Mountain Wheels: All-wheel-drive Durango and Pacifica add seasonal versatility
While it was starting to look like top-down Miata weather in recent weeks, the snowmageddon on the east side of the divide is going to make a lot of Front Range folks wish they had all-wheel drive vehicles — or snowcats, perhaps.
This week, I bid adieu to one of my press fleet management companies in Denver, Rocky Mountain Redline, which had been handling our Fiat (really, mostly Dodge, Ram and Jeep) family deliveries for many years, but the pandemic put a squeeze on things. They will be missed.
And after their insane 700-horsepower TRX and Durango Hellcat loans late last year, the 2021 schedule ended with a couple of more down-to-earth models, each more suited for Colorado weather, too: The new all-wheel drive version of the Chrysler Pacifica minivan and a marginally more pedestrian R/T version of the Durango, a towing/drag-race special that still made a lot of wonderful noise.
All of these vehicles are now under the Stellantis family, as the Fiat-Chrysler alliance recently blended with Groupe PSA, a hard-core European carmaking conglomerate that includes Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and Vauxhall — brands we haven’t seen in North America for decades.
Though there was initially speculation that the new partners would sweep in like Jean Girard in “Talladega Nights” and neutralize the horsepower-heavy, hybrid-lite American lineup, it looks as though that might not be the case for a while. Probably.
The all-wheel drive Pacifica (not to be rebranded the Peugeot Pacifica anytime soon, I think) makes a little more sense for mountain travelers, as it more fully connects the minivan, that tries hard not to look or act like a minivan, to the road.
Adding an entirely seamless, fulltime all-wheel drive system to the 287-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6-engined Pacifica is a thoughtful move in helping Chrysler more effectively compete with the Toyota Sienna, the reigning king of all-wheel drive minivans.
Pacifica, as mentioned in previous reviews of both the standard and hybrid models, drives and feels much more like a well-planted passenger car than minivans of old (or even SUVs of the present). And adding the all-wheel drive system does very little to change the Pacifica experience: You still get full Stow ‘N Go disappearing second-row captain’s chairs and third-row seating, super-easy low-to-the-ground sliding doors. There’s also an even deeper treasure trove of entertainment for the kids on the seatback entertainment screens. Mileage is not hugely sacrificed with all-wheel drive, with up to 25 mpg on the highway, and the AWD model can still pull 3,600 pounds of trailer.
My limited-level model, with the S Appearance package, was priced at $50,180 and came with pinstriped seating and embossed badging on the seats, plus blacked-out everything: trim, grille and 18-inch aluminum wheels.
As it is in the Durango, the Uconnect 5 system is a huge improvement over past infotainment and navigation setups; there are what seem to be literally a million power outlets, USB plugs and media inputs, plus a Blu-Ray player, a built-in vacuum cleaner and even a second sunroof in the rear of the cabin.
I also had a good time on dry roads this week with the all-wheel drive R/T rendition of the Durango, powered by a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. It’s not the dangerously awesome head-snapper that the Hellcat was, with literally half (360) of the horsepower, but it will still accelerate loudly and quickly and give you all of those menacing Durango looks.
My preference would probably be the 6.4-liter-powered SRT model, with 475 horsepower, but that also pushes the base price to almost $64,000. The still-grunty R/T starts at $47,905, though the inclusion of the “drag-race to the drag races” themed Tow N Go package and the full list of options took mine to $66,650.
That package and all boxes ticked did include pretty much everything but a bigger engine: Brembo brakes, an electronic limited-slip rear differential, performance exhaust, SRT-tuned suspension plus a built-in trailer hitch and trailer brake controller, all the better for hauling up to 8,700 pounds.
The result is a compellingly capable family-hauling machine that will also haul along on its own, parked here on 20-inch high-performance tires and blacked-out wheels. (Yes, I got them to take it back before the snow hit.) On dry canyon roads, however, I was very impressed by Durango’s handling and stability, and was able to stick into corners with a ferocity I had not quite expected. It’s also got full three-row seating, and had the same seatback entertainment options as the Pacifica.
I can also see how these remain popular police vehicles, as they’ve got a prominent visual stance, a very low and flat dash and, with this package’s upgrade, a 145 mph top speed.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at email@example.com.
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