Versus the competiton:
The verdict: Like a diaper bag, minivans typically are large, unwieldy and frumpy but pack all the gear your family needs. For 2017, however, Chrysler’s van morphed into a Kate Spade bag: The new eight-passenger Pacifica is sleek, stylish and even more tailored to families with additional room and innovative comfort and convenience features.
Versus the competition: With many minivans, drivers sacrifice style, power and maneuverability for a living room on wheels – not the case with the 2017 Pacifica. Stunning good looks and polished road manners make it a standout in the class.
Seating seven or eight in three rows of seats, the 2017 Pacifica minivan replaces the Chrysler (Dodge) Town & Country minivan and resurrects the Pacifica name last used by Chrysler for a large crossover from 2004 to 2008. Compare the T&C and new Pacifica here. It competes against the Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona and Toyota Sienna; compare the Pacifica with them here.
Like the mom who shows up at kindergarten drop-off in a suit instead of yoga pants, the Pacifica easily out-styles other minivans, even the handsome Kia Sedona. The Pacifica’s sleek silhouette and polished face are a radical stylistic departure from the Town & Country’s dowdy bread-box look.
It wears a version of the Chrysler 200 sedan’s curvaceous, classy grille and horizontal, LED light-pipe-accented taillights evocative of the automaker’s SUVs. In profile, there’s something missing, but I doubt you’ll actually miss it. The minivan’s telltale sliding door tracks are gone. Unlike on some other vans, the Pacifica’s door track lines are hidden under the rear-quarter side glass.
Long and heavy, minivans are not known for their handling prowess, but Chrysler made great strides with the Pacifica. It’s much less a chore to drive than the outgoing model, with improved handling and maneuverability, especially when parking. It feels tighter and more composed in corners, and ride quality is better, too — most bumps don’t unsettle it. The Pacifica also is much quieter than the Town & Country as well as the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna; wind and engine noise are better-hushed.
Power comes from a new version of the 3.6-liter V-6 that powered the Town & Country, mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. In other applications, the automaker’s nine-speed has been problematic, particularly when teamed with a four-cylinder. Our long-term Jeep Cherokee clunked into gear with awkward shift timing, and the transmission was one of the shortcomings cited about the Fiat 500X and Jeep Renegade during the Cars.com Subcompact SUV Challenge. In the Chrysler Pacifica, the V-6 engine and nine-speed are a better combination. Power from a stop is ample and delivery is smooth and linear; midrange power on the highway is furnished quickly and naturally. At low speeds around town, I noticed the occasional rough, abrupt downshift upon deceleration, but for the most part, the nine-speed was unobtrusive. Thankfully, so were the brakes. With smooth, linear action, the Pacifica’s brakes feel more natural than the Town & Country’s, which had a tendency to pulse unsettlingly.
Chrysler gets kudos for the Pacifica’s more polished powertrain, but the lack of an all-wheel-drive model is a downside. The Toyota Sienna is the only minivan to offer one. What the Pacifica will offer, in late 2016, is a plug-in hybrid van, the only one in a class that never has offered a hybrid, even without the plug-in capability. Chrysler estimates it will provide 30 miles of all-electric range before reverting to gas-electric hybrid operation.
The gas-powered version is no slouch. The Chrysler Pacifica’s EPA-estimated gas mileage is 18/28/22 mpg city/highway/combined, up considerably from the Town & Country’s 17/25/20 mpg. In combined driving, it matches the Honda Odyssey and beats the Kia Sedona by 2 mpg and the Toyota Sienna by 1 mpg.
The Town & Country’s classy, well-appointed cabin is replaced by a cleaner, more modern design that still delivers an upscale vibe despite the absence of wood trim. A fluid, horizontal control layout replaces the previous model’s blocky, stacked setup. The cabin’s color palette ranges from muted toffees and tans to high-contrast blacks and creams with pops of color accenting the seats and control bezels.
The cabin’s real highlight is behind the first row. Though the Chrysler Town & Country tanked in almost every category in the Cars.com Ultimate Minivan Challenge (conducted before the Pacifica existed), its fold-into-the-floor Stow ‘n Go seats earned it major points. For 2017, Chrysler improved the second-row Stow ‘n Go system with wider, cushier seats and an enhanced folding maneuver. It’s so easy I can fold them with one hand. Previously, you had to open the front doors and move the front seats forward to clear the way before stowing the second-row seats, but now a one-touch button on the B-pillar moves the front seats automatically. Also, the second-row seats now tumble without first requiring floor mat removal. I tested a seven-seat model with second-row captain’s chairs. In the eight-seat model, the outboard seats are Stow ‘n Go and the middle seat is removable.
There’s one hitch: The Stow ‘n Go seats no longer slide fore and aft. However, the new Easy Tilt feature makes up for it and should be useful for families with kids in car seats (and a boon for anyone who’s ever had to awkwardly shimmy past a car seat to get to the third row). With Easy Tilt, the captain’s chairs slide and lift, creating another walkway to the third row. It works even if an empty child-safety seat is installed. We’re looking forward to testing this feature in our Car Seat Check.
Both headroom and legroom in the second and third rows are up for 2017, and the third row’s taller windows provide a better view and less of a cave-like feel for passengers. The Chrysler Pacifica offers more third-row headroom than the Odyssey and Sienna but not quite as much as the Sedona. In legroom, the Pacifica’s third row is roomier than the Sedona’s and Sienna’s but not as spacious as the Odyssey’s.
Also new are a host of convenience goodies. For starters, the sliding doors open in several ways this year: the traditional buttons in the first row and on the van’s B-pillars, as well as a new button on the outside door handles, akin to a keyless access lock button. A new option is foot-swipe activation of the power sliding doors and the rear liftgate. Lastly, there’s a vacuum on top trim levels. Developed with Ridgid, the tool company, the second-row vacuum can suck up forgotten french fries and Cheerios in all three rows.
A dated, clunky multimedia system plagued the Town & Country for years, and the Pacifica finally gets Chrysler’s optional Uconnect system with an 8.4-inch touch-screen. In the Pacifica it’s flush-mounted and canted slightly toward the driver for good visibility. The graphics are crisp and the screen responds quickly to touch. The menu structure is clear, so things such as setting up and canceling a navigation route or changing audio presets can be done in seconds. It’s easier to use than the multimedia systems in the Odyssey and Sienna and matches the Sedona’s user-friendly system. AppleCar Play and Android Auto compatibility are unavailable.
My drives in the Chrysler Pacifica were quiet, thanks in large part to the optional Uconnect Theater rear-seat entertainment system. The second row’s twin 10-inch, high-definition touch-screens feature built-in apps that kept my chatty kindergartner engaged. Math, checkers, an apple word game and tic-tac-toe were favorites. Every once in a while, she’d switch to the “Are We There Yet” app, which tracks the car’s progress in real-time when a destination is entered into the nav. Smaller kids might have trouble reaching the screens, however — I moved the front passenger seat all the way back and reclined it a bit — and after a full day in the van, she requested that Chrysler add more apps, specifically a coloring one.
If yours is anything like mine, families travel with a lot of stuff; the Chrysler Pacifica can take it. In front, the center console is enormous and full of functionality with lots of built-in cubbies, cupholders and sliding partitions.
Behind the third row, there’s 32.3 cubic feet of space, down a smidge from the Town & Country and less than competitors. For space behind the third row, the Sienna is the cargo champ. The Pacifica’s third row folds easily, however, opening up 87.5 cubic feet of space, more than the outgoing model and more than both the Sedona and Sienna. Here the Odyssey is tops, with 93.1 cubic feet of space. With both rows down, the Pacifica has 140.5 cubic feet of space, trailing competitors.
The Chrysler Pacifica has not been crash-tested as of publication. A backup camera is standard; a surround-view camera system is optional. Other safety options include blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, automatic cruise control with full autonomous stop, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and rear-cross traffic alert with automatic braking. Click here for a full list of safety features.
The Chrysler Pacifica delivers more for less; it starts at $29,590, including a $995 destination fee. That’s $1,400 less than the Town & Country; it also starts less than the Odyssey and Sienna but it’s about $2,000 more than the Sedona, the Ultimate Minivan Challenge champ.
The Sedona handily took top honors for its combination of refined road manners, generous creature comforts and affordability. With the new Pacifica, the Sedona may have met its match.
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