The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica: The minivan metamorphosis

2017 Chrysler Pacifica (left) and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (right)

We consider ourselves van experts. We’ve been spending the last year with our long-term Kia Sedona, and we’ve driven every van know to exist, including all the citified work vans like the Ram ProMaster City and monster mega vans like the Ford Transit. So when FCA introduced the new Pacifica at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, we had to drop our two cents into the piggy bank.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica HybridFirst, it’s well known that Chrysler invented the minivan three decades ago, with the Caravan. Over those 30 years, the minivan has enjoyed the highest highs and the lowest lows. The segment hit a high of 1.3 million units in 1999, with just about every manufacturer offering its own version. But someone decided that the minivan was the embodiment of a boring, suburban mom who shuttled her kids to soccer practice, and the moniker stuck to the minivan like bubble gum in your kid’s hair. It became a leper, the ugly duckling no one wanted. Numbers dropped drastically, and by the end of last year, sales of just over a half million minivans from only seven models tell the tale better than we can.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica HybridBut for those like us who understand just how practical the minivan is, we hope it never goes away. Chrysler is betting that this segment will make a comeback, and the new Pacifica is more than capable of helping it do that. Before we get into this all-new van, we, along with lots of other folks, question why the decision was made to relinquish the Grand Caravan/Town & Country names, which have amassed unprecedented brand recognition. FCA spokesperson, Angela Bianchi, replied, “The Chrysler Pacifica truly redefines the minivan segment, with 37 new minivan-first innovations. It’s an all-new vehicle from the ground up, and the Chrysler team thought the name should reflect that. The original Pacifica was a crossover ahead of its time and redefined its segment when it was introduced in 2003. We often bring back past names, and the name “Pacifica” makes sense for the all-new 2017 Chrysler minivan.”

2017 Chrysler PacificaRegardless of the name, the new Pacifica should be able to lure current FCA minivan customers into continuing with the brand. Much like the Kia Sedona, the Pacifica leans toward crossover/SUV when it comes to design. It’s sleek, modern, and graceful, with the second-row sliding door tracks hidden under the rear glass. The wide track, big wheels and tires, and low stance also improve first impressions.

2017 Chrysler PacificaInside, the Pacifica retains some of the features customers loved about the previous vans: Stow ‘n’ Go seating, the ability to carry up to eight occupants, and plenty of leg room at all rows. What’s new are cool items like the segment-first hands-free sliding second-row doors and rear liftgate, an available 20-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, and Uconnect Access. There’s also remote start, Stow ‘n’ Vac integrated vacuum system (Honda’s idea first), and KeySense, with a lot of the same restricted functions first offered by Ford’s MyKey.

2017 Chrysler PacificaThe Pacifica boasts of more than 100 standard and available safety features, including many driver-assist technologies like surround view camera, ParkSense for parallel and perpendicular parking, Adaptive Cruise Control, LaneSense departure warning system, and more.

The Pacifica also sits on an all-new front-wheel-drive platform (no AWD offered), which we’re sure will be the underpinnings for a variety of models to come. It’s lighter than the outgoing van, and it’s quieter, stronger, and delivers reduced NVH. When paired with the Pentastar 3.6-liter V6, Chrysler says it will deliver best-in-class fuel economy. The 287 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque are more than all the others in the segment, and it’s matched to FCA’s TorqueFlite nine-speed transmission.

 

2017 Chrysler Pacifica HybridFor those who want the ultimate in economy, Pacifica will come in a Hybrid model. This is the first hybrid minivan in the industry, and Chrysler claims an estimated range in electric mode of 30 miles, and 80 MPGe for fuel economy. The electrically variable transmission, for which FCA holds the patent, features two electric motors where both can drive the vehicle’s wheels. Bianchi told CarBuzzard.com that the Pacifica makes great sense as a hybrid. “The Chrysler Pacifica is actually the perfect candidate for a hybrid. Our research showed that many minivan owners have a daily commute of about 30 miles — which happens to be our all-electric range, so Pacifica Hybrid owners could feasibly do most of their daily commuting and errands without dipping into the fuel tank. The Pacifica’s package is also perfect for a hybrid — the battery pack is stored where the second-row Stow ‘n Go bins would be on the gas-powered vehicle, meaning that the cargo space that minivan owners want and need isn’t compromised at all. While the gas model will obviously be the volume seller, the hybrid offers a big opportunity for us in key markets like California.”

2017 Chrysler Pacifica HybridOverall, the Pacifica looks to be a success. Chrysler is betting on the fact that few people will remember the SUV from over a decade ago, with its plusses and minuses.

The previous Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan (Dodge will not get a version of the Pacifica moving forward) accounted for around 40 percent of the segment. Will the new Pacifica be able to maintain the lead that Chrysler has held for the past 33 years, or will it relinquish the title to the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey?

No matter what, it will be a fun battle to watch.