Mark Twain once said words along the lines of: “The report of my death was a great exaggeration.’’ The same could be said of the minivan segment. It’s not dead and, in fact, is growing stronger with each passing year.
Case in point is the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan. The company that created the minivan in 1984 is ready to take on the best that Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and Kia have to offer.
This is still a relevant segment. Sales last year were about 512,000, or about 3 percent of total sales. That may not seem like a large slice of the automotive pie, but it’s a lucrative segment that is popular with families and older drivers. One expert says half of all minivan sales are purchased by empty nesters.
The importance of the minivan to Chrysler was driven home by the Pacifica’s recent media launch in Newport Beach, Calif. The company flew out automotive journalists and their families to test drive the minivan. Hence, my review is not just from my perspective but also those of my wife and two pre-teen daughters.
The Pacifica is all new from the ground up. At the introduction, Chrysler said that was necessary because the new family is different. It spends more time in its vehicle than around the dinner table. That was especially true for those of us brave (or dumb) enough to take on the Southern California highways as we journeyed north to Los Angeles to see the Hollywood sign from the Griffith Observatory and then head back south to Disneyland.
The stop-and-go traffic gave me a true appreciation for all the Pacifica has to offer in terms of smoothness and quietness. When the highways did eventually open up (or I was trying to avail myself of a rare opening in traffic) the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine, with its best-in-class 287 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque, delivered. Mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission, the minivan worked its way through the gears with ease under hard acceleration.
As an added bonus, the Pacific is rated at 28 miles per gallon on the highway. Unfortunately, it’s rated at a rather lackluster 18 mpg around town, which is where it will probably get most of its use. Looking for better fuel economy? A hybrid version is being unveiled later this year.
Fuel economy is helped by a weight loss program the Pacifica endured. It is 200 pounds lighter than its predecessor thanks to things like a magnesium aluminum liftgate and aluminum sliding doors.
There’s a real practical side to the Pacifica. Thanks to the stow-and-go seating, it has the ability to swallow up an 8×4-foot sheet of plywood. It also has the largest interior volume in its segment at nearly 200 cubic feet of space (which is 10 cubic feet larger than the Town & Country).
One nice touch is the onboard vacuum. Yes, Honda pioneered this with the Odyssey but Chrysler gets kudos for relocating it to the second row, where the spills actually happen. Also, the filter is reusable and can be cleaned in a dishwasher.
Another nice feature—and it was traffic jam tested—was the available, all-new, class-exclusive, Uconnect Theater, rear seat, entertainment system. With it my daughters could watch movies, play built-in games, connect personal devices to surf the internet, and stream content throughout the vehicle via two high-definition, 10-inch touch screens. I got the sense they wanted the Pacifica to become our permanent living room.
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One feature that sounds great but you’ll probably never use is the ParkSense parallel/perpendicular park assist, which uses ultrasonic sensors to guide the driver into parking spaces. It’s not as if this is a difficult vehicle to park. Granted, over the course of two days of driving I only parked it 12 times, but I never felt like I needed an assist because visibility is good, the rearward camera is excellent, and the warning sensors work well.
The Pacifica is a surprisingly nimble vehicle. It has an independent rear suspension for better handling, and it drives smaller than any minivan I have ever driven. I’m a bit of a passenger van geek from the Mazda Mazda5 mini-minivan that sits in my driveway to the 12-passenger Sprinter vans I have driven on many occasions (as well as all the minivan offerings on the market). The Pacifica handles the best of the lot. It drives like a midsize sedan but with that great minivan seating position.
Is this a perfect vehicle? It has some features I don’t like, in particular the rotary e-shifter on the dash. It’s just clunky and requires too much effort to shift among reverse, drive, and park.
The all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica LX has a starting MSRP of $28,595, plus $995 destination. Fully loaded, it’s going to run north of $43,000, but it’s not going to lack for creature comforts. Chrysler execs are comfortable with the pricing strategy, saying 65 percent of minivan transactions are above $30,000.
It might be somewhat disheartening to current Town & Country owners, but Chrysler execs freely call that the van of the past. The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is the future of minivans.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
Price, base (with destination): $29,590. Fuel economy: 18 city/28 highway/22 combined. Drivetrain: 3.6-liter V6. Body: Minivan.
Horsepower: 287 @ 6,400 rpm. Torque: 262 @ 4,000 rpm. Overall length: 203.6 in. Wheelbase: 121.6 in. Height: 69.9 in. Width: 79.6 in. Curb weight: 4,330 lbs.
The new design has created a minivan that is quiet, nimble, and powerful enough to handle itself, even with a full load onboard.
The transmission can be clunky to work with, and around-town fuel economy is low for a vehicle that will be most likely leading a suburban lifestyle.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Chrysler has succeeded with its new minivan. The pioneer in this segment proves with this new design that its 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is now a top competitor among minivans.