Mountain Wheels: Hybrid Chrysler Pacifica offers flexibility all-electrics do not
I recently threw shade on the real-world electric utility of an expensive Volvo with a tiny, tiny range. This week, it gets weirder: I absolutely loved a hybrid minivan, even found it fun to drive, and I pulled my hair out with an all-electric Mini Cooper that really could not easily or comfortably make the trip from Denver to Summit County.
First, the good news, strange as it may sound. The limited version of the Chrysler Pacifica gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling I never thought I would have in an actual minivan. The $50,230 (before rebates) Pacifica is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 and electric motor/battery pack combo that’s designed to allow it an indicated 38 miles of all-electric travel — and is pretty easily rechargeable as a result.
What I did not expect was that the Pacifica was a cool experience, if you completely ignore its size, shape and family-hauler status and use that electrified boost and the smoother low-resistance tires to carve canyons like a champ. While it sports SUV-styled space, its width and its lower center of gravity mean you can actually drive it like a car with 287 horsepower.
Plus, it looks pretty sharp, compared to big, boxy minivans of the old days, with super-easy access and comfortable seating throughout. Yes, there’s a bit too much chrome for my taste, including mirror caps, but it’s certainly a stylish alternative to a giant SUV.
The upside to my overall travels was that over 501 miles and 10 hours of driving, the Pacifica averaged 36.3 mpg and said that over 131 miles were “electrified” — assisted by the system, though not fully electric. The combination means that on distance trips, you can go more than 500 miles between fill-ups. For 2021, it’s also going to be available as an all-wheel drive model, providing more versatility to High Country drivers.
Then, there’s the mixed blessings of the new all-electric Mini Cooper SE two-door, a revolutionary and affordable city car that is truly fast and cool but needs to live and travel within a 100-mile-or-so range of your house and never venture anywhere farther than that.
That sound a little restrictive to your lifestyle? I thought I would put the sleek, simple and extremely gaudy (in iconic trim, yellow highlights and asymmetrical wheels, anyone?) Mini to the test and see if I could motor from Lakewood to Breckenridge for the July Fourth weekend.
The Mini, the base price of which is $29,900 before various federal and state electric vehicle incentives, is anything but gutless. It is powered by a 181-horsepower electric engine and 33 kilowatt-hour battery, giving it a fantastically healthy 199 pound-feet of electric torque. It’s the first vehicle I’ve driven with two levels of “green” driving available, one of which won’t even allow you to use the air conditioner, plus a sport mode that truly sends the car flying like the electrified go-kart that it is.
Until you get the 220-volt charger at home, however, your wall plug is going to need a day (or two) to fully recharge the Mini, and so when I set out for my trip, I only had an 80% charge. Of course the in-network Level 3 charger at the Harley Dealer in Golden was blocked by a construction site, and that left me with an out-of-network Electrify America charger at Colorado Mills, which this time took a $50 deposit on my credit card for the admittedly brief e-refill. (You can indeed get the battery 80% charged at Level 3 in less than 40 minutes.)
Summit County, however, was another deal. I used three different plug-share apps to scope out local offerings, and the news was not good, especially since my friends don’t even have an outdoor plug at their home: only one public Level 2 charger at Breck Town Hall, if it was available, and only for a few hours at a time, or the Electrify America plugs at Walmart, which users report almost always being out of service. I checked a few weeks later in a non-electric car and yes, five of six charging ports there were indeed on the fritz.
Since it’s incompatible with Tesla charging, that meant that “range anxiety” was a pretty real thing once I left metro Denver, and I bailed. Sure enough, it’s awesome around town. All that torque means you absolutely fly, and with the regenerative braking switch on, you almost never even touch the brakes. Just a real challenge for non-urban usage.
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 Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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