It was when I first noticed the fire-dancers and women writhing in transparent spheres on the water that I fully realized the degree to which Chrysler was Not Screwing Around when it came to the launch of their new minivan, the 2017 Pacifica. This vehicle is very important to Chrysler, and that’s why I had to bring my wife and kid along to see how good it was.
(Full Disclosure: In addition to the fire-dancers and women in bubbles, Chrysler flew not just me, but my wife and little boy out to SoCal for the launch of their new minivan, and showed us a good time while we were there. They can’t buy my opinion, of course, but it’s possible you might get a bribed positive review from my 5-year-old.)
Yes, Chrysler invited journalists and their families to this launch, which was a great idea, since just plopping two doughy, shrimp-addled writers into a minivan isn’t going to tell you a damn thing about how a Pacifica is going to be used in the real world.
You’d end up with a bunch of articles carefully evaluating the feedback through the steering wheel and how the weight transfers in corners, metrics at the top of the list of things minivan buyers do not give a shit about.
But with your family, everything is different; with a kid and a spouse in the car, you’re forced to be a real person, not some painfully geeky auto-journalist, and think about the car in terms of how it would be to actually live with.
Let’s get some basics out of the way first: the Pacifica is an all-new platform, and it’s the successor to the famed Town & Country.
The name was changed as part of Chrysler’s desire to break away from the Town & Country name’s indelible link with the minivan itself, to break from existing minivan associations, so they took the name of a crossover hardly anyone bought for this new version. If we read between the lines, it’s probably to save younger buyers from the indignity of buying the same model car as they grew up in.
This new platform (Chrysler wouldn’t tell me if it would ever be used in a cargo variant, or a pickup, camper, mobile pool, or anything) is lighter than the outgoing Town & Country, it’s wider, has shorter overhangs, putting the wheels at the corners, it’s stiffer, handles better, and has a more powerful 287 horsepower V6 engine, plus a hybrid version to come soon.
It’s also crammed with many more and better safety features, electronics, gadgets, and toys, including (some optional) automatic park assist, lane keeping, adaptive cruise, a 360° camera system, forward collision warning, USB ports all over the place, their Uconnect infotainment system with three huge touchscreens, a redesigned Stow-n-Go seat folding system, and even a vacuum cleaner.
Chrysler called the car the “ultimate family vehicle” in their press presentation, as well as an “extention of the family home,” which shows a pretty clear understanding of who is likely to buy these minivans.
The new name should tell you they’re very, very focused on eliminating the “minivan stigma,” an inane but pervasive concept in mainstream society that casts minivans in a shameful, life-destroying light, part of a bizarre self-hatred on the part of parents that somehow society has developed.
Minivan stigma is stupid, but real, and the Pacifica is a vehicle designed to both be an ideal minivan while simultaneously attempting to distance itself from the ideas of minivanhood as much as possible.
Chrysler also claims to have invented the minivan; when I challenged them on this, citing Volkswagen’s much earlier Microbus, a Chrysler representative just grinned and said “Well, that was a ‘bus.’” Yeah, sure it was.
But semantics aside, Chrysler does have a good claim on, at least, the re-introduction of the minivan for the modern era. The original 1980s K Car-based front-wheel drive Town and Country and Voyager minivans did define a new market segment, and they did succeed in taking away the family-hauler market from the longtime leader, the noble station wagon.
More recently, the minivan has been dethroned by the SUV and now the crossover, two pretenders to the throne that are relying on their dubious status as cooler, more desirable vehicles instead of increased utility.
It’s clear that the goal of this new Pacifica is to take back the crown from SUVs and CUVs and to give the humble minivan some renewed luster. I think they could pull it off.
The most obvious and immediate path to renewing the minivan’s image is in the exterior design. While I appreciate a nice, unashamed box-on-wheels, most people I know consider me an idiot and wouldn’t drive what I like even if it was the only way to escape a swarm of meth-soaked bees. The lead exterior designer for the Pacifica made it clear that a box-on-wheels was what they were trying to avoid.
As a result, there’s hardly a corner to be found on the Pacifica. The rear window wraps around in a particularly striking way, though it is a bit disappointing that the result isn’t a true clamshell tailgate, but rather the illusion is made by a pair of black plastic triangular fake-window bits on the rear corners.
A lot of emphasis was placed on making the Pacifica wider than taller, and the front end uses a very horizontally-focused theme. The face is actually quite similar to the corporate face tried on the Chrysler 200, and that may be the 200's best feature.
The upper grille is wide and flowing (the Hybrid version is actually the best realized of all the variants when it comes to the grille design, I think), and the lower grille is almost Renault-like with its infinity-symbol style twists and loops.
I think the front end works very well, and is a vast improvement over the old Town & Country. There’s some nice detailing here, with the door track cleverly hidden in the rear window line and all of the chrome detailing (all over the vehicle, really) having a calligraphic style, with areas of thicker or thinner chrome, almost like a brush stroke.
Overall, the appearance of this minivan should be nothing anyone should be ashamed of.
The Inner Minivan
If you’re using it properly, it’s safe to say that most of your time with your minivan will be spent on the inside. A good minivan is designed from the inside out, and it’s clear the Pacifica’s designers spent a lot of effort getting the inside right.
The center console is no longer a bulky vertical unit, and that cheeseball giant central clock of the last-gen is thankfully gone, replaced by a massive, 8-inch center LCD screen.
The materials feel suitably premium and there’s soft touch plastics and leathers and glossy other plastics and generally good material used throughout. Of course, I was only in the higher-spec models, so I can’t say what the cheaper ones will be filled with.
The non-digital parts of the dash and instrument panel has also been designed to give a very specific kind of high-tech look and feel. The tach and speedo are not just printed placards with needles bouncing over them, but rather are sculptural, dished elements with physical hash marks and all back-lit in a blue LED glow. They’re based on fancy watch faces, and they’re satisfying to look at.
My biggest complaint is the rotary knob used as a shifter, which has a shape, look, and location exactly where everything in my brain says “volume control,” and I grabbed it more than once looking to raise or lower the volume, instead putting myself in N instead of D.
The interior volume is big (more than 200 cubic feet) and usable. There’s three rows of seating available, with an option for a second-row bench or individual seats. The second row is also clearly the main focus of minivans, since that’s where most of the kids end up.
As a result, there’s a lot of attention focused here, including a USB port at each seat (along with audio out and HDMI in) flanking a flip-up 10-inch LCD screen.
By having the screens mounted airplane-style on the seatbacks instead of flip-down units on the roof, effective headroom is increased, a panoramic glass twin-pane roof is possible, and each seat gets a better view of its own, reachable, touchscreen.
Actually, just calling it a screen isn’t quite right; as far as I know, this is the first production vehicle with built in applications and games available to passengers, with a bunch of video games (public domain and sorta educational-ish) available even if no tablet or phone or other computing device is available.
DVDs can be played on these screens, and the people up front can see what is being viewed on each screen in the back, so that way you can see what sort of depraved crap your tweens like to watch when they think they have privacy.
When not used for seating, the inside of a good minivan should allow for all sorts of other crap, and the Pacifica continues Chrysler’s tradition of having what may be the best-engineered folding seats I’ve used. Their archaically-named Stow-n’-Go system lets you push a button to send the front seats motoring forward, then pull two straps and the seat origamis itself into the floor, without you even having to lift a floormat.
They had a system like this before, but it caused the floors to look oddly like fuzzy tiles; the new system uses much larger floor panels, and the end result is a very quick and easy way to a totally flat floor. Chrysler said you can cary 56 sheets of 4x8 plywood in there with all rear the seats down, which is impressive.
I’d like to see a rubber-mat option for the cargo floor instead of carpet for filthy weirdos like myself, but so far I haven’t seen such an option.
What’d The Family Think?
Before I get to how it drives, I should relay the impressions of all the Torchinskys who don’t technically work for Jalopnik, my wife Sally and my son, Otto.
My wife is an unashamed minivan proponent, but, like many, she’s never been thrilled with how most minivans look. Her favorite car on the market (besides her all-time favorite, the Jensen Interceptor, which is tricky to find) is a Ford Flex, mostly because of the striking looks and utility.
She much preferred the sliding doors of the Pacifica, and, while we only have one kid, she loves all the space there too. As she explained to me, it frees you from having to plan too much because you’re always ready.
If she decides to go to the Eno River to let Otto ride his bike, she can throw bikes in the back without any struggle to cram or figure out where to move things. If she sees a cool old table on the side of the road she wants to re-work, it plops in. Otto and his pals want to go to a park? Climb in, kids. Friends coming to town? There’s room for everyone.
Those are minivan-generalist thoughts, sure. Pacifica-specifica, Sally was fond of the level of interior quality and design, which feels modern and sleek. She wondered how the filth and abuse that kids magically manage to surround themselves with would affect things, but overall she much preferred the interior to the previous Town & Country.
Also, the Uconnect screens and the ability to manage what the kid is doing on those screens are huge, and Sally appreciated the kid-pacification powers afforded by the technology. Don’t judge; sometimes the best way to be a parent is to get a little tiny break from being a parent.
Lots of attention was paid to details, like the inclusion of little ‘chiclet’ buttons on the rear sliding door handles. What are those for? They’re so little kids with small hands can still manage to open the doors from the outside. They work! Look:
So, Otto loved that he could get into the car on his own, and with the seats stowed, he loved being able to bounce around like a loon, which happens to be his primary vocation.
To Otto, the minivan felt “like a spaceship,” and I think that’s about the best you can hope for for a car for a 5-year-old, right?
The ‘Mobile’ Part of ‘Mobile Room’
There’s always the idea that driving a minivan, like even just owning a minivan, is punishment. I don’t believe this needs to be true, and I don’t get the sense Chrysler feels this way, either.
Of course, a minivan is going to be tuned for comfort and quiet and a smooth ride by the nature of its primary job. That doesn’t mean it has to be a 4,330 lb sleeping pill (which is still about 250 lbs less than the old Town and Country), though.
In fact, the dynamics engineer of the Pacifica, Anthony Magagnoli, was one of the people I met during Jalopnik’s slightly disastrous AER race in a Spec E30 at Mid-Ohio last year. Anthony actually took me out on a learning run of the track, and the man can drive.
Maybe it’s all thanks to him, but for whatever reason the Pacifica actually is pretty fun to drive. Sure, it’s tall and bulky, and somewhat heavy (55/45 weight distribution), but it feels more agile and sprightly than you’d guess.
The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 makes a respectable 287 HP and 262 lb-ft (187 Nrp) and I found the power to be quite good. In fact, as I was driving the minivan back through the swanky bits of Orange County to pick up the family after the press briefing, I encountered this Vader-ized 911 blasting around like a dickhead, tearing ass from the line at every light.
Being susceptible to dickheadery myself, when we stopped at the next light I gave in to my baser instincts and stomped on it when the light went green.
I’m happy to say that, at least for a while, I kicked that Porsche’s ass.
Of course, pretty soon the guy felt the sting about being beaten off the line by a minivan and left me in the dust, but for a glorious little moment there, a minivan beat a Porsche, and all was good.
Those 287 family-toting horses get to the front wheels via a nine-speed automatic (no manual option, but that’s hardly a shock.) Those wheels are bouncing on MacPherson struts up front, and an independent setup at the rear.
Toys and Other Fun Stuff
Chrysler pegs the Honda Odyssey as their biggest competitor in this space, and the biggest minivan revolution that Honda brought is, of course, the integrated vacuum cleaner. Go ahead and laugh, but it’s pretty damn useful.
Chrysler partnered with shop-vac maker Rigid for their system (which takes the place of the vertically-stashed spare tire) and they seem committed to beating Honda at the lucrative integrated-vacuum game, even if they weren’t the first. I guess they could sort of lie about it if they call the vacuum something slightly different, like they do about the VW Microbus, but that’s for their PR people to decide.
The Pacifica’s vacuum comes with a 14-foot hose plus another 14-foot extender, giving 28 feet of sucktastic range, which means you can use it to vacuum the car next to the Pacifica, which I think is a great idea. The vacuum can run for 10 minutes on just the battery, or as long as you have gasoline if you start the minivan’s engine.
There’s a lot of nice little perks on the Pacifica: the dual power sliding doors, the optional huge glass panoramic roof; there’s a storage bin in between the front seats that actually is lower than the floor of the car; it has those fun 360° cameras that give the bird’s-eye view of the car for tricky parking/driving through minefields and whatnot; parallel park assist, lane keeping, adaptive cruise, and all those other things that allow us to slide into being terrible drivers... look, this has all the modern crap you want and expect from almost any recent premium car, you just have lots more room around you. You can tow 3,000 lbs with it too.
The big gadet/toy news for this minivan, though, are those three huge color LCD touchscreens and the many ways of using them: DVDs, WiFi from your phone, HDMI plug-ins for your Xbox or whatever.
All told, it makes the Ford Country Squire wagon and handheld Merlin game I was stuck with on road trips seem like child abuse.
Value-wise, I think the Pacifica is in a decent spot. I covered pricing in detail here, but with things starting at $28,595 and going into the $40,000 range, there’s a pretty big spread there.
Compared to Chrysler’s biggest competitors in the space, the pricing seems to be right where it needs to be. Here, look at this:
The Honda Odyssey starts at just a bit more, $29,400, and their premium offering is also more, at $44,875, and that’s an older platform that doesn’t offer the advanced infotainment system and is about 30 HP less than the Pacifica. Toyota’s Sienna is in a similar price range, and doesn’t have the looks or nearly the cool toys of the Pacifica.
I actually think, in some ways the biggest competitor may be the Kia Sedona, which is surprisingly handsome, and, while it doesn’t quite have the specs or gadgets of the Pacifica (though it is very close on HP, and can tow a bit more), is priced a good bit below the Pacifica.
It’s reasonably fuel-efficient for a vehicle of its scale, 18 city and 28 highway, and while those numbers are generally acceptable, if fuel economy is what thrills you, deep inside, you’ll want to wait for the plug-in hybrid version, coming soon.
Chrysler did their homework here, and this is the first Chrysler-badged product I’ve seen in a long time that feels like it was developed by engineers and designers who were hungry and focused, possibly even passionate. That’s a weird thing to say about a minivan and not, say, something like a Viper, but think about it: Minivans were once Chrysler’s Thing.
When Diamler owned them and didn’t consult them for development of Mercedes van projects, that has to sting. Then came the rise of the SUV and CUV, and then the rise of the Honda Odyssey and other minivans.
The Pacifica feels like Chrysler finally picking itself up, dusting itself off, and then going in to kick some minivan ass. They’ve made a vehicle that makes a ton of sense without many sacrifices if you need a good-sized enclosed volume to haul kids, full-grown adults, stuff, crap, cargo, junk, or want a mobile living space.
I think it’s still a little ridiculous so much of this car had to be designed to fight some inane stigma, but whatever. The end result stands on its own, and if you still think a crossover is somehow cooler than a minivan, I guess you have my pity, dummy.