Before the SUV became the dominant form of people mover in the U.S., the minivan was king. With the new 7-passenger Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, FCA is hoping to make the minivan cool again in a world of SUVs and crossovers that all pretty much look the same.
Based on the all-new Pacifica gas-powered van that went on sale earlier in 2016, this hybrid packs a plethora of goodies under its aluminum sheet metal. The biggest: a plug-in battery that’s good for roughly 30 miles of all-electric driving per charge, after which the van switches into a gas-electric hybrid, drawing power from regenerative braking and coasting. On our test drive in Southern California, with jaunts over the mountains and back in Malibu, we saw average miles per gallon in the 29-30 mpg range, excellent stuff for a fully-loaded minivan hauling a 600-pound battery pack underneath its floor.
The price for all this functional space and tech is $41,995 for the Premium model (not including a $1,095 destination charge) or $44,995 for the top-of-the-line Platinum version. Chrysler doesn’t offer the Hybrid in a cheaper trim level. That’s a lot of dough for a vehicle facing a life of baby vomit, spilled Slurpees, muddy dog prints, and Rainbow Pony stickers all over the side windows, but Chrysler’s counting on the $7,500 federal tax credit and additional state and local incentives to convince buyers to pull the trigger. And they should – in Colorado for example, a Pacifica Hybrid buyer could claim an additional $5,000 state tax credit. At the end of the day, that pushes the cost of a feature-loaded hybrid under $30k, a flat-out steal.
Chrysler worked hard to make the Pacifica look less like a box on wheels and more like a sleek space pod. Part of that is aerodynamics. The Pacifica scores a class-leading 0.3 drag coefficient that not only saves fuel, but also reduces wind noise. There’s a massive three-panel sunroof available that goes all the way back to the third row passengers and bathes the entire inside in soft light.
Inside, the Pacifica feels better suited for black car/Uber duty than family hauling. The dash is simple and elegant, and the large 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment touchscreen is centered so that even passengers in the third row can see and read it. The internal vacuum (yes, it has a vacuum) fits neatly into the cabin wall between the second and third row of seats. A straight utility van, this is not.
The Pacifica Hybrid’s foundation is Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with 260 hp, the company workhorse that’s used in everything from Jeeps to Ram pickups. Here it features an Atkinson cycle to boost fuel economy. Mated to that, via what Chrysler is calling an electrical variable transmission (don’t call it a CVT, although it works pretty much like a CVT, working constantly to find the most efficient gear, but don’t call it a CVT, says Chrysler) is the electric motor powered by the 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
Ride and handling
In stop-and go traffic in west L.A., the electric mode is smooth and punchy for a minivan, and out on the highway, it cruises like the cruise liner it is at 75-80 mph. While it doesn’t corner like a sedan, its relative low center of gravity, helped by the placement of the battery pack in the middle of the car, and wide stance makes it easier to fling into a corner than nearly any SUV of comparable size. It was only when heading down hill and braking hard into a corner that we became aware of the extra mass of the battery rolling the 5,000-pound-plus vehicle from side to side.
One quibble: The drive-by-wire steering doesn’t provide a reassuring heft at speed. It seems locked in easy-rotating parking-lot mode the whole time. Considering how well Chrysler has tuned the steering in other vehicles, we were surprised to not see the same attention paid here.
It was nice to find this Pacifica comes standard with a 360-degree surround-view camera screen viewable on the center touchscreen as well as the ability to parallel or back into a parking spot on its own.
Chrysler invented this category in the 1980s and it’s apparent that they want to recapture the mantle of “class-leading” everything with the Pacifica. To wit, the best-in-class interior volume of 197.3 cu.feet. In a clever bit of engineering, the roof rails contain crossbars that can be unscrewed and then placed across the roof to hold bike or ski racks, or a cargo box. The third row seats fold flat into the floor and the second row seats pop out (although it’s a two-person job) to create a massive space that can swallow a 4×6-foot sheet of plywood—1,300 pounds of plywood sheets if you want.
Comfort and convenience
Heated and optional air-conditioned seats up front and a well-designed center console that smartly kept an easily accessible space for a woman’s bag on the floor and a generous allocation of USB charging ports as well as an Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connection bring the Pacifica Hybrid up-to-date on in-car tech and real-world needs.
The Hybrid doesn’t feature Chrysler’s smart Stow ’n Go seats in the second row, the seats which fold flat into the floor, because that’s where they put the 600-pound battery pack. As a result, the minivan only comes with two captain’s chairs in the second row. But that’s a good thing, since a common knock again the Stow ’n Go seats is that they’re hard and not very comfortable due to their need to fold up tightly. Not so with these chairs, which are as comfortable as the two thrones up front.
Access to the third row is simple enough – pull a lever on the one of the second-row seats and it folds and slides forward. In the back, two six-foot adults will enjoy plenty of head and legroom, although after 30 minutes of travel in them, the seats can grow uncomfortably hard. Best leave them to quick errands rather than extended road trips if ferrying adults. If it’s just kids back there, tell them to suck it up.
The Platinum model features a hands-free rear liftgate, a common feature on premium crossovers, and hands-free sliding side doors, a not-very-common feature found anywhere. Simply step up to the door, wave your foot underneath it and the door pops open electronically.
I’ve already mentioned our fuel economy already (28-30 MPG) over freeways, mountain and coastal highways. Good stuff. The vehicle’s range is even better: Chrysler claims the Pacifica Hybrid has a range of 530 miles when starting out with the battery fully charged. To put that into perspective, the distance between Santa Monica, Calif. and Tucson, Ariz. is 502 miles.
About that 16kWh battery: Chrysler claims that it’ll take 14 hours to full recharge off of a common 110-volt household socket, but only 2 hours if connected to a 240-volt charger (which will necessitate ordering a separate charging cable). A dedicated smartphone app lets you set or change the time of day to recharge the vehicle to take advantage of lower utility rates at night. The app will also direct you to available charging stations and alert you when the battery’s at 100-percent.
Chrysler is so sure that the 30-mile range per charge coupled with nightly/daily recharging will cover nearly all of a family’s daily driving needs that its engineers programmed the fuel system to switch to gas-electric hybrid mode exclusively if it senses that the gas in its tank is getting too old. Once it burns through all that fuel and you refill the tank, it’ll allow you to drive in all-electric mode again.
Value and competition
At first glance, the Pacifica Hybrid is almost too nice for family minivan duty and its sticker price reflects that, but when we factor in the federal tax credit (and if you’re lucky any additional state tax credits), the Hybrid becomes a killer deal. In some cases it’s a few hundred to a few thousand dollars less than a similarly or lesser-equipped gas-powered Pacifica. And against its main competition: the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey, the Pacifica Hybrid is a good value that you’d be smart to consider. Simply put, you get more car, more tech, better fuel economy, more comfort, more luxury for the money. You get more more.
The one big caveat: Can you afford the initial sticker price and do you need a $7,500 tax credit? Your financial situation may say you can’t and you don’t.
So taken altogether, the new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid currently holds the title of most innovative (pure electric capability), spacious, best looking, best fuel economy (530-mile range) of any minivan for sale in the U.S. Yes, your kids will clog up the sweet perforated leather seats with yogurt, they’ll smear cheese on the skydome-sized sunroof, and your dog will leave muddy paw prints all over the deep, plush pile carpet floor, but thanks to the generous tax codes of the federal government and some states, this Pacifica Hybrid is the functional, family, utility electric vehicle/hybrid that delivers. Get it while the tax breaks last.
On the TFLcar scale of:
- Buy It,
- Lease It,
- Rent It,
- or Forget It
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid gets a Buy It!