Oftentimes, when a manufacture wants to reset the reputation of a model or lineup, they’ll use a new name on an existing product. Typically, though, the new name isn’t that of an older, somewhat successful and completely unrelated product. That’s what Chrysler has done with the 2017 Pacifica, however. Brand new from the ground up, the only thing that isn’t completely redesigned is the 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine. Everything else about the Pacifica is wholly different than the mediocre Town and Country it’s replacing. It’s also completely different than the Pacifica SUV Chrysler sold about ten years ago as well. Different is probably the best single word to describe the latest reboot of the minivan.
But it’s not a bad different.
Let’s get this out of the way: Take everything you’ve heard thought or believed about the current state of FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobile) products, and toss it away. Chrysler is trying something new with the Pacifica. On the surface, it appears that this is an upscale minivan, designed to compete with the Japanese entries and bring some much needed modernization to the segment. In reality, it does just that. That, alone, surprised me just as much as anybody. Execution is nearly perfect in every way a minivan should be done. Chrysler invented the minivan, and the Pacifica is reinventing it again.
At the top trim, where our Limited falls, luxury and functionality collide in a wonderful way. From a trim perspective, soft perforated nappa leather covers all seating surfaces. Soft plastics and stitched leather adorn trim and dash surfaces. Toys are on par with large luxury saloons like the Genesis G90 we tested a few weeks ago. Driver and the first four passengers are treated to a full complement of toys, trims and comfort features.
The ride is not what you’d expect from the minivan, or an FCA vehicle for that matter. Handling is firm and confident. It handles turns at speed with ease. Road noise is extremely well managed. Sound insulation is combined with active noise cancellation from the audio system. Six microphones in the cabin detect and cancel ambient noise. Performance is snappy, and the transmission shifts exactly when it feels like it should. Shift points adjust to driving style well, and are barely noticeable most of the time. The body feels tight. Chrysler has upped the stiffness in the unibody, which adds to the sophisticated feel of the Pacifica’s driving dynamics. From the driver’s seat if feels more like an SUV than minivan. In essence: Different than what you expect.
Chrysler has learned from what the competition from Japan is doing, and it shows. Interior build quality is the best they’ve done in many years. Build materials include words like tungsten and aluminum. From a practicality perspective, the Pacifica is a real shot across the bow to the rest of the segment. Everything you expect in a minivan is there; foldable rear seats, over a dozen cup holders, storage cubbies, plenty of car seat locations. Splurge a little to the Limited trim, and you get a built in RIDGID vacuum, power folding rear seats and a stunning two panel panoramic sunroof accentuated with a third row moonroof. Nobody else has that. Nor does anybody else have the ingenious Uconnect Theatre. Twin touchscreens mounted on the driver and passenger seats with fully independent video inputs. They also include a suite of basic games, climate controls and even an airplane style “are we there yet” app. Execution is brilliant.
Pacifica is the gift that keeps on giving, even at the high end price. Traditional places reviewers can poke holes in FCA products just don’t exist on the Pacifica. It really shines when you get into a good highway cruise. Ride comfort is top of the class, and so is the mileage. In a 50 mile jaunt on the highway home, the Pacifica managed just over 30 US MPG. Those who own minivans will be impressed by that number. Those who don’t; you should be impressed. It also tows 100lbs more than everybody else, listed at 3,600lbs capacity.
While the Chrysler Pacifica Limited is top trim, many of the ride and practicality elements are shared across the model lineup. It was a hard vehicle to find issues with, but it fell short of total perfection. Achilles had his heel.
The not so good
Cosmetically, the biggest pain point with the Pacifica is the dial gear shift they insist on using. It’s situated in close proximity to the volume button, and can easily be mistaken as some control knob part of the center dash cluster. There’s little feedback to the gear you’re putting the van into, just a twirl of the dial. Some form of feedback would be nice to know which gear you’re in, or to be able to quickly switch without having to give the dial full attention. The transmission also seemed to hesitate a bit in its shift from reverse to forward.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the Pacifica is its turning radius. It’s on par with a larger SUV, but, compared to other minivans, it’s a wide berth. Hardly noticeable during normal driving, but it does make navigating parking lots and tight spaces rather tricky. It’s much easier to back into spaces then risk a heavily assisted, by built in driving aids, multipoint turn. Mercifully, driving sensors in front, sides and rear come very much in handy.
From the minor points department; if you want to adjust the forward position of the second row seats, don’t get your hopes up. While stow ‘n go is fantastic for quickly losing the second row, it means the seats are static in their position. Oddly, Chrysler has added large plastic bins into the stow ‘n go wells of the Pacifica. They’re large, awkward and clunky. If you do put the seats down, there’s no convenient place to store them.
Finally, there’s the price. At $48,000 USD, or $63,000 CAD, a Pacifica with these options costs nearly $4,000 USD more than the Limited Toyota Sienna. It’s actually a full $10,000 CAD between the two MSRPs. Even with all the tech and modernization, and its execution, this makes the Pacifica Limited a hard sell.
Should I buy this car
As a minivan, the Pacifica stands up well against others in the market segment. It’s a very, very far cry from the Grand Caravan. Considering overall ride, fuel mileage and optional eight passenger seating, the Pacifica is a Chrysler minivan which stands tall between the Sienna and Odyssey. Modern styling, design and technology bring innovation into a segment that seems to get its hand-me-downs from SUVs. Since the 2018 Odyssey is still on its way, and the Sienna isn’t getting a full redesign, the Pacifica is definitely worth a look.
Want to save some money? Take a look at the Pacifica Hybrid. It’s the only hybrid minivan on the market, and comes with a lot of options. Mileage advantages aside – this is a plug in hybrid with 33 miles of electric only range and sub 2 hour charge time – state, federal and provincial incentives can bring the cost of this van down back into the downright irresistible range.