In the mainstream volume auto sector only Daimler’s Smart brand has fewer models than FCA’s Chrysler. Chrysler has three. And next year it’ll be down to two. Just how FCA allowed this to happen is anyone’s guess outside of Auburn Hills, but at least the two models that will carry the Pentastar flag into 2018 are very good at what they do.
Case in point, the 300 has long been one of the bestselling entries in both the mainstream full-size luxury sedan class and the mid-size premium E-segment (it arguably fits into either depending how you load it up). It obviously targets its audience very well. The Pacifica minivan is following suit with the first four months of 2017 resulting in sales of 35,479 units compared to the next bestselling Toyota Sienna’s 36,262. It’s completely bypassed the Honda Odyssey’s 28,011 deliveries, and is so far ahead of Kia Sedona’s 9,437 unit sales and Nissan Quest’s 4,035 that it’s no contest. The minivan segment leader remains the value-priced Dodge Grand Caravan at 49,871 units; a model that wasn’t even supposed to exist anymore yet still does due to its outrageous popularity north of the border (Canada’s population is 1/10th the size of the U.S. yet sold 16,239 Grand Caravans in the same four months).
It only makes sense that a bargain basement van will do well with budget conscious families, yet on the other end of the spectrum it also makes sense that the Pacifica has achieved its popularity with more well to do families, as it’s now the industry’s best minivan, or at least that’s what this auto writer thinks. Word about its goodness still needs to get out among import buyers that currently place the Grand Caravan at the bottom of the heap due to its old design and discount pricing (but shouldn’t, as it’s still an excellent van) and therefore some have lazily lumped the Pacifica into the same category without doing their homework, but believe me this new Chrysler leads the way in driving dynamics, quality, refinement, high-tech innovation, and features.
Our $44,995 Velvet Red Pearl painted Pacifica Hybrid Platinum tester included most everything offered in base $41,995 Hybrid Premium trim, such as auto on/off quad-halogen headlights, LED DRLs, fog lamps, LED taillights, a Stow ‘n Place roof rack, remote start, proximity access, pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, overhead ambient surround lighting with LED courtesy lamps, an eight-way powered driver’s seat plus four-way powered lumbar, heatable front seats, a clear, colorful and feature-filled 7.0-inch configurable in-cluster multi-info display, tri-zone auto climate control, massive 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment, Bluetooth phone with streaming audio, a USB charging port, satellite radio, dual-powered side sliding doors, a powered liftgate, third-row 60/40-split Stow ‘n Go seats, active noise cancellation, rear Park-Sense parking sensors, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a full assortment of airbags including two for front occupant knees, regenerative brakes, and more.
On top of these items Platinum trim adds more chrome exterior trim, unique 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity-sensing hands-free for the side doors and liftgate, a more upscale interior with contrast stitching in key areas, a stunning two-tone heated leather and genuine metal trimmed steering wheel (seriously, this is one of the best steering wheels in the industry), rain-sensing wipers, navigation with mapping, a very useful 360-degree surround parking camera, front Park-Sense parking sensors, parallel and perpendicular Park Assist semi-autonomous self-parking, 13-speaker 506-watt Alpine audio, three USB charging ports, a 115-volt household style power outlet, a 12-way front passenger’s seat, perforated Nappa leather upholstery with forced ventilation up front, and rear entertainment with dual flip-up 10-inch touchscreens.
Additionally, the Platinum includes a host of Advanced SafetyTec features such as auto high beam headlights, dynamic cruise control with low speed follow plus stop and go functionality, forward-collision warning with autonomous braking, advanced brake assist, lane departure warning with active lane keep assist (some of these features causing the removal of active grille shutters that come with the base model), the latter features earning it a best possible IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating. This makes top-line Pacificas the safest minivans in the industry, with only the Kia Sedona making the Top Safety Pick list and not with a “Plus” rating.
For reasons unknown Chrysler didn’t totally load up my Pacifica Hybrid tester with its optional tri-pane panoramic glass sunroof, available for $1,795. This is one item that really works well in this van as learned with my previous conventionally powered Pacifica tester, giving it an upscale ambience to match its impressive interior accoutrements.
Options in mind, the top-line Pacifica Hybrid Platinum is devoid of some additional key features that caused me to enjoy my previous Pacifica Limited model more, albeit these are not available in this electrified van at all. The list of missing items includes HID headlights, driver’s seat memory, auto-dimming interior and driver’s side mirrors, auto-tilt exterior mirrors, a universal garage door opener, heatable second-row seats, second-row Stow ‘n Go seats that fold away below the floor, power-folding third-row seats, and the Stow ‘n Vac integrated vacuum. The inclusion of these features in the Hybrid would’ve likely pushed its price well over $50k, which probably wouldn’t go over well with minivan buyers. Still, it’s a shame the fully loaded conventionally powered $42,895 Pacifica Limited is a more agreeable van than this $44,995 Pacifica Hybrid Platinum, at least until you need to fill both up with fuel.
Unlike the regular Pacifica, the Hybrid gets a 32A socket on the left front fender for recharging its 16-kWh lithium-ion battery that powers an innovative dual-motor eFlite electrically variable transmission (EVT), which allows just over 30 miles of EV driving before automatically transforming into a regular gasoline-electric hybrid by letting the specially designed low-friction, high compression (12.5:1) Atkinson-cycle 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 do some of the motive driving chores, its combined electromechanical forces resulting in a healthy 287 horsepower. The majority of the Pacifica Hybrid’s fuel savings are found in town, while there’s a considerable advantage on the highway even when not in full EV mode (it has a top speed of about 75 mph under all-electric power).
Its estimated 84 MPGe combined city/highway fuel economy (when factoring in EV driving) is best in class by far, as is its total possible range of 566 miles, which makes it the ideal choice for family road trips (we took a load of friends to a local tulip festival and they loved the ultra-comfortable “first class airline” experience, great rear visibility, twin TVs (that come stocked with video/card/board games), etc.
It takes about two hours to recharge the battery with a 240-volt Level 2 charger, these available for your home from your FCA dealer or via aftermarket sources, or you can find them in front of shopping malls, government buildings, hotels, some retail stores like Walmart and Ikea, or curbside in many urban centers. Alternatively you can plug it into a regular 120-volt socket at home or work, at which point you’ll need about 14 hours to top it up from empty (it can’t manage Level 3 “superchargers”).
When doing so, a big charge indicator on top of the dash lets you know that all systems are working by showing one to five blue lights, these large and bright enough to be seen from a distance. Once unplugged these disappear so as not to distract while driving. This is the best charge indicator I’ve used, so kudos to Chrysler for getting it right.
Other than the trip to the tulip festival (about an hour and a quarter each way, including picking up and dropping off friends along the way), I spent about half of my time behind the wheel in EV mode (as life would have it, we were too busy to regularly recharge and can’t do so from home). Still, its first full charge lasted for a couple of days of errand hopping, and various quick top-ups minimized fuel usage the rest of the time.
Looking over my notes, we drove the Pacifica Hybrid more than most vehicles we test yet only put $12 of $3.39/gallon regular into the tank at the end of the week. Normally a van or mid-size crossover SUV will cost us between $25–$45 per week, so I must admit to being a bit surprised at how much better its real-world fuel economy was than the conventionally powered Pacifica, especially when factoring in how much highway driving we did (not normally a hybrid forte). The regular Pacifica was already the fuel economy class leader at 28 mpg combined city/highway before this late-arrival Pacifica Hybrid arrived, but we managed a superb 37-mpg during the Hybrid’s weeklong test, which is unheard of in this class (even the EPA’s conservative 32 combined city/highway estimate is very good). As previously noted, the Pacifica Hybrid is rated at 84 MPGe combined if more diligent with recharging, and with 33 miles of potential EV range on tap it would be quite possible for commuters with the ability to charge at home to spend next to nothing on fuel.
Not that this will help your efficiency, but the Pacifica Hybrid’s straight-line performance improves over the conventionally powered van as well, although I only tested this out on occasion so I could report my results to you. It actually feels pretty quick off the line for a seven-passenger van, and it’s nice and agile through the corners too. The Hybrid’s greater weight can be felt, its large battery making itself known at takeoff, but all of the added mass sits below the passenger floor (residing where the second-row Stow ‘n Go seats won’t go anymore), so handling isn’t affected very much at all.
Of note, both Pacifica models ride on FCA’s new Compact U.S. Wide platform architecture that’s comprised of a rigid framework formed from 84-percent high-strength steel and four-percent aluminum, plus front MacPherson struts and an independent multilink rear suspension, the latter featuring an isolated cradle designed to add strength, stiffness and improve driving dynamics. This platform also serves a number of Fiat and Alfa Romeo vehicles, both Italian brands renowned for high-speed handling, which explains much of why the Pacifica handles so well.
I’ve mentioned the lack of second-row Stow ‘n Go seats a couple of times already, and while I initially thought this would be a deal-breaker for me if I were to buy a Chrysler van again (I’ve owned a Caravan and also helped my mom purchase her Pacifica), I’m no longer completely convinced. The thing is, I tend to use the large vehicles in my life for hauling stuff around, which is why I’m a big proponent of FCA’s Stow ‘n Go seating system (I wouldn’t consider a minivan without it), so when faced with the prospect of bringing a full-size Ikea Kivik sofa home, which measures 89 and 3/4 inches wide, 37 and 3/8 inches deep, plus 32 and 5/8 inches high (albeit both side arms are removable), I was concerned I’d have to pull out both second-row seats to make space.
I started by removing one seat, which was an easy process that came as second nature after living with the aforementioned Caravan for three years, although when carrying it to the garage I found it heavier than I remembered, probably due to my previous experience being 20 years ago when my then-new 1996 Caravan was utilized by a much younger, fitter driver (I’ve really got to get back to the gym). I was midway to the garage when an idea came to mind: what would happen if I were to flip over the seat I was carrying and put it on top of the seat that was still attached to the van’s floor? I turned around and did just that (after pulling the front seat forward), the process allowing a lot more cargo space without having to do all that carrying, and more importantly it lets you expand utility while on the fly. I suppose this would work with most rival minivans too, except those with fancy second-row ottoman-style leg extenders, but it’s especially notable with this Pacifica Hybrid because of the conventional van’s wonderfully useful Stow ‘n Go seats. Hence, I was able to bring the sofa home with both second-row seats still in the van, making van life without Stow ‘n Go possible. Maybe Chrysler should patent the idea and call it Stack ‘n Go?
Still, faced with the dilemma of choosing between this Pacifica Hybrid Platinum’s superb fuel economy and the greater versatility, many more high-end features, and lower initial cost of the Pacifica Limited, I’d probably opt for the conventionally powered minivan, just like most consumers. Then again it’s hard to pass up free money, and an available $7,000 government rebate might make it foolish to choose any minivan but this PHEV.
So my advice to you is as follows: first, if you’re planning to purchase a new seven-passenger crossover SUV, consider a minivan instead as they’re way more useful unless you must have AWD; second, if you’ve decided to buy a minivan make sure to test the new Pacifica as it’s the best, as noted; third, make sure to spend time in the regular Pacifica as well as this new Pacifica Hybrid, as they’re both worthy of your attention yet still quite different from each other.
In the end, FCA should be commended for being first to build a cleaner plug-in hybrid version of its most advanced minivan, but don’t expect others to follow. Toyota and Honda have been in the hybrid biz since the term was coined, and they’ve never done likewise despite being heavily invested in their respective Sienna and Odyssey minivans. Then again, neither Toyota nor Honda has ever sold a hybrid powertrain anywhere near as advanced as this Pacifica Hybrid PHEV, so the jury is out as to Chrysler’s ability to sell enough of them to get their investment back (is there a hybrid other than Prius that’s profitable?), or utilize the technology on other vehicles within the FCA arsenal in order to spread out the costs.
That’s a tall order, but in the meantime we’re all treated to a very innovative plug-in hybrid drivetrain powering a brilliantly executed minivan.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press