Pacifica flew down the highway and across mountain ranges.
A 9-speed automatic transmission powers the front wheels. Drivers shift using a rotary control knob on the dashboard, one sharing space with stereo and climate controls. If you accidentally twist it after the kids demand more volume for a favorite song, don't worry too much because you can only choose Neutral while the van is underway.
For the most part, the transmission behaved itself. Sometimes it was reluctant to downshift, and occasionally flat out refused to do so. Paddle shifters would be nice, if for no other reason than to manually choose a lower gear in order to avoid riding the brakes down hills.
A plug-in hybrid version of the Pacifica is planned, and will be introduced toward the end of 2016.
Fuel EconomyAccording to the EPA, the 2017 Pacifica should get 22 mpg in combined driving. During our week of testing, relatives were visiting from out of state and so we almost always had a full house of passengers. We observed 19.6 mpg despite a round-trip excursion from Los Angeles to San Diego.
Driving DynamicsWhile the Pacifica's steering, suspension, and braking systems represent major improvements over the outgoing Town & Country, it should come as no surprise to learn that this minivan (or any, really) remains a poor choice for driving fun on a twisty road. However, in all other environments the Pacifica excels in terms of driving dynamics.
Previous tests of Chrysler minivans revealed weak braking systems that would heat, shudder, and fade when traveling down Southern California's Conejo grade with no more than two adults and two children aboard the vehicle. That did not happen in the Pacifica.
In fact, the Pacifica's brakes proved fade-free no matter the type of driving or the amount of weight in the vehicle. Plus, they are easy to modulate, allowing the driver to bring the van to perfect, jostle-free stops every time.
Steering tuning is excellent, too. On the freeway, it proves reassuringly resolute on-center, making the Pacifica feel solid and stable. Off-center, it is perfectly weighted no matter the vehicle speed, if not terribly quick. The wheel rim is thick and meaty, too, a pleasure to hold.
Best of all, though, is the Pacifica's 4-wheel independent suspension. With just the driver aboard, the van feels light, lively, and athletic. Add people and cargo and the van adopts a smoother yet beautifully controlled ride. During a loaded airport run to LAX, the Pacifica almost glided across the sectioned concrete portions of the 405 freeway through West Los Angeles.
Trustworthy brakes, accurate steering, and capable ride and handling characteristics make driving the Pacifica a joy in the city, the suburbs, and out on the open road. Its powerful engine also makes merging into traffic a worry-free endeavor, and the Pacifica can zip through traffic and around corners with ease.
Should you find yourself on a writhing section of two-lane road, Chrysler's minivan will also impress at sane speeds, even proving playful to a point. More than anything, it was the test vehicle's Falken Ziex all-season tires that limited the Pacifica's potential, despite their P245/50R20 size.
Final ImpressionsThough fewer Chrysler minivan buyers strongly agree that reliability is their first consideration when choosing a vehicle (when compared with minivan buyers in general), more than half of Town & Country buyers do think dependability is one of the most important traits when deciding what to buy.
Given the Pacifica's design, dynamic, and technological excellence, and as long as this new kid hauler gets top crash-test ratings once it has been tested, all Chrysler needs to do is to prove that its new minivan will deliver outstanding reliability for years to come.
A better warranty program would be a terrific way to instill confidence in the Pacifica, a vehicle that otherwise demands consideration–and not just by people shopping for a minivan. It just makes life easier, especially if you have children.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles supplied the pre-production vehicle used for this 2017 Chrysler Pacifica review.
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