Minivans have surprisingly stuck around for the long haul in today’s market that’s saturated with SUVs that come in all shapes and sizes. However, in retrospect of value in a large vehicle that can seat a bunch of people and haul all your “stuff,” the minivan shines brightly amongst large SUVs that you would otherwise spend a fortune on.
Chrysler was the first to bring us the minivan, and their latest Pacifica has progressed to the point of bringing us a new first for the segment, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) minivan. The new Chrysler Pacifica can be had in a PHEV form, allowing you to plug it in and get about 32 miles of all-electric range. After that, there’s a wonderful hybrid drivetrain that takes ‘charge’ for a decent enough driving experience and all the merits of having a minivan. However, there are some compromises in opting for the PHEV version of the new Pacifica, such as giving up the popular stow ‘n go seats for the second-row captain’s chairs in my test vehicle and having to pay a slight premium when you want all the bells and whistles – a premium that puts you into large SUV territory.
Putting the latest Chrysler Pacifica through its paces in the normal gas-burning trims will reveal a respectable and agreeable drivetrain for its target consumer base. However, getting into the PHEV will require a little more thought, where consumers must be aware that to benefit from the PHEV platform, they must plug it in to get a full charge to yield those exceptionally efficient fuel consumption numbers. Power is provided by a 3.6-liter V6 engine and an electric motor that gets its energy from a 16-kWh battery pack. Total power output comes to 260 horsepower and 326 lb-ft of torque and is only in a front-wheel-drive (FWD) configuration. Handling the gearing duties is an electronically variable-speed automatic, which is Chrysler’s version of a CVT (continuously variable transmission) that does well to manage the engine speed and power output. I did find that the power transitions often will have a slight delay upon a moderate throttle application, and the system seems to take a second or two to sort things out for transitions to firing up the V6 engine. Such satiations are very noticeable as the engine feels somewhat unrefined and loud.
For the most part, the system works well for power transitions in a seamless fashion when it finally decides what to do. Power feels adequate and very linear, where the electric motor seems to fill gaps where the V6 engine outputs less power in at lower rpms. The 0-60 mph time is 7.3 seconds.
The Chrysler Pacifica PHEV is a lone soldier in the minivan world, being the only plug-in hybrid minivan you can buy right now. The benefits of such are remarkable as the Pacifica PHEV tends to do well with a full charge in providing enough power that the V6 engine can remain off for the duration of your 32 miles or so of EV range.
The ride quality is good, and the Pacifica behaves quite well for a minivan with good lateral support that inspires added confidence for the driver. I still felt like I was driving a minivan with more of a forward, upright driver position close to the front wheels. The braking feel is also good, with a nice transition from braking regen to the use of the friction brakes. There are no definitive drive modes, but you can shift the rotary gear shifter into an L position for added braking regen, but not to the level of true one-pedal driving.
Where the Chrysler Pacifica PHEV really shines is the area of fuel efficiency where if you drive around with a depleted plug-in-hybrid battery pack, you still manage to muster about 30 mpg combined, which is the EPA estimate. The hybrid system does so well to manage power and keep a decent amount of reserved battery storage. You’ll even manage to get well above 30 mpg in many conditions when you’re not pushing the Pacifica too hard or traveling at interstate speeds. When you do charge up the battery, which takes just 2 hours using a Level 2 240-volt 40-amp charger, you benefit from the 32 miles of electric range and will return well over 40 mpg for a full trip using up regular unleaded fuel in the 16.5-gallon gas tank.
The Chrysler Pacifica has long prided itself on its versatility and stow n’ go seat folding tricks. Having the PHEV Pacifica changes things up a bit where the third-row seats can only be folded into the floor while the second-row captain’s chairs of my Pacifica Pinnacle PHEV test vehicle only have a folding seat back action but remain above the floor. Otherwise, you’re left to a rather plush and luxurious cabin in opting for the top Pinnacle trim level, which gives you perforated, quilted premium leather seats with heated and ventilated front seats, second-row captain’s chairs with lumbar pillows, and power-folding third-row seats.
The interior has several soft-touch surfaces and accented stitching throughout, with a good amount of adjustability in the first and second-row seats. Though, the second row isn’t as versatile as you find on competing minivans when you compare the upper-level trims. Still, there’s a respected luxury theme throughout the Pacifica Pinnacle PHEV.
There’s a bevy of family-friendly features that make the Pacific Pinnacle inviting and convenient for everyone, such as a standard Uconnect Theater rear-seat entertainment system that uses two 10.1-inch touchscreen displays with integrated Amazon Fire TV, wireless content streaming, wireless headphones, HDMI and USB inputs, and a Blu-ray/DVD player. There’s also a nifty FamCam feature to view the second and third-row seating areas live on the 10.1-inch infotainment touchscreen. The latest Uconnect infotainment unit is mostly user-friendly after a slight learning curve and has welcoming customization features for setting up your icons and quick access menus. There are as many as 14 USB ports throughout the cabin and a 20-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. Wireless or USB-connected Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration works well with a welcomed way leaving the core system function icons on the screen when using the smartphone integration.
There are all the expected active safety features bundled up in the Pacifica across all trim levels, such as Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning/mitigation/keep assist, rear parking sensors, forward collision warning with emergency braking, and the Pinnacle trim getting the 360-degree surround-view camera system. I do like that the sliding doors are safe in the sense of detecting resistance in the event that a hand or fingers are caught in the door closing – the quiet and carefully-closing doors react well to open when an object is preventing the doors from closing.
The Chrysler Pacifica is a good value starting at $37,620 before any fees only if you opt for lower trim models outside of my loaded-up Pinnacle PHEV trim, which tests out at $62,435, including a $1,595 destination charge. At such a price, you could find yourself a nice 7 or 8-passenger midsized SUV or an entry-level full-size SUV, but at the benefit of the Pacifica Pinnacle PHEV, you can’t match its remarkable fuel efficiency and electric driving capability.