Mountain Wheels: Chrysler Pacifica loads on the family-friendly options
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
Powertrain: 287-HP 3.6-liter V6 engine; nine-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 22 MPG combined (18 city, 28 highway)
While car enthusiasts may deride the minivan — no matter how fancy a guise it turns up in — as the antithesis of motoring excitement, parents who’ve suddenly been confronted with the reality of troop and gear transport understand their appeal.
It’s with the overwhelmed and outnumbered (but still style-conscious) parent in mind that Chrysler has reinvented its own very long-standing and successful minivan program and crafted the 2017 Pacifica.
Still a minivan, in every way, but one that modifies that beloved and ancient Dumpster-inspired minivan profile into a sleek, modern and somewhat lowered profile, and then packs it to the gills with family-friendly amenities. And reuses the name of the largely unappreciated crossover Chrysler, marketed a decade ago.
We got to tool around in the $42,270 L-Plus, the fourth most well-appointed of five different Pacifica models (base price is $28,595), and while the vehicle’s minivan-ness is still very present in its ride and demeanor, things have certainly been modernized. It’s very attractive, as far as vans go, and you can add up to 20-inch wheels to help dress things up.
The Windsor, Ontario-made Pacifica comes with one engine choice, an updated 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that delivers a strong 287 horsepower (similar to the engine that amply propelled the bulkier Dodge Durango up the hills in a recent test), producing a class-leading 28 highway MPG. An entirely new vehicle architecture has shaved 250 pounds from previous Chrysler minivans, helping with the efficiency.
Pacifica is front-wheel-drive only, though future variants could conceivably offer mountain-friendly AWD; the van’s adaptable platform also means a hybrid version later this year, with a 30-mile all-electric range and an associated 80 MPGe rating in-town.
Chrysler has updated its initially problematic nine-speed transmission to produce smoother and more intelligent shifting; with new rear independent suspension, the Pacifica rides with less heft and bounce and while not a performance machine in any way, suggested itself to be considerably more pleasant and smooth than minivans of days gone by. Electronic noise cancelling in the cabin keeps Pacifica more quiet than past vans.
With room for as many as eight passengers, capacity and keeping-them-occupied amenity is absolutely the Pacifica’s forte, and the new minivan has certainly come up with a gigantic laundry list of cool bits for the efficient and relatively pain-free hauling of children, and the occasional adult.
Case in point: The new, optional seat-back touchscreens come pre-loaded with a bunch of games, including “Are We There Yet” (offering real-time arrival and speed data, like an old Frontier Airlines seatback screen, to your kids’ persistent queries) or “Backseat Bingo,” which encourages them to look up from their own devices and actually count cows and Volkswagens as you motor along. Brilliant. The system also allows simple HDMI or USB input to allow different games or movies on both screens, with wireless headphones and a touchpad remote to further occupy your rear passengers.
And then there’s the Stow ’n Vac system, a full-blown shop vacuum with a 12-foot hose (and a 12-foot extension) for tackling the dry detritus of road trips, emptying into a dishwasher-safe bin in the back.
True to Chrysler minivan traditions, the Stow ’n Go seating even more efficiently collapses and entirely disappears into the Pacifica’s floor — simply yank a couple of cords or power it away on the higher-end models — leaving a relatively gigantic flat space that’s big enough to stack 32 sheets of half-inch 4×8 plywood sheets, or whatever unit of cargo measurement you’d like to substitute. Seats also fold and articulate in 243 configurations, allowing an endless mix of seating and cargo.
The front Stow ’n Go cavities will take up the hybrid’s battery system, but the behind-the-third-row space remains in all Pacifica models, meaning some healthy cargo or grocery space, even with all the seating deployed and occupied.
Side and rear doors now open with a touch of the handles and, like other manufacturers, Chrysler also features hands-free opening — kick your foot under the vehicle and the sensor will open ’em up for you.
A unique three-pane panoramic sunroof is also available, with the first third articulating and opening and the rear-cabin glass fixed but shaded with a manual screen.
Safety equipment includes adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning and automatic braking, lane-departure warnings and a 360-degree backup camera system, plus a parallel and perpendicular parking assistance system.
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