Back before Covid 19 consumed our Big Blue Marble, the company once commonly known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), invited media types from around the country to its U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills Michigan for a Backgrounder event to digest new products featured at the upcoming Chicago Auto Show. The morning included a sneak peek at the extensively improved 2021 Chrysler Pacifica
minivan and its newly-minted Pinnacle trim self-described as a, "living room on wheels."
Much has changed since that Jan. 22, 2020 event. Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles has faded into history, absorbed into the newest major Auto conglomerate with greater global reach, Stellantis. The 2020 Chicago Auto Show touting the Pinnacle debut found itself as the last major auto show before large crowd-gathering events shut down for a pandemic-inspired extended rest. That is until July 15-19 2021 when a truncated, summer-time instalment of the Chicago Auto Show welcomes folks back to the McCormick Place complex.
While the 2021 Pacifica minivan was display-only during the backgrounder event of 2020, this week, time got spent behind the wheel. A most notable feature absent since 2004 returns; available all-wheel drive; and it's about time. Southern California may not appreciate the extra grip afforded with AWD, but hearty Midwesterners sure do. During a majority of the current millennia, Toyota's Sienna stood as the sole minivan offering all-wheel drive.
Both these AWD vehicles stand a much better chance of slicing into huge sales gains made at the expense of minivan sales by go-anywhere sport utility vehicles and their softer-riding, five-door crossover cousins.
The Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Jeep orbit of Stellantis recently realigned its minivan strategy, retiring the long-running Dodge Grand Caravan. Minivans now rest with Chrysler, which in addition to the up-level Pacifica, now offers consumers an entry opportunity with the re-purposed Voyager moniker (Chrysler Voyager for those keeping score at home). The retired Plymouth division first grabbed the Voyager name utilized back in the minivan's humble 1984 model year beginnings.
Voyagers start in the $27,000 neighborhood while the poshier Pacifica ups the ante to a $35,000 beginning price point. Pacifica minivans circa 2021 began arriving at dealers during the last quarter of 2020.
The all-wheel-drive variant (available in all four gas engine Pacifica trims) adds a bit of weight, 350 pounds or so when compared with front-drive. If conditions demand, 100 percent of available torque gets automatically sent to the rear axle. Ride height also increases in AWD versions by .08 inches.
Consider 2021 an extensive Pacifica mid-cycle refresh with an updated front dash infotainment system, more standard safety features, a retweaked exterior and THE quietest interior ever introduced in a Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth/Stellantis minivan. Contributing to the quiet: acoustic front windshield glass.
It's constructed upon the sixth-generation minivan platform introduced in 2017 when Chrysler also updated the name to Pacifica, replacing Town & Country in the historical registry.
The returning, well-tested, 3.6-liter V-6, naturally-aspirated internal combustion engine powers not just Pacifica, but a wide array of offerings including Dodge Challenger coupes, Dodge Charger sedans and Ram pickup trucks. Since the current version's 2011 debut, feedback of this reliable powertrain continues strong. Stop-start technology comes standard quieting the engine at stops and restarting when the right foot lifts off the brake pedal. If desired, a dashboard button disengages the system. Fuel economy checks in at 19 mpg city and 28 highway. Subtract two miles city and three highway when opting for AWD.
It's mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission which upshifts smoother than it downshifts, most notable during crowded expressway merges. The electronic circular shifter locates on the dashboard, right of the electronic push-button start.
The three-row Pacifica also offers a second power source utilizing plug-in hybrid technology (PHEV). The hybrid edition comes exclusively with front-wheel drive rating as the first minivan offering this combo technology enabling travel up to 30 miles on a full electric charge before the gas engine kicks in. Total combined miles on a full charge and full tank reaches more than 500 miles.
The all-new Pinnacle trim joins three returning ones: Touring, Touring L and Limited. Both gas-exclusive and hybrid versions offer identical four trim choices. All promote a bigger, bolder grille with lower fascia and updated LED-style headlamps. More than 15 million Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth minivans have sold since 1983, twice as many as any other manufacturer.
When opting for the new 2021 Pinnacle trim, content is king with minimal stand-alone or packaged options. Our tester's starting price of $53,390 reached an end point of $54,885 with a rather hefty $1,495 destination charge added.
Chrysler made once optional advanced safety features standard in 2021 including forward collision warning, stop-and-go radar driven adaptive cruise control, lane sense-lane departure warning, lane assist and automatic high beams. New to Pacifica, standard pedestrian automatic emergency braking.aa
Outside, a prominent all-LED tail lamp stretches from end to end in a neon-tube fashion, not unlike what's onboard a sporty Dodge Charger. Pinnacle's power hatch also operates hand's free, with an under bumper foot swipe.
Inside a sizeable 10.1-inch in-dash multi-function touch screen (largest in the minivan class) houses UConnect 5, the latest, fifth-generation version of Chrysler's infotainment package (UC5) integrating voice command and Bluetooth compatibility. This comes standard across all trim levels. The first
generation arrived in 2003. Two popular Smartphone companions (Apple CarPlay, Android Auto) come standard with the latest versions able to interact with wireless charging.
Both volume and station pre-set twist dials await up front, contributing to one of the industry's most intuitive and easy-to-operate sound systems. Secondary volume and station preset elongated toggle ovals mounted on the steering wheel's back side, allow finger tips to choose freely while both hands remain stationed in a natural drive-ready placement.
Pinnacle includes the all-new 'Fam CAM,' a series of real-time video feeds. The newest high-tech upgrade usurping the low-tech beveled mirror dropping down from the ceiling caddie, Fam CAM allows a bird's eye view of second and third rows from tiny, strategically placed cameras broadcast within the large in-dash touch screen.
The HVAC system easily monitors from large dashboard push buttons adjusting temperature and a dual-function dial; push in and select one of several directional modes, simply twist to change fan speed. Pinnacle's unique camel and black interior scheme dovetails nicely with a suede headliner.
The easily interpreted instrument cluster features two analog gauges and a digital, multi panel center section controlled by an array of push buttons found at 9 o'clock at the steering wheel's front face. Electronic stop-and-go cruise control allows for the vehicle to come to a complete stop before rolling again based distance of the vehicle ahead.
Returning and unique to most Chrysler vans: Stow 'n Go seating; second-row chairs that contort into the floor creating a flat-floor palate behind the first row when row three also dives below deck (with a more conventional fold and flip-down action). From past experiences, these caption's chairs squeeze below the floor with relative ease with a little practice.
When prone, the comfort level of these seats may not meet adult snuff compared with thicker, permanently above-ground middle seating, but kids, tweens and teens won't mind.
Our Pinnacle included, at no extra charge, conventional, thicker-cushioned, easy-slide heated bucket seats (not foldable into the floor) and convenient power-folding third-row operational via a button high up the rear inside back side wall. Another swag item unique to Pinnacle: small pillows, two of them in fact, keeping back posture perfect.
Hybrid editions remain without Stow 'n Go seating magic to accommodate underfloor lithium ion battery pack assisting the IC engine.
In the current market where the number of minivan choices continues shrinking, the widely revamped 2021 Pacifica stands tall with newly available all-wheel drive and returning Stow 'n Go. Building family-friendly minivans while attending to customers' feeback is something Chrysler does better than most rivals.
2021 Chrysler Pacifica AWD
Price as tested: $54,885
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Overall Length: 204.3 inches
Overall Width: 79.6 inches
Wheelbase: 121.6 inches
Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
Powertrain Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles
Assembly: Windsor, Ontario, Canada