Competes with: Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Kia Sedona
Looks like: A taller, stylish van version of the Chrysler 200
Drivetrains: 287-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6; optional plug-in hybrid system; nine-speed automatic or continuously variable automatic transmission; front-wheel drive
Hits dealers: Spring 2016, late 2016 for Hybrid models
CARS.COM — Chrysler was the pioneer of the first American minivan in the 1980s, and the family vehicle became the must-have utility piece for on-the-go broods. But competition has eaten a big chunk of Chrysler’s minivan market share over the years. It’s time for a change, and Chrysler is shaking things up with the new 2017 Pacifica.
Related: More 2016 Detroit Auto Show News
The larger, lower and wider minivan will replace the long-running Town & Country (a Dodge version is not coming — the Caravan will be replaced by a crossover style vehicle soon). Built on an all-new platform, it’s a dramatically different look for Chrysler, but brings in elements of the rest of the lineup as well as something extraordinary — the world’s first plug-in hybrid minivan and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle of any kind. If the name sounds familiar, it should — Chrysler made a Pacifica crossover from 2003-2007, but it arrived before anyone really knew what crossovers were, and it didn’t sell well.
This new Pacifica is nothing like the old one, and it’s even stylistically quite a departure from the Town & Country. The 2017 Pacifica trades the upright, boxy look of the traditional minivan for a low-slung, sleek fuselage look that is smooth and visibly more aerodynamic. There’s more slope to the windows, and it rides on the longest wheelbase in the class.
The front end borrows styling cues from the Chrysler 200 sedan, and the back features a change from vertically stacked taillights to horizontal ones. It still looks like a minivan, but it has a lot more SUV style to it than before.
The old Town & Country’s interior versatility drew in hundreds of thousands of customers a year, especially its ability to carry tons of people and stuff with its impressive Stow ‘n Go seat system. The new Pacifica builds on the old model’s strengths with updates to popular features.
The dash and doors look lifted from the 200 and are in keeping with the modern, attractive, upscale look of new Chryslers. A new flush-mounted 8.4-inch Uconnect screen is available, as is a new feature for second-row passengers: “Uconnect Theater,” a kid-oriented system that features two 10-inch touch-screens in the headrests of both front seatbacks and special kid-oriented software to control them. You’ll have your choice of a six-, 13- or 20-speaker audio system. There’s also an optional three-pane panoramic sunroof, the first of its kind, and a built-in vacuum system first seen on the Honda Odyssey.
Stow ‘n Go has been redesigned. The seats are now larger and — Chrysler says — more comfortable, but still fold flat into the floor in new receptacles between the frame rails. In an industry exclusive, Chrysler says that you can install child seats to the second row and it will still tilt forward enough to allow for third-row entry and exit without needing to remove the car seats.
Under the Hood
Given that the Pacifica rides on a new chassis, much under the skin is new. Despite being larger than the outgoing van, the new Pacifica is 200 pounds lighter yet has a 30 percent stiffer body. It will be powered by Chrysler’s ubiquitous 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, but a newer version with 287-horsepower, better fuel efficiency and smoother operation. The engine is mated to a new nine-speed automatic transmission and will eventually offer a stop-start option for improved fuel economy. No mention of an all-wheel-drive model was made. The sliding side doors are now aluminum and much lighter than before, while the tailgate has been redone out of aluminum and magnesium.
But the big news for what’s under the hood is the unveiling of the Pacifica Hybrid. Details are still not fully revealed, but Chrysler says that it’s replaced the nine-speed automatic with an “electronically variable transmission” that integrates two electric motors into the system. There’s no Stow ‘n Go seating option for the Hybrid, as the tubs in the floor are filled with 16 kilowatt-hours worth of lithium-ion batteries. The combination is good for 30 miles of electric-only range, allowing for an anticipated 80 mpg-equivalent city rating from the EPA, before the 3.6-liter V-6 kicks in to keep the van going (much like a Chevrolet Volt). The company says that the Hybrid charges in less than two hours on a 240-volt Level 2 charger.
Visually, the Hybrid is distinguished by a unique grille, wheels and badging as well as an exclusive Silver Teal color. Inside, there’s a unique touch-screen and gauge cluster with an exclusive Ice Blue interior color scheme. A battery charge indicator that looks like the one from the Fiat 500e provides an at-a-glance status of the van’s battery state of charge when it’s plugged in.
With the new van comes an all-new electrical architecture too, allowing Chrysler to pump up the safety system content in the Pacifica. There are many optional safety systems, including a 360-degree camera, lane departure warning, automatic cruise control with full autonomous stop, forward collision warning alert, automatic parallel and perpendicular parking, and more. Of particular interest to minivan owners with kids may be the parking sensor system with autonomous stopping; it will automatically stop the vehicle if it detects an obstacle behind it.
Look for the new Pacifica to hit dealerships in the spring of 2016, with the Hybrid to follow later in the year.