Auto writer Greg Rubenstein enjoys the spirited Chrysler Pacifica

Not Your Typical Minivan 

Auto writer Greg Rubenstein enjoys the spirited Chrysler Pacifica.

By Greg Rubenstein

Chrysler invented the minivan more than 30 years ago. Since then, its Caravan, Grand Caravan, and Town and Country people-haulers have continued to define the segment, perpetually leading in sales even as the overall minivan market dropped thanks to buyers’ preferences for SUVs, and especially car-based crossover utility vehicles, or CUVs.

In spite of all its history––or perhaps because of it––Chrysler has dropped the nameplates that carried the day for so many model years. Instead, the Pacifica, which from 2004 to 2008 was a capable if mostly unremarkable CUV, is now back on the market as Chrysler’s sole entry in the segment.

Fortunately for Chrysler and parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), the Pacifica is not just another typical minivan. It’s amazingly nimble. It’s remarkably spirited. It’s, in a landscape occupied by solid vehicles with an amazing array of tech goodies and other gadgetry, notable for flat-out incredible features. Case-in-point: there’s a built-in vacuum cleaner with over 11 feet of suction-hose.

That’s right; besides offering the first-ever plug-in hybrid minivan option, best-in-class quiet interior (thanks to active noise cancelling), 11 power ports, a 360-degree Surround View camera, adaptive cruise control, and a tri-pane panoramic sunroof, there’s a built-in 50-watt vacuum cleaner with enough hose to reach every nook and crevice, even in the vehicle parked one spot over. Chrysler definitely knows its child-rearing target audience.

If vacuuming doesn’t blow you away, the Pacifica’s “ParkSense” parallel and perpendicular park assistance feature may. While autonomous parking isn’t new to the luxury segment, it’s ideally suited to a minivan, especially given today’s tight parking spots. Using ParkSense is a snap, too. Enabled with the touch of a button, it will flawlessly back into any spot, all while the driver never need touch the wheel.

Anyone who’s driven a large vehicle knows, it’s all too easy to miss bikes, skates, signs, or other common hazards while backing up; thanks to the Pacifica’s blind-spot monitoring, even attentive drivers are provided one more layer of safety and security. Case in point: while backing out of a library parking spot, I somehow missed noticing a narrow (but stout) parking sign planted just opposite my spot. Had the Pacifica not actively applied the brakes, I would have crunched the rear bumper and knocked down an innocent sign. Whew!

With a starting price of $37,895, the sampled Pacifica Touring L Plus came with options including hands-free power sliding side doors and rear liftgate, upgraded audio and wheel/tire packages, as well as enhanced safety and infotainment systems, bringing the window sticker to $44,265. The standard Pacifica LX has a base price of $29,990, while the range-topping Hybrid Platinum is $45,990 before options.

The hybrid offers an EPA-estimated 84 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe), while the tested Pacifica is rated at an EPA-estimated 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Over a week’s worth of driving which including a 300-mile road trip, observed economy was a solid 24 miles-per-gallon average, besting the EPA combined estimate by two mpg.

There are too many features and functions to describe them all, and FCA says the Pacifica has 40 new minivan firsts, 115 minivan innovations, and more than 100 standard and available safety and security features. In addition to the already-noted goodies, other highlights from the list of firsts, innovations, and other features include a 287-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine with stop-start mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, second- and third-row “stow and go” seating offering capacity to carry a full 4 x 8-foot sheet of plywood, and lane departure warning with active lane-keep assist. The “Uconnect Theater” infotainment system is as good as they get, with easy controls and quick response on the seven-inch full-color driver information display, 8.4-inch center-console touchscreen, and dual rear-seat 10.1-inch touchscreens, which also have built-in games, apps and the capacity to display separate shows via Bluetooth, USB, DVD or integrated WiFi hotspot.

Aside from its impressive content, what really sets the Pacifica apart is the experience while behind the wheel––so much so, that it’s easy to forget one is piloting a minivan. The electric power-assist steering is nicely weighted and provides excellent road feel, and instead of the typical plodding minivan dynamics, the Pacifica feels agile, and is a willing participant in spirited driving. It’s genuinely fun to drive, and must be experienced to be appreciated.

The market for minivans has been on a generally-upward trajectory since bottoming in 2009, thanks in part to an outstanding value quotient. Add to that mix a minivan that offers an enjoyable driving experience, and it’s safe to assume sales will continue to grow––Chrysler certainly has a winner in the Pacifica. Give one a test drive, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised, too.

 

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