SANTA MONICA, California—These days fuel economy is a hot topic in the auto industry. Wherever you turn, new government regulations are being announced; ads are emphasizing fuel efficiency; and electric charging stations are sprouting up across the country.

Fully electric vehicles and hybrids make up only a small percentage of vehicles on the road today, but they’re growing in number and setting the tone for the next generation of green vehicles.

The minivan segment, the seventh largest in Canada, is one of the few vehicle segments without an electrified offering. That will change early 2017, when the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid makes its way to showrooms and injects some life into the outdated, failing-to-keep-relevant minivan market.

Given that numerous families strive to produce fewer carbon dioxide emissions and a safer environment for their kids, why wouldn’t there be a green minivan option? It only makes sense.

It especially made sense for Chrysler, since the Pacifica platform is so well-suited for electrification.
Chrysler may be new to the electrification game, only dabbling in it for the last eight years, but the American brand wants to see the minivan reborn, and to make this the first big step toward doing so.

You’ll be hearing this a lot throughout the review, but the Pacifica isn’t like your typical minivan, and that starts with its shape. The plug-in hybrid version gets only subtle changes, retaining the Pacifica’s sleek sloping roof, tapered windshield, and signature LED lighting in the front and rear.

Outside of the charge port in front of the driver door, the hybrid receives many teal-blue touches throughout. It starts in its front fascia’s unique wave-patterned grille, with Chrysler logo in teal. (The grille doesn’t change in size, only style, losing the mesh pattern found on the gas version.)

The teal theme is carried through its unique 18-inch wheels, adding more flair and styling charm. And if you really dig the colour, Chrysler’s made an exclusive Silver Teal Pearl paint one of their ten exterior choices.

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The teal theme continues inside in a subtle yet sophisticated way, showing up in the logo on the steering wheel and in the stitching on the dash and seats. This styling adds a crisp touch to complement the black-and-white-alloy colour scheme.

The interior feels spacious with a stretched-out design that comes off as more premium than one would expect. For a mainstream brand, the Pacifica offers up comfortable heated and ventilated Nappa leather seating. Bucket seats are enjoyed by both the front and second-row occupants; while plenty of legroom can still be found in the third-row bench. Just keep in mind that getting into the back can be hard for taller individuals due to the sloping roofline. But once you get in, you’ll be sitting pretty for the ride.

The 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack sits dead-centre underneath the second-row vehicle floor. It weighs 168 kg, pushing up the weight on the hybrid version compared to the regular one. The central position offers a better weight distribution and balance for the ride, but also forced Chrysler to do away with its signature Stow ‘n Go seating for the second row. The third row still has that function, and if one spot had to lose it, it makes sense that it would be the middle row.

The message during the presentation was “no compromises,” and that was most evident when it comes to cargo space. With any minivan, versatility and cargo capacity is as essential as the seven seats. The good news is the second captain’s chairs can be removed, maximizing total cargo space to 4,000 litres, or the equivalent of 64 sheets of 4×8 plywood.

When it comes to in-car infotainment, the easy-to-use 8.4-inch UConnect touchscreen is your central portal, controlling audio, phone, climate control, navigation and even the class-exclusive 10-inch UConnect Theatre entertainment system that plays movies and games for the second row and beyond.

In addition, it features an on-screen “efficiency coach” that guides the driver to better their fuel-efficient driving skills, providing visual warnings when accelerating too quickly or braking too hard. Owners can also arrange a charging schedule via this system, though it’s not setup just yet to do that in Canada on mobile devices.

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As for safety tech, all the options from the Platinum trim – the only trim level coming to Canada – come standard on the hybrid. The only option will be a panoramic sunroof. Other than that, you will receive assistance from: Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go; Forward Collision Warning with Active Braking; Parallel and Perpendicular Park Assist; and Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Monitoring, and a 360-degree Surround View Camera.

The big news, obviously, with the Pacifica Hybrid is its specially adapted 3.6-litre V6, which functions along with two electric motors and the 16-kWh lithium-ion battery to produce a net total of 260 hp. Chrysler wouldn’t disclose the breakdown between the V6 and its electric motors, nor give a torque figure, but one can only assume it loses some engine horsepower from the gas version in the electrified configuration, but gains it back via the motors.

All of this adds up to 850 kms of driving range, with a total of 48 kms in EV mode. Even more surprising was that we managed a total of 53 kms during the drive from Santa Monica to Malibu. The key is to not push down on the throttle fully—a gentle halfway pressure on the accelerator maximizes your time in EV mode. Through full acceleration or harsh braking, the minivan will transfer to gas mode or not regenerate via braking properly.

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Another change from the gas version is the use of a single-input electrically-variable transmission (EVT) instead of the nine-speed automatic we’ve grown accustomed to. The EVT supplies a seamless transition from pure electric driving to gas, and that switch-over wasn’t even noticed on the drive.

For a plug-in minivan, the drive was exceptionally smooth and nimble, without the weight of the seven-seater carrying a heavy battery pack being felt. I only accelerated gently, so I can’t talk about its power off the line, but when it gets up to speed, it moved briskly and handled winding corners like most SUVs. Comfort, agility, and a quiet drive are key to this type of vehicle and the Pacifica Hybrid responded quickly to steering inputs and stayed balanced with smooth power delivery at all times.

The Pacifica Hybrid is set up to drive in the most fuel-efficient mode possible. When climbing a hill, for example, the minivan went into gas mode for a short while in order to grab additional power the two electric motors couldn’t provide.

Fuel economy is a big deal and the main reason this hybrid was built. It was interesting to watch the seismic jumps from EV to pure gas, but in the end, the drive throughout the California coast registered a combined 4.5 L/100 km. To put this into perspective, the official rating for the city is 2.9 L/100 km, and at the start of my run in pure EV, I managed 2.8 L/100 km. The highest rating number I saw in full gas mode was 7.3 L/100 km, but that only lasted a short time.

As for charging information, a 240-volt Level 2 full recharge will take close to two hours; while a 110-volt Level 1 plug can be fully charged in 14 hours. The minivan is not setup for a Level 3 fast-charge.

Naturally, one would assume buying a plug-in hybrid can be, initially, an expensive purchase. That’s not so much the case with the Pacifica Hybrid, given the provincial government incentives that top out at the maximum $14,000 rebate in Ontario.

To explain: the actual cost of the Pacifica Hybrid in Platinum trim is $56,495. With the Ontario incentive, the price goes down to $42,495; while in British Columbia, it can be had for $48,245, and $48,495 in Quebec. If you don’t reside in one of those provinces, you’re definitely out of luck having to pay full pop.

But this is where the interesting part begins. If you look at the regular Pacifica, the amount of technology and entertainment you get in the Platinum hybrid brings it about on par with the top Limited trim of the gas version, which rings in at $52,995.

The only things you don’t get are the optional panoramic sunroof, second-row Stow ‘n Go, a built-in vacuum, and towing capabilities. Therefore, the incentives provide consumers quite the bargain with the hybrid, followed by plenty of gas savings for years to come.

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The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid may be a game-changer for the minivan sector. The segment needed a major boost with plenty of aging products, and now the combination of a plug-in hybrid that doesn’t compromise on cargo capacity, seating, or performance seems to be exactly what it needs.

Range anxiety doesn’t factor in with 48 kms of pure EV driving, followed by a full gas tank with 800 kms to go before full depletion. And if your commute is in the 50 km range, imagine the amount of money saved each year on gas. To alleviate even more worries, Chrysler provides a fully transferrable 10-year/160,000-km battery warranty.

The Pacifica Hybrid will begin production shortly at its Windsor plant and will be available in showrooms in early 2017.

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Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.