Chrysler has done a really good job of trying to break the minivan mold with the new 2017 Pacifica, creating something functional but also special.
In addition to a sleeker design, Chrysler spent a lot of time focusing on features that add to the minivan experience. Stow-n-go is easier to operate. The infotainment screen is intuitive, pretty and easy to use. And even the littlest passengers were given every consideration. With thoughtful features and some high-tech additions, the Pacifica might just make the minivan cool(ish).
In terms of design, the side profile is definitely that of a minivan with the sliding side doors and the long horizontal, hotdog shape. But the lines are more sculpted than most minivans, and the front fascia looks more carlike.
As Irina Zavatski, exterior design manager for the Chrysler Brand, said during the press briefing: "We tried to walk away from the idea of a box on wheels."
So, the Pacifica is all-new from the ground up - new name, new sheet metal and completely new architecture.
The interior received just as much care and attention with the goal of making this the ultimate family vehicle.
Everything from the stitching on the seats to the bevels surrounding the dials on the center stack received specific and special consideration - right down to the fact that the gearshift dial is a different color than the audio and HVAC dials so that it's easier to distinguish it from the others.
In fact, the biggest win for the interior design is the whole center stack area. It's updated and elegant, and taking the rim off the infotainment screen makes it look more high-tech and modern.
I was able to drive both Touring and Limited trims and while one was more of a base model and the other was top-of-the-line, bot had nice finishing touches and looked more luxurious than functional.
And both were very comfortable. I spent all my time in the driver's seat, and after 8 hours during the two-day drive, I can say my butt, back and shoulders didn't get overly fatigued. I made my 5'8'' driving companion sit in the front, middle and rear seats giving me a play-by-play report from each position. The third row, as you'd expect, is least comfortable with legroom that's better suited to a 10-year-old than a full-grown man. But he fit, and said he could tolerate it for shorter drives. The middle captains chairs, however, were just as comfortable as the front seats.
One of the things Chrysler was very careful to point out during the press briefing was the attention the engineers paid to the Noise Vibration Harshness (NVH). Minivans are traditionally loud due to the sliding rear doors, but my passengers and I were very impressed with how quiet the vehicle is - in every seating position.
Road, engine and wind noise entering the cabin were minimal, and much more comparable to a luxury class vehicle than an 8-passenger minivan with a starting price under $30K.
Pacifica is equipped with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine, which I have tested - and loved - in other Fiat Chrysler products. The love affair continues with the Pacifica as the power is smooth, efficient and competent. It delivers 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, and that is perfect for any aggressive highway or urban maneuvers you need to make.
During the press preview, I drove on everything from fast-moving highways to curvy mountain roads to crowded urban streets, and the Pacifica handled them all with ease. The minivan drove more like a car than a large van, and it was able to handle the winding bits of road just as smoothly as it handled the flat, straight highways.
Sitting in the front seat with my singular view, it was easy to forget I was actually driving a mom-mobile.
That being said, the Pacifica is meant for families with children, and since I don't have any, I borrowed one for a couple hours. I took a quick jaunt with a 13-year-old, and she immediately wanted to go to the third row. Until she saw the rear-seat entertainment screens. She took residence in the second row, put away her iPhone and began tapping on screen to play one of the built-in games.
When we got out, she said: "This is a cool car." When I asked why, she said: "Because it has TVs."
Her father, however, liked the self-parking feature, which I demonstrated in a restaurant parking lot. The Pacifica easily identified a parking spot, and seamlessly performed a perpendicular parking maneuver, steering the large minivan into a narrow spot exactly between the guidelines.
On the way over to dinner, we had been discussing the eventuality of autonomous cars, and I pointed out that there are already a lot of autonomous features on vehicles we drive right now, then I cued up the park assist. The vehicle does all the steering, while the driver does the braking. The end result is a perfectly parked vehicle.
For a minivan - or any vehicle really - the new Pacifica is chockfull of cool features. While I love the convenience of the available park assist, I also appreciated the simple standard features such as the easy-to-operate Stow 'n Go Seats, Bluetooth phone connectivity and rear camera with guidelines. Some of the cool available features I played around with included the 360-degree camera, easy power sliding rear doors, voice-activated navigation, automatic high-beam headlights and the hands-free doors and liftgate.
My favorite available feature, however, was the adaptive cruise control. I got stuck in some horrific traffic on day 2 around the Los Angeles area that was stop-and-go for about an hour. Rather than dealing with that manually, I set the adaptive cruise control and let the car do the work. Even when aggressive drivers cut me off, the car reacted swiftly and competently, maintaining a safe distance between me and the other cars on the road. It definitely made my drive much less stressful.
While Pacifica will come with a hybrid option, the minivan will arrive in dealers at the end of April only in gasoline trims. The hybrid will be available at the end of the 2016 model year.
Pricing and trims at launch will be:
LX: This base trim will come standard with cloth bucket seats, Stow 'n Go seats, power driver's seat, 3-Zone manual HVAC, 5-inch infotainment touch screen, Bluetooth phone pairing, rear park camera and active noise cancellation. Base price will be $29,590.
Touring: This trim adds standard features such as satellite radio, power sliding doors, passive entry for all doors and automatic headlights. The Touring Trim is expected to be one of the bigger sellers, making up 27 percent of the sales volume. Base price will be $31,490.
Touring-L: This trim adds more luxury amenities including leather seats, heated front seats, remote start, 3-zone automatic climate control, chrome trim accents, black roof rails, power liftgate, blind spot monitoring, rear cross path detection and rear park assist. This trim will be the other volume seller with an expected 30 percent of sales being at this level. Base price will be $35,490.
Touring L-Plus: This trim adds an 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen, Uconnect theater, heated steering wheel, power passenger seat and heated second row seats. Base price will be $38,890.
Limited: This will be your "whistles and bells" trim with a panoramic sunroof, HID headlights, memory seats, power third-row seat, ventilated front seats, navigation, Stow 'n Vac and hands-free doors and liftgate. Base price will be $43,490.
I only spent two days with the Pacifica, which is more than I usually get in a first look. And, frankly, I'm hard pressed to say much negative about this new minivan other than the fact that I'm still not sure why they chose the name "Pacifica" to replace the iconic "Town & Country."
During the press preview, Chrysler execs said it was because the original Pacifica was a "ground-breaking" vehicle for the brand that "started the CUV craze."
It was so ground breaking that it only lasted 4 model years.
I will also point out that my passenger and I had a few technical issues getting our mobile devices to hook up to the 3G Wi-Fi hotspot in the Pacifica, and the fact that it was 3G instead of 4G LTE limited our web access, especially since we were in the boondocks for much of our drive. I think some of this could be chalked up to the fact that we were driving pre-production vehicles, and some of it will be worked out as service gets upgraded to a 4G LTE network - hopefully in the near future.
There is probably always going to be some kind of stigma attached to driving a minivan, but with all the cool features in the new Pacifica, it's a little easier to swallow the whole idea of a minivan. And, hey, if a 13-year-old thinks it's cool, does anyone else really matter?
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