Test Drive:2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Chrysler takes pride in minivan "firsts." From inventing the modern front-drive minivan in 1984 to introducing simple yet effective improvements such as seatback-mounted grocery bag hooks, the automaker has led even when it has followed.
Americans don't buy minivans to the same extent they once did, and when they do choose this cultural artifact related to parental status, they demonstrate a preference for competing models from Honda and Toyota. With the introduction of the 2017 Pacifica, Chrysler intends to change that by providing a stylish, comfortable, dynamic, and innovative alternative to the Odyssey and Sienna.
Now, starting early in 2017, the Pacifica gains one of the most significant minivan firsts in history. It will be available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain supplying 30 miles of electric driving range, 530 miles of total driving range, and 260 total system horsepower, per Chrysler. Best of all, Pacifica Hybrid owners will need only to give up the second-row Stow 'N Go seats to obtain one.
Prices and packaging do not mirror the standard Pacifica. The Pacifica Hybrid comes in Premium ($43,090 including a destination charge of $1,095) and Platinum ($46,090) trim levels. The Pacifica Hybrid Platinum includes everything as standard equipment, except for a panoramic glass roof, which is optional. Stacked against a loaded, non-hybrid Pacifica Limited with all the trimmings, the top-of-the-line Pacifica Hybrid Platinum is less expensive.
And that's before factoring in the $7,500 federal tax credit or any state and local incentives that might exist in your part of the country.
Styling and Design
Though stylishly penned, there is no hiding the fact that the Chrysler Pacifica is a minivan, and that automatically puts an "X" across this vehicle's name on the shopping lists of many buyers. Hybrid models also tend to turn some people off, what with their aerodynamic design revisions and styling that is different for the sake of being so.
If you can get over the fact that the Pacifica is a minivan, you'll be pleased by Chrysler's approach to the Hybrid model's styling. Nothing more than aqua-tinged badges, a wave-pattern grille, and aero-friendly 18-in. wheels that offer greater design depth than a pie plate signal this Pacifica's eco-friendly nature. Well, those items plus the e-badged plug-in port on the left front fender.
Inside, the Pacifica Hybrid receives unique instrumentation that conveys the necessary information related to its plug-in gas-electric hybrid powertrain. Otherwise, decor mimics the standard, non-hybrid Pacifica save for aqua Chrysler emblems.
Happily, the Pacifica Hybrid jettisons the standard Pacifica's second-row Stow 'N Go seats because their floor storage tubs are now filled with battery packs. In their place, wider and far more comfortable captain's chairs that can slide forward and back help to improve passenger comfort. Each weighs 68 lbs. and can be removed from the van, preserving the Pacifica Hybrid's ability to haul 8-by-4-foot sheets of plywood home from the hardware store.
Features and Controls
The Pacifica Hybrid commands a price premium in that basic versions of it are unavailable. However, once the federal tax credit is applied, the effective base price is $35,590, equaling the mid-grade Pacifica Touring-L and supplying a longer list of standard equipment. Generously equipped, the Platinum version tested costs just $3,000 more than the Premium trim, and the only option is a panoramic glass roof.
Equipped with Chrysler's latest Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system, featuring a flush glass touch-screen display with large menu icons, the Pacifica Hybrid is laid out just like a standard Pacifica save for its unique instrumentation cluster and special E Hybrid functionality. Pacifica Hybrid owners also gain access to an exclusive version of its Uconnect App technology, which allows for remote cabin temperature pre-conditioning, charge scheduling, charging status checks, charging station locator, and more.
Primary climate and stereo controls are divorced from the screen, a rotary knob facilitates space-saving and intuitive transmission gear selection, and the switchgear looks and feels like quality. Storage space is abundant, seat comfort impresses, and aside from the loss of second-row Stow 'N Go seating, the Pacifica Hybrid retains full functionality.
Safety and Technology
Similarly, the Pacifica Hybrid is offered with all of the same safety and technology features that are available on the non-hybrid Pacifica, including an impressive UConnect Theater system with touch-screen displays, a long list of driver-assistance and safety systems, and even hands-free operation for the sliding side doors in addition to the rear liftgate.
This means that the main difference between the standard Pacifica and the new Pacifica Hybrid is the powertrain.
When asked why Chrysler refrains from calling this minivan a plug-in hybrid, company spokespeople said that research indicates that, on average, when consumers see or hear the phrase "plug-in," they automatically assume the vehicle is electric, which sparks range anxiety. Simply calling it the Pacifica Hybrid solves that perception problem.
You can drive a Pacifica Hybrid without ever plugging it in, though that defeats one of its primary benefits, which is its electric driving range. Chrysler claims that research shows that minivan owners rarely drive more than 30 miles per day, on average. When the 16-kWh battery pack reaches its minimum state of charge, the 3.6-liter V-6 engine automatically starts and the van operates as a traditional hybrid, similar to a Toyota Prius, until you plug it back in and wait 14 hours for a recharge using a standard household outlet (just 2 hours using a Level 2 240-volt charger, according to Chrysler).
Together, the gasoline V-6 engine and the electrically variable transmission with its two electric motors supply a total of 260 horsepower. That's down from a standard Pacifica, which generates 287 horsepower, and the Pacifica Hybrid weighs 650 lbs. more than the gasoline version.
You might assume that represents a recipe for sluggish acceleration and sloppy ride and handling characteristics, but that's because you're forgetting the importance of torque and the impact of a lower center of gravity.
Electric motors provide all of their torque the moment a driver steps on the accelerator pedal. In the Pacifica Hybrid, this translates into a surge of acceleration from a stop and rapid response at lower city speeds.
Chrysler has also developed this vehicle as a "blended plug-in hybrid," which means the gasoline V-6 engine seamlessly steps in to provide extra power when necessary, such as when driving up hills. Which it does, helping to get the heavy van up steeper grades and around slower traffic.
A blended regenerative braking system is included, too, capturing energy to incrementally replenish the battery. They feel natural underfoot, and perform just like standard braking components, lacking the "stickiness" once common to such systems.
Most of the time, you get a sense of the Pacifica Hybrid's extra weight, though Chrysler has tuned the suspension to limit the impact on the van's ride and handling. Despite low rolling-resistance tires, the Pacifica Hybrid does a good job of mimicking a standard Pacifica in terms of driving dynamics, and that's intended to be a compliment.
During a drive from Culver City, California, to the Malibu Pier by way of Beverly Hills, the Pacifica Hybrid exceeded 30 miles of electric driving range. Turning into the local mountains rapidly depleted the battery charge, though, and once the van was operating as a traditional hybrid it returned 28 mpg. Official EPA estimates will be announced closer to the Pacifica Hybrid's on-sale date.
Given the $7,500 federal tax credit and the potential to earn additional incentives, in consideration of the real-world electric driving range, and after a day spent driving the new Pacifica Hybrid, I can't understand why anyone might buy the standard Pacifica.
You could literally never, ever plug this plug-in hybrid into a wall socket or charging station and you would still get a huge discount and better gas mileage. Use the Pacifica Hybrid as intended and you could theoretically visit a gas station once a month. Maybe.
Chrysler has demonstrated a long history of innovation within the minivan segment, but the new Pacifica Hybrid is the most impressive one of them all.