The verdict: The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica is a lot like my favorite pair of leggings: comfortable, versatile and — with the addition of available all-wheel drive — ready for anything.
Versus the competition: With an emphasis on drivability, comfort and heaps of convenience and safety features you may not even know you need, the Pacifica out-minivans other minivans.
Chrysler’s minivan was revised for 2021 in two significant ways: All-wheel drive is newly available, and its multimedia system has been updated to the automaker’s latest version, Uconnect 5, which adds goodies such as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a FamCam in-cabin camera system. See the 2021 Pacifica compared with the previous model.
The minivan competes against the likes of the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. See them compared. It’s also available with a hybrid powertrain. A bare-bones version of the Pacifica is sold as the Voyager model, which is more affordable but lacks many of the Pacifica’s tech and safety features. Compare the models.
Carting kids around can often feel like a chore, but driving the Pacifica doesn’t. Since its debut for model-year 2017, it’s been the minivan to beat when it comes to comfortable road manners, and that’s still the case. Despite a long and hulking body, it handles like a smaller vehicle, with a maneuverability unrivaled among minivans. It feels more composed in corners than its competitors, and its ride quality is better, too; most bumps don’t unsettle it.
Power comes from the same 287-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 that was in the previous model, mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. This problematic nine-speed is found throughout Chrysler’s lineup, and it’s not a favorite at Cars.com — rough shifting was a persistent aggravation in our long-term 2017 Pacifica. This, coupled with a tendency to bang into 2nd gear under moderate acceleration at low speeds, prompted a couple of visits to the dealership that mitigated but never completely eliminated the problem. Fortunately, the hundreds of owner-submitted powertrain complaints on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s online database for the 2017 model dropped to dozens for the 2018 model, and they’ve dwindled to just over a dozen for the 2019, only a few of which call out hard shifting.
In the 2021 Pacifica, the nine-speed transmission gets the job done with little fuss. Power from a stop is ample, and delivery is smooth and linear; midrange power on the highway is furnished quickly and naturally. I noticed the occasional rough, abrupt downshift upon deceleration at low speeds around town, but for the most part, the nine-speed was unobtrusive.
All-wheel drive is a welcome (and timely) addition to the lineup. If any of the Pacifica’s wheels lose traction, the system automatically activates to transfer torque to the wheels that need it. During my test, it kept us on the road during a couple of literally slippery situations and capably passed the Sudden Wisconsin Blizzard test.
After an incident closed the highway, we were routed to a local road clogged with thick, wet snow that had piled on top of a sheet of ice. After some initial wheel slippage, the system kicked in and provided solid traction to power through the sludge. There was only one situation where the van was outmatched by the weather, and that involved some pretty thick ice, a turn and a hill. We slid until the antilock braking system did its thing, which thankfully was only seconds. AWD is optional on all Pacifica trim levels: Touring, Touring L, Limited and Pinnacle.
When it comes to fuel economy, the Pacifica matches the Odyssey with an EPA-estimated 19/28/22 mpg city/highway/combined rating with front-wheel drive; AWD knocks it down to 17/25/20 mpg. The 2021 Sienna — available only as a hybrid — is rated 36/36/36 mpg with FWD and 35/36/35 mpg with AWD. (Read more about the Pacifica Hybrid further down.)
The Uconnect multimedia system has long been a favorite, and the new version doesn’t disappoint. Uconnect 5 is straightforward, fast, slick-looking and remains one of the van’s biggest assets. It resembles the old setup but is more customizable; for example, you can now configure what’s displayed on the home screen and set it up for specific user profiles. Its larger 10.1-inch touchscreen is standard across all trims, and the system’s new technology only increases its appeal.
Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are new for 2021, and after an initial hiccup (my aging Android phone didn’t support the connection, but my husband’s did), I found its integration seamless and unobtrusive. As the passenger, he was still able to use his phone while connected and wasn’t locked out of any features. What’s more, the system allows you to connect two devices at once via Bluetooth, switching between them with the touch of a button. Amazon Alexa connectivity has also been added, facilitating home-to-car and car-to-home control for both the vehicle’s systems and home automation.
The love fest was, however, slightly derailed by a mysterious and frustrating tech glitch. The culprit was the Uconnect Theater second-row entertainment system. Its twin touchscreens can display DVDs or whatever else you can play from an HDMI-connected device, and they feature built-in game apps that my kids love … until they don’t, because they don’t work. Cue the angry backseat trolls.
On a recent road trip, my two daughters played the games (checkers, an apple word game and tic-tac-toe were favorites) for hours. On the way home, though, the games wouldn’t load. We were still able to use the system to play a DVD, but the screens blacked out each time we tried to enable the games. After turning off the system and the van several times, we resorted to a manual-recommended hard reboot, but that also failed. A Chrysler rep said the vehicle likely had early software and needed an update. A week later, I tested the system in a Pacifica Hybrid and it worked fine, so hopefully my mysterious tech glitch was an isolated issue.
The 2021 Pacifica is filled with familiar creature comforts that add convenience to the task of hauling around tiny humans, as well as a new feature that’s now joined my list of favorites: an in-cabin camera.
A fresh take on a feature first found in the Honda Odyssey, FamCam uses a wide-angle camera mounted on the ceiling just behind the second row to display images from both rows on the van’s central multimedia screen, helping caregivers keep tabs on backseat shenanigans. It provides a clear view of all the seats — night or day — and a “zoom-to-seat” function lets you zoom in on a specific (troublemaking) kid.
I found it helpful to get a quick peek at the kids while driving, but the view is a little strange. Because of where the camera is, it shows the back of the second-row occupants and a top view of the third-row occupants. Since my kids are now in boosters, this view wasn’t as helpful as the Odyssey’s front view of all the seats. For caregivers with infants and toddlers in rear-facing car seats, the Pacifica’s FamCam view would be great.
Other highlights include old favorites such as the easy, magical fold-into-floor Stow ’n Go second-row seats, an available second-row vacuum, third-row power reclining, a heated steering wheel, and loads of USB ports for all three rows.
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The van is not without some small annoyances, however. First, there’s oodles of room for child-safety seats, but installing them takes some patience. The second row’s lower Latch anchors are partly exposed, which sounds like something that would make them easy to find and use, but there’s not a lot of clearance around the anchors, and the upholstery is so stiff it takes some muscle to connect. Read more in our Car Seat Check.
Second, although the center console is enormous and full of functionality with lots of built-in cubbies, cupholders and sliding partitions, big-purse people will have a tough time. Gone is the large uncovered area below the climate controls; it’s been replaced by a bridgelike console that spans the area between the front seats. There’s still storage space below it, but you’ll need to become a medium-purse person to use it.
Larger families looking for a fuel-efficient people mover don’t have a lot of options, and the plug-in Pacifica Hybrid does a lot of things well. Although the hybrid weighs more than the regular model and has a bit less horsepower, it still accelerates briskly from a stop and is strong at highway speeds. Power comes from a 3.6-liter V-6 engine, an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack, making a combined 260 horsepower. The plug-in-hybrid powertrain is an option available on all Pacifica trims.
The hybrid is EPA-rated 29/30/30 mpg city/highway/combined after its 32 miles of EV-only range. Those numbers hold up in real-world driving. I got a full charge after two hours on a 240-volt charger, then drove 32.3 miles on electric power in both stop-and-go traffic and on the highway. During a full 122-mile trip, I averaged 28.8 mpg. The Pacifica Hybrid’s closest rival, the hybrid-only 2021 Toyota Sienna, has an EPA rating of 36/36/36 mpg with front-wheel drive.
The Pacifica Hybrid also has a few trade-offs, and two of them are pretty significant. First, it rides much firmer than the regular model, and, like other hybrids, its regenerative brakes feel harder and less responsive than the gas-only model’s. But perhaps more significantly, the useful Stow ’n Go seating package is unavailable in the Hybrid because of the battery’s placement under the floor. A second-row bench seat and the optional vacuum are also casualties of the battery. The Hybrid’s second-row seats are removable, but they’re heavy and clunky, as in other minivans.
Additionally, you’ll pay more for the Hybrid — up front, at least. The model is eligible for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits (the amount depends on the buyer’s tax liability) that you could get back after filing your annual tax return. In its base Touring trim, the hybrid starts at $41,490 before incentives. That’s $4,800 more than a gas-powered Touring and an even bigger increase over the 2021 Toyota Sienna’s $35,635 starting price (all prices include destination charges). That said, the federal tax credit could give the Pacifica Hybrid an advantage in both cases in the long term. Some states also provide incentives for plug-in vehicles and charging.
Safety is a huge consideration for family-car shoppers, and the Pacifica again answers the call with more standard safety features for 2021: automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear park assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high beams, lane departure warning and lane keep assist. Many of these features were optional or unavailable on the previous Pacifica, making the new version much more competitive against the Sienna and Odyssey, which both offer loads of standard safety features for 2021.
With all those extra safety features, however, the Pacifica’s price has gone up for 2021. The 2021 Pacifica starts at $36,690, around $1,000 more than the outgoing model. That’s also higher than the Odyssey ($32,965) and Sienna ($35,635), but the Pacifica’s extra available creature comforts, top-notch multimedia system, flexible cabin and emphasis on drivability make the price premium worth a little budget stretching.
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