2017 Chrysler Pacifica: A great minivan, but who can afford it?
By Jil McIntosh
Oct. 28, 2016
A couple of years ago, when Chrysler decided to realign its brands, it ran into a problem. Dodge’s products traditionally started at cheap-and-cheerful, but it would now focus on performance. And that left no space for its top-selling model—indeed, the fifth-best-selling light truck across the country last year—the Grand Caravan minivan.
The Chrysler division sold the Town & Country, an upscale-trim version of Dodge’s people-mover. And so it solely receives the outgoing van’s replacement, the all-new Pacifica minivan.
It comes in three trim levels, starting with the Touring-L at $43,995. It then winds through the Touring-L Plus at $46,995, before arriving at my Limited tester at $52,995. Chrysler offers options on its trim levels and mine had quite a few, including rear-seat entertainment, 20-inch wheels, towing package, and an Advanced SafetyTec Group of numerous electronic nannies, bringing my ride to a hefty $60,545 before freight and taxes.
Editor’s note: A couple of days after our writer submitted this review, Chrysler announced the addition of two new lower-priced trims to the Pacifica lineup. The LX model carries a new base price of $37,995, and a Touring trim goes for $39,995.
Pros & Cons
- + Good fuel efficiency
- + Ride comfort
- + Well-matched engine/transmission
- - Some poorly-placed controls
- - Minivan stigma
- - Price
Although the Pacifica is entirely made over and riding on a new platform, it’s virtually the same size as the van it replaces, although it’s some 86 kilograms lighter. It shares much of its front-end styling with the soon-to-be-axed Chrysler 200 sedan, and while it looks a little pudgy at the rear, it’s a handsome vehicle overall.
High-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps are part of the Limited trim, along with LED daytime running lights and fog lamps, and a three-pane panoramic sunroof.
Power-sliding doors and liftgate are standard on all models, while the Limited adds a twist. Kicking under the liftgate opens it, a feature found on several brands today, but you can also kick under the sliding doors to open them hands-free as well.
Perhaps minor, but capless fuel fill, one of my favourite features, makes the job of fuelling up simpler and cleaner.
The Limited’s interior looks lush, as I’d expect from the price, but it’s also well-designed and practical. And yes, it has the cute little touches that Chrysler likes to throw in, in this case a line of minivans moulded into the rubber mat in the front floor cubby. Unfortunately, it also has a steering wheel design from the 200, with a metal accent ring dividing the two colours. It looks great, but that ring gets very cold in winter, even when the heated wheel is activated.
A stitched faux-leather dash cradles the infotainment screen, while the climate controls and dial-style gearshift sit below. You can control the temperature, fan speed and mode from here, but there are still some functions that require you to go into the computer screen, including the rear climate control, heated seats (also ventilated on the Limited), and heated wheel. It’s always a toss-up, since too many small buttons can be distracting as well, but it still takes too much from the road to adjust the toastiness of one’s behind.
I took my tester on a 2,200-kilometre road trip, including an eight-hour stint behind the wheel, but my seat remained supportive and comfortable throughout. The second-row chairs are Stow ’n Go, an industry-exclusive feature where they fold flat into the floor. They now tumble down at the pull of a lever and can be folded into their bins with one hand, although you have to press very hard. They’re also not as comfortable as the front seats, since they need to be slim enough to fold. But it beats wrenching out and storing a heavy seat as you must with the competition, and you can choose cargo or passenger priority on the go.
The third row is actually easier on the butt than the second row is, according to my 2,200-kilometre passenger back there, and it stows away flat or reclines electrically on the Limited.
Honda was the first to introduce an in-vehicle vacuum cleaner and the Pacifica has copied it, adding it as a standard feature on the Limited. However, on my tester it had swapped out for an optional spare tire with inflation kit for $295, installed in the cubby where the vacuum normally goes.
My van was stuffed with optional technology, beyond such standard items as blind spot monitoring, rearview camera, rear park assist that hits the brakes if it detects you’re about to hit something, and 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment screen with navigation.
These included adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning with braking, 360-degree camera, front and rear parking assist, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high-beam headlights, and self-parking feature, all bundled into a $1,995 package.
The adaptive cruise control, which keeps a pre-set distance from the vehicle in front, was among the smoothest I’ve driven. But I prefer the plain variety, and I liked that my Pacifica gave me the choice of both, which usually isn’t the case. The self-parking feature can handle either perpendicular or parallel spots. While it takes longer than just throwing it in reverse and parking it yourself, as is the case with all of these systems, it had no trouble figuring out how to settle precisely between the lines after I purposefully started out from the wrong angle.
I also had a theatre and sound package, at a hefty $3,495, which added such features as a Blu-ray player with dual rear screens, 115-volt power outlet, and premium speakers. The system comes with games for children, including a way to deal with the “are we there yet” refrain: when you’ve entered a navigation destination, the screen displays how long it’s going to take.
The Pacifica is powered by a stout 287-horsepower, 3.6-litre V6 engine, mated to a nine-speed automatic. It’s a great combination, especially since the transmission has been properly dialled in and doesn’t exhibit the constant gear-hunting that earlier versions did in the 200 sedan. Acceleration is strong and linear, and the van had no issues tackling steep mountain roads with three adults and a load of gear.
Despite the load and the hills, I was impressed with the fuel economy. Against published figures of 12.9 L/100 km in the city and 8.4 on the highway, I averaged 9.3 L/100 km.
The cabin is very quiet, and the suspension smooths out rough pavement very well, letting none of the vibration make its way to its passengers. Handling is quick and precise, and the steering is well-weighted and communicative. Honda and Toyota have always had the upper hand for ride and handling, but this new Pacifica is now right up there with them.
The Pacifica’s Achilles heel is in its price. With an MSRP of $27,995, which often dropped below $20,000 with incentives, the Grand Caravan was an inexpensive alternative to its far pricier competitors. Now, with a starting tag of $43,995, it’s a jaw-dropping $10,575 over its next-priciest rival, the Toyota Sienna.
Yes, you do get some higher-end features on the base Pacifica Touring-L, but let’s face it: when the idea is simply to get a load of muddy-shoed children and all their sports gear to the game, cheap and simple is often all one wants.
Kia’s Sedona starts at $27,995; Ford’s passenger version of the Transit Connect is $30,599; Honda’s Odyssey is $30,790; the Toyota Sienna is $33,420. The Pacifica soars at the top end, too: the highest Sienna trim level, which includes all-wheel drive, is $51,445 to the Pacifica Limited’s $52,995.
Even though it’s positioned Chrysler as its luxury division, the company needs to slide a much cheaper, de-contented base version into the Pacifica’s lineup. And if Kia’s smart, it’ll advertise the hell out of its Sedona, throw in some incentives to sweeten the deal, and probably grab that fifth-best-seller spot that the Grand Caravan will leave open, but which the pricey Pacifica won’t fill.
And it’s a shame it’s so expensive, because the Pacifica does just about everything well. It’s made a huge leap and is possibly the best minivan out there right now. It just needs a low enough starting price that people will actually get in and find out that it is.