Back in 1984, Chrysler launched a new category of vehicles they called a minivan and now 36 years later that minivan has sold over 15 million variants as it enters in a new era. Chrysler launched a laundry list of updates to the 2021 model when it debuted at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show. Among those updates include an all-new AWD version, new styling up front and in back, added safety technology, a new FamCam interior cam, updated Uconnect5 technology and much more. Chrysler continues to innovate with more standard safety features than any vehicle in the industry and the first Hybrid minivan which delivers more than 80 miles per gallon equivalent in electric-only mode. While many fear the purchase of a minivan, as it's often a significant milestone for a parent, they truly make life easier for a growing family. As a family of five at home, we welcomed the chance to drive the new Pacifica for a week and put it through a true family test.
The 2021 Pacifica is notably more striking in appearance than every previous generation. The test vehicle was a Limited AWD version and came in a Ceramic Gray clear coat with 20" machined aluminum wheels with gray painted accents. This color/wheel combo looked sporty and contemporary. Chrysler offers ten different colors to choose from along with a variety of wheel choices depending on trim. Up front, the Pacifica has received a new front fascia, headlights, and fog lamps. The grille is larger with a 3D diamond styled grating. The new headlights offer standard LED lighting and are more squared off giving the Pacifica a more utility looking front end and less smooth than the previous generation. The side profile of the Pacifica remains the same as 2020 models but around back is a new taillamp that runs the entire width of the rear hatch which is further enhanced with an LED lighting signature giving it a modern flare over the previous design. These tweaks to the front and rear give the overall design a more upright, SUV vibe which should please those on the fence of jumping into the minivan segment.
Under the hood of the new Pacifica are two options. Standard is a 3.6L V6 VVT engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission that gets 287 horsepower and 262 lb-ft. of torque. A Hybrid version features a dual motor electronically variable transmission that is paired with a modified version of the 3.6L V6 that gets 260 horsepower. Off the line, the Pacifica offers decent acceleration and the ride is smooth on the highway. The Pacifica feels smaller and nimbler than some of the competition that I've driven in the past (excludes 2021 competition models not yet driven). Road noise is minimal as Chrysler has tightened the gaps, upgraded the glass, including acoustic front side glass and windshield on higher trim models.
Adding AWD as an option to the Pacifica while maintaining the Stow 'N Go storage option is impressive. The three-piece drive shaft connects the power transfer unit and rear drive mode without effecting interior space/storage. The AWD system provides added traction when needed. The system doesn't use a standard lock button, instead it will activate automatically and seamlessly when the van detects slippage. The system is smart and will engage based on a variety of signals such as outside temperature, use of windshield wipers, heavy acceleration and the aforementioned slippage. As a driver, you just need to focus on driving and let the van do its job.
The Pacifica runs on regular grade fuel and is rated at 17 MPG City, 25 MPG Highway, 20 MPG combined on the AWD models. When full, the gas tank will provide a range of approximately 300 miles in a 19 gallon tank. During my week of primarily suburban driving, I averaged 17 MPG.
Most people in the market for a minivan are less focused on performance and more on the interior space and convenience features that benefit the entire family. While Stow 'N Go has always been the Pacifica's primary bragging feature inside, it now offers a lot more for consumers to take a second look. For the front passengers, the Pacifica now offers a 10.1" touchscreen at the center of the dash that is paired to Chrysler's new Uconnect 5 infotainment system. The materials are soft to the touch with the layout being both functional and elegant. Below the large touchscreen are the volume control knob, driver assist controls, and climate controls. The Pacifica utilizes a rotary dial for shifting gears and while the knob itself is nice, the placement of it relative to the volume control knob is questionable. These are likely two of the most used knobs in the van and they are separated by only an inch or so, quite often I found myself unintentionally grabbing the shift knob instead of the volume. If Chrysler were able to move that volume knob up near the infotainment screen, this would be a non-issue.
Drivers face a twin dial cluster separated by a digital display that can be customized to show just about anything related to the van. The gauge cluster is trimmed in chrome and is highlighted by a blue ambient lighting that gives it a very upscale and modern vibe. Chrysler also includes steering wheel controls for audio, cruise control, voice commands, and some driver assist features. All are clearly marked and easy to understand.
The Uconnect system integrates and connects wirelessly to both Android Auto and Apple Car Play. It also has the feature to connect two phones simultaneously with Bluetooth capability which is nice for long road trips. Uconnect also brings Amazon Alexa capabilities into the van as well. Customers that utilize Amazon Alexa at home can ask Alexa to start the van or lock/unlock the doors from inside the house. For busy parents, these little things make all the difference... imagine asking Alexa to warm up your van on a cold winter morning and to unlock the doors so the kids can load their backpacks all while you're collecting everything you need to leave the house, without forgetting the coffee in the microwave.
The convenience doesn't stop there though, Chrysler has added a new FamCAM interior camera that is easily accessible on the touchscreen. The camera provides a high-definition view of every seat in the second and third row. For parents with infants that are still rear-facing in their car seats, this is pure genius. Parents can see exactly what their children are doing (or not doing) with touch of a button and even have the ability to zoom in on a single seat. The Pacifica also offers a variety of USB ports, including Type C ports which will allow devices to charge four times faster than standard USB ports. In total, the Pacifica has 12 USB ports (a mix of Type A and Type C) so that everyone's device can be fully charged.
The interior features continue in the Pacifica with a class-exclusive Uconnect Theater rear-seat entertainment system with two 10.1" seatback touchscreens. In addition to offering USB ports for devices, the system offers a variety of games without the need for Wi-Fi or a subscription. My kids immediately flipped these screens up and started playing Are We There Yet, a License Plate Game, Tick Tack Toe, and even practiced some math. The Pacifica also offers Harmon Kardon premium audio to create your own theater in the back of the van. With the cabin being extremely quite due to the use of acoustic front glass on Limited and up trim levels, the sound is very impressive. The Pacifica also has an available panoramic moonroof that stretches over the second-row passengers. Third-row passengers can get a fixed position glass roof to further brighten the interior.
Cargo capacity is one of the primary reasons many opt for the minivan over a crossover. No matter how hard they try, mid-size crossovers just can't match the cargo versatility of a minivan which is crucial with small children and all the things that come with them. Chrysler's Stow 'N Go storage system is exclusive to the class with a floor that opens up with easy access for additional storage. This system accommodates the second-row seats which collapse into the floor when needed.
Access to the third-row is relatively easy via a handle on the top of the second-row captain's chairs which fold the seats forward. The second-row seats are fixed and do not slide forward and back. There was, however, ample room to strap my son into his car seat in the third row. Third row seats can accommodate adults although the ceiling height feels lower than competitors, likely because of the higher floor in the Pacifica to accommodate Stow 'N Go. The third-row seats do recline backward at the touch of a button, but be wary of those curious kids, as my son could reach the button and had his entire car seat reclined for his personal comfort. As an added plus, Chrysler has incorporated a Stow 'N Vac vacuum system into the Pacifica which can be accessed on the driver's side behind the second row. Features like this prove Chrysler knows its audience and is very useful for a quick vacuum of those spilled cheerios. Overall, the Pacifica offers 32.2 cu. ft. of cargo space which is the lowest in the class but the handy storage options help offset that.
Safety continues to be a priority for Chrysler with over 97 standard features in the 2021 Pacifica which Chrysler says is the most in the industry. For 2021, Pacifica has added 14 new-as-standard safety features across the lineup which include things such as new LED lights, pedestrian automatic emergency braking (PAEB), forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane sense lane departure warning and much more. As daylight in Chicago is minimal in the winter, I really appreciated the LED lighting as they provide better visibility in addition to looking good when lit up. The new PAEB system works with the latest generation of the radar, forward camera, and braking system to activate when a pedestrian is in the path. The system works similarly to collision mitigation system for vehicles, but this system is fine-tuned to apply the brake even when it's a pedestrian in the path. Most of the driver assist features such as the park assist, lane departure warning, auto start/stop etc. can all be adjusted to driver preferences or turned off completely. For a full list of safety technology, visit www.Chrysler.com.
The Pacifica is offered in four trim levels known as the Touring, Touring L, Limited AWD, and Pinnacle AWD. The Pinnacle AWD trim is a new addition for 2021 and offers the ultimate in luxury appointments. Pinnacle models come standard with quilted caramel nappa leather seats in all three rows, matching leather lumbar support pillows, a premium center console with upgraded materials and accent stitching, black suede headliner and more. The Pinnacle is the most expensive minivan in the class with a starting price of $53,390. At the other end of the price spectrum is the Touring model which starts at $35,045. Most buyers will land somewhere in the middle which is comparable to the competition. The minivan segment has shrunk in recent years and now is left with three additional players to the Pacifica which include the Kia Sedona, Honda Odyssey, and Toyota Sienna. Currently only the Pacifica and Toyota Sienna offer both AWD and Hybrid minivans. Both the Odyssey and Sienna received significant updates for 2021 and a new Sedona is coming for 2022.
With a heritage as deep as the Pacifica's, there's a lot packed in to this van. Chrysler has made all the right moves with the 2021 refresh. The updated styling looks good and provides buyers the more utility look that is trending. Inside, the feature list goes on and on making this an ideal vehicle for families. And finally, it's hard to deny the safety of a vehicle with 97 standard safety features. The Pacifica has aged well in 36 years and should continue to be on your list if you're looking for a family hauler at an affordable price, there's not much (if anything) this minivan leaves out.