2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring-L: Premium in price and polish
Aug. 22, 2016
For years, there have been two minivans from Chrysler: the basic Dodge Grand Caravan, and the luxurious Chrysler Town & Country. The upmarket van had tough competition from Honda’s Odyssey and Toyota’s Sienna, among others, so the all-new Pacifica is a replacement for that T&C.
Like those Japanese vans, the Pacifica is expensive – the top end Limited edition starts at $52,995 – but it’s loaded with new features and impressive touches. We drove the most basic model, the Touring-L, which starts at $43,995.
Not in the market for luxury? The Grand Caravan is still available and still offers Stow‘n’Go seating, and it starts at $22,395. Stop reading this review now if you want to save your money – you’ll never know what you’re missing.
Pros & Cons
- + versatility
- + Comfortable, spacious interior
- + Fuel economy
- - Price
- - Minivan stigma
- - No reclining second-row seats
The challenge for any minivan is that it shouldn’t look like a minivan, thanks to the associated stigma of suburban family misery. A minivan tells the neighbours you’re not hiking to Machu Picchu, but shuttling the kids to soccer; you’re not swimming with dolphins, but taking the dog to the vet. This is what you’ve become.
It’s no different with the Pacifica – it’s always going to be a minivan – but at least it’s stylish on the outside. Sleek without sacrificing interior space, it hides the rear side-door runners completely under the window trim, so everything looks nicely flush and streamlined. The front has an attractive face, with quad-halogen headlamps on either side of a matte black grille, and the profile includes a couple of creases, just like the SUV your partner wanted you to buy.
The overall quality of the finish is high, with tight gaps and no orange-peel paint – as it should be for this price.
There’s no disappointment stepping inside, which seems less of a climb than the previous vans. All Pacificas come with Stow-‘n’-Go seating, which folds the second row completely under the floor and adds a huge amount of useable space. All the other makers have to roll the seats forward; they can be removed, but that’s a hassle and takes a lot of garage space for storing them. The tester came with a centre half-sized seat for the second row that was a $495 option and provided seating for an eighth person. It didn’t stow and needed to be physically removed if you want the space, but it was small and easy to lift out. This is new – the Town & Country would only seat seven.
Storage is everywhere. There’s only one glove box (two is now common with a large bin for big things and a smaller bin above it for paperwork, but both get filled with detritus pretty quickly). Drink holders are also everywhere, and the centre console is a floating design that adds an extra tray below.
This is possible because there’s no longer a gear-shift lever or stalk, but just a round dial on the centre console with only a small box of electronics below it. In the Olden Days, the shift lever had to physically move a selector cog beneath it into place but this is now long forgotten – even shift levers do little more than adjust the software below. Lincoln, Acura and Jaguar all have buttons or dials now that do just as good a job and save space while they’re at it.
After all, what minivan actually needs a shift lever? Its driver wants to put it in ‘forward’ and then just forget about it, so what’s wrong with a dial you can twiddle once at the beginning of the journey and then leave alone?
It’s very upscale inside the Pacifica, with leather-faced seating, red contrast stitching and a satisfying clarity to the instrumentation. The tester included an 8.4-inch touchscreen with navigation, which cost an extra $1,500 over the tiny five-inch screen that comes standard.
Chrysler’s done away with some of the knobs and buttons, feeding instructions through either the central touchscreen display or the voice-activated control, but the traditional volume and tuning knobs for the radio are still there, and a nice large dial for the fan. On the Honda Odyssey, these are touch-sensitive slider controls and are the worst thing about that van.
The second row of seating has always been spartan in a Stow-‘n’-Go Chrysler because the seats can only be so thickly padded before they won’t fit in the under-floor storage. The Pacifica seats are more comfortable now, though still not on a par with the front row. But what do you care? You’re not the one sitting back there, are you?
As with most vehicles, the amount of technology rises with the cost of the trim level. However, there’s quite a lot of fancy stuff on the most basic Pacifica that we’d probably never heard of five years ago: active noise cancellation to quieten the cabin; active grille shutters that close when not needed, to improve fuel economy; voice recognition control, eight air bags, push-button start and a backup camera, all as standard.
(I couldn’t get the voice recognition to work properly, but then, I rarely can. I tried placing a call to a woman named Courtney Hay who is in my iPhone directory. The computer wanted to hook me up with Scott Colby, and then with Brian Makse. I gave up, as I usually do.)(For the record, the author speaks with a British accent, which could have something to do with the VR system’s mixup. —Ed.)
If you want the various electronic driver’s aids, like blind spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert, they’ll cost you an extra $995 if you don’t go up to the next trim level. And at that Touring-L Plus trim, which starts at $3,000 more, you’ll need to spend an extra $1,995 to get those same aids, as well as lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control and all the other bells and whistles. In other words, it’s all available if you want to pay extra for it.
Surprisingly, there are no USB ports in the back of the van, for kids to charge their ever-present phones. There are two in the front, in separate locations, but that’s it. Again, if you go up a trim or two, you’ll get more ports, but this really shouldn’t be necessary.
Well, it drives like a minivan. No getting around that. This doesn’t mean it’s good or bad, just that it floats along comfortably and effortlessly. The steering is suitably firm and the suspension is suitably absorbent, so everyone can ride along as smoothly as if they’re on an airplane.
There’s no excitement – no sport button or even an eco button – but minivan drivers don’t want excitement. They want comfort, convenience, good fuel economy and for the kids to shut up. The 3.6-litre V6 engine is perhaps the only holdover from the Town & Country, but it’s been tweaked a little and now gets four more horsepower, for a total of 287 hp.
The more relevant news is the new nine-speed transmission, upgraded from the six-speed of the old van. This is shared with other vehicles in the FCA lineup and the extra gears improve fuel economy. Chrysler claims the Pacifica is 12 per cent better on gas than the Town & Country, with official Canadian ratings of 12.9 L/100 km in the city and 8.4 on the highway, for a combined average of 10.9. My own observed consumption over 656 km of driving was exactly that: 10.9 L/100 km. Who says you can’t trust statistics?
(The last time I drove a Town & Country, mostly on the highway but heavily loaded – the van, not me – I saw average fuel consumption of 11.1. Chrysler’s claim of 12 per cent improvement is probably accurate.)
The Dodge Grand Caravan is better value for your money – there, I said it. It’s literally half the price for the same space, hauling capacity and reliability. If you just need to get somewhere, buy a Grand Caravan while you still can.
But the Pacifica is undoubtedly more comfortable and a more enjoyable drive. It’s finished to a premium standard and it’s been thoroughly updated to match or even surpass the Japanese and Korean competition. Stow-‘n’-Go is a deal-breaker on its own, for the sheer convenience of changing around the seating and cargo configurations on the fly, but otherwise, Chrysler’s marketers clearly went through the options list of the other vans very carefully to make sure no one maker was much more expensive, or cheaper.
There are just three trim levels and none are cheap, but this does give you a greater selection of what you actually want, since options are available for all of them.
The Pacifica is well matched, but its challenge will be its resale price. Hondas and Toyotas and even Kias hold their prices very well, while the Grand Caravan used to have a reputation as a transmission-eating clunker. By association, it dragged down the resale value of the Town & Country. With an all-new transmission, completely new platform and a whole new name, Chrysler hopes that bugbear will be laid to rest, but only time will tell.
Editor’s note: About two months after we published 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.
Really, minivans are all about the interior, the fuel consumption, and the price; nothing else matters. The Pacifica has a lovely interior, improved fuel consumption, and is expensive, like the other premium vans it’s vying with in Canadian showrooms.
Its huge advantage is Stow-‘n’Go, which also defines its segments: hauling kids and hauling cargo. The other premium vans have luxurious second-row seats with recliners that stretch out, like those seats in business class on an airplane, and which are too large to store in the floor. If you plan to carry adults in the back, they’ll like those reclining seats more. If you still have kids, or aren’t so worried about the adults, and you want a premium-quality minivan, then go for the versatility of the Pacifica.