The minivan segment's demise has been long predicted. Sales steadily fell through the late 1990s and early 2000s, but then leveled off. They are now steady and have been for a few years, which shows that for a chunk of buyers, the minivan is the right answer. Seeing this, Chrysler took a gamble by discontinuing its best-selling minivan, the Town and Country, and slating an end to its Dodge near-twin, the Grand Caravan. The replacement is an all-new minivan that uses a name which had a short-lived presence a decade or so ago as a family-styled midsize crossover.
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica debuted for the market in 2016 (for the 2017 model year) with its plug-in hybrid option coming later that year. The curvy exterior and drive dynamic of the van made it popular with the automotive press. Adding in the Pacifica Hybrid as a plug-in option was just icing on an already well-made cake.
The standard powertrain for the 2017 Pacifica is a 3.6-liter V6 that is well-known to those familiar with Chrysler's engine lineup. That engine runs through a nine-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels. The Pacifica Hybrid has the same basic setup, but sees the Pentastar V6 modified to an Atkinson-cycle for more efficiency and then paired with a dual electric motor setup and an electronically variable transmission (EVT). A 16 kWh battery pack provides power to the motors.
The EVT is a single-input transmission designed by Chrysler specifically for this plug-in powertrain. It has a one-way clutch which allows both motors to act in parallel to send full torque to the wheels. Chrysler credits this clutch system, positioned at the output side of the motor and the input side of the transmission, and the EVT's ratio enhancement as the reason the 2017 Pacifica Hybrid can accelerate to up to 75 mph (121 km/h) on electric power alone.
The batteries powering the electric drivetrain for the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid are also fairly innovative. The pack weighs about 368 pounds (168 kg) and is made by LG Chemical's facility in Michigan. The pack's cells hold 193 watt hours per kilogram with the total pack density being 100 Wh per kilogram. Part of the reason the cells can be so dense is that they are thermally controlled by a glycol-water mixture that circulates from the engine's cooling system, and that can be heated from a 7 kW heater when ambient temperatures are cold.
The 2017 Pacifica Hybrid uses the SAE level 1 and 2 charging standards, and can be fully charged in as little as two hours from a level 2 station. Our 120V charging of the van from an empty battery took about nine hours. That translates into about 33 miles (53 km) of all-electric driving range on paper and about 28 miles (45 km) of range for our real-world driving when around town and a bit less when on the highway.
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is rated at 84 MPGe in EV mode, with a total driving range of approximately 566 miles (911 km) per charge and fill. Our real-world driving, which was often at high speeds on the freeway, saw an actual average of about 31 mpg (7.6 l/100km) in all, which is well above the 22 mpg (10.7 l/100km) we saw on average in the standard Pacifica minivan.
All of that technology is great, but if it's not in a family-friendly, good-looking package it's just another engineer's happy daydream that nobody will actually buy. Luckily, the Chrysler Pacifica is a great-looking minivan (yes, we just combined those terms). Minivans are, in essence, small school buses with sliding doors, but Chrysler's designers did an excellent job of hiding that fact with the Pacifica. The 2017 Pacifica is far more stylish than might be expected of this box-on-wheels segment.
The front grille and fascia of the Pacifica is very much like most Chrysler sedans, especially the smaller (and now discontinued) 200. The bodywork of the Pacifica is much like the big 300 sedan and the Dodge Durango. The latter especially so, in the sloping greenhouse and tapered rear end look. Chrysler also chose to shove the rear wheels towards the back of the van, creating a shallow bumper edge for a more forward-moving, sporty feel. The front wheels, meanwhile, are housed in very wide wells that allow a lot of movement, giving the Pacifica its awesome maneuverability.
Compared to any vehicle on the road (minivan or crossover), the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is great-looking. With all of that work on the exterior, though, Chrysler didn't skimp inside the van. This is one of the most ergonomic vehicles you'll ever try.
The front seating for the Pacifica is comfortable and well-positioned with plenty of legroom and headroom. The deletion of the center stack below the knees is another boon, creating both a place to put large items (purses, briefcases) easily, but also giving the interior a more open feel.
Like the front row, the second row is also very comfortable with two nicely-done captain's chairs that feature plenty of adjustment both fore and aft. The Pacifica Hybrid doesn't have the ability to store those seats into the floor as with the gasoline model, however, due to the batteries being placed in the wells where the seats would go. Instead, the second row seats in the Pacifica Hybrid are removable to maximize cargo space. The third row, which is mostly for kids, but that can accommodate adults when required, seats up to three and folds rearward into the cargo space behind them.
Storage and daily-use ergonomics for the 2017 Pacifica Hybrid are excellent. Entry and egress is simplified thanks to low sills and high door openings. The high interior allows even tall folks to move around from seat to seat without too much squatting. The wide space between the second row captain's chairs and the space created when those chairs are folded forward for third row access are also nice when moving about to get seated.
Storage spaces for random items, gadgets, and other stuff are found all over the Pacifica's interior – as are USB ports and charging plugs. Some options, such as the third-row USB plug and the rubberized bottoms of storage spaces for the driver and front passenger, are smart touches as well.
There are 32.3 cubic feet (914.6 liters) of cargo space behind the third row thanks to a deep tub created when the seats are up for use. On the left (driver's side) wall of the cargo area of the Pacifica Hybrid are storage cubbies which open up to reveal the 120-volt charging cord and tire inflation system (top) and the 12-volt accessory battery (below). When the third row is folded down, the loading floor becomes flat to a very useful 87.5 cubic feet (2,477.7 liters). With the second row removed, cargo expands to a massive 140.5 cubes (3,978.5 liters).
On the road, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is a nice-driving vehicle with a good presence both around town and on the freeway. It's maneuverable for a minivan and with good visibility, but the optional 360-degree camera system does a lot to enhance this. The Hybrid model has a quieter presence on the highway than does the standard gasoline model, likely due to its slightly heavier weight and the work done to the chassis to accommodate that.
The hybrid's transition from electric to engine use is nearly seamless and is really only noticeable at lower speeds. We would like the Pacifica to be more aggressive about regenerating power when the foot is off the accelerator, however, as one thing we like about hybrids in general is their ability to slow themselves quickly from off-ramps and when approaching a light or sign.
In all, though, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is an excellent vehicle that really is worth the hybrid premium paid. The starting price for the hybrid model is US$41,995 plus delivery. Our test model was loaded with all the fixins and rang in at about $50,000 with delivery.