Opinion

Why The Best Chrysler Today Is Actually A Minivan

And the best minivan on the market, at that.

The recent history of Chrysler has been a turbulent one, starting with a merger with Daimler in 1998, a sell-off to a private equity company followed 9-years later. Not long after, Fiat took over ownership and today the current Chrysler range comprises of just two offerings, namely a minivan and a sedan. But before this takeover, the Chrysler Group used to incorporate the Dodge, Jeep and Ram brands of which Fiat now has a controlling interest too, and vehicles like the Dodge Challenger and Charger are still on sale, offering superb value in their respective segment.

The Ram pickups are also still at the top of their game despite the basic design having been around since 2009, but what about the Chrysler branded cars then? The revitalized Chrysler 300 is the only sedan to bear the Chrysler name today and while it is actually a competent vehicle, it is getting on in years and a mild update for 2018 has not addressed the ageing underpinnings. Still, it exudes a kind of style and has a swagger that many find appealing. There is a 363-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 on offer but it is thirsty and can’t quite match the power outputs of more modern turbocharged offerings.

Those with (very) long memories may remember back to the original ‘50s C-300 coupe, a 300-hp car that started the muscle car craze and became a successful NASCAR racer. The similarities with today’s 300 sedan are in name only and sadly it does not match up to the ground-breaking original. This brings us to the only other model in the lineup, the Chrysler Pacifica minivan. It may seem unlikely that a family vehicle could be the better choice here but when we look at Walter Chrysler’s founding philosophy, which was to build a technologically advanced yet affordable luxury vehicle, no modern Chrysler product embodies these virtues more ably than the Pacifica minivan.

Let’s take a look back at the original Chrysler Group brands to find out why. It all started with the Dodge Caravan. Considered to be the world’s first minivan it was launched in 1984, arriving a few months before the European Renault Espace and quickly became a US sales success. This boxy vehicle introduced us to the practicality benefits of the minivan design and continues to this day as the Dodge Grand Caravan. It has been built under a variety of different names in various parts of the world, there have been many variations on the basic theme too.

Now in its fifth generation, the Caravan has been available in short and long-wheelbase options, with 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder gasoline powerplants, front and all-wheel drive drivetrains as well as a handful of diesel powerplants and a whole range of transmission options too. This is one versatile vehicle. The latest model has been in production since 2007 and while regular updates have tried to keep the platform relevant, it is not quite the market leader it once was. The Chrysler branded Town & Country and Grand Voyager equivalents were discontinued when the new Pacifica model arrived.

Dodge hasbeen focusing on the more fashionable SUV and crossover designs. One of theseis the Dodge Journey crossover, another old design that dates back to 2009. It hasbeen regularly refreshed to try to compete with newer competitors, but the gamehas moved on. The current Dodge Durango is a big and brawny SUV that offersstrong performance and good looks but is just about ready for a full refresh aswell. That is why the fresh and cutting-edge Chrysler Pacifica is the one that rises to the top. It offers many class-leading attributes and comes packed with the kind of features that make it among the most technologically advanced in its segment while still remaining affordable. Just as Walter intended.

While the world is getting carried away with stylish but cramped crossovers and pointless SUVs, the Pacifica offers real-world practicality and just as much comfort and convenience features as the best crossovers on the market. More in fact if you take into account the built-in vacuum cleaner available on top trim levels. You can also configure it to take up to eight occupants and few crossovers offer features such as power-folding third-row seats and none come close in cargo carrying capacity.

All models come fitted with a 287-hp, 262 lb-ft of torque 3.6-liter V6 engine, a 9-speed automatic transmission is standard too and while the 22 mpg combined fuel economy is commendable it is the class-leading performance that is the most impressive. 0-60 mph takes well under 8-seconds which will see off all of its rivals. There is a hybrid model available too, utilizing two electric motors to provide up to 30 miles of electric-only range and a offering a combined 84 mpge consumption figure. Even the base L model comes with LED daytime running lights, electronic parking brake, 7-inch touchscreen with rearview camera, HD radio and smartphone integration and seven-seats incorporating the very useful Stow ‘n Go feature.

At a starting price of around $26,995, that is conspicuously good value. Mostshoppers will be happy to step up to the $32,595 Touring Plus trim as you get anumber of additional features such as power-sliding rear and side, three-zoneclimate control and power front seats. Of course, you could always get the topLimited trim which is priced a bit steeper at $43,695 but you will havefeatures such as premium Nappa leather seats, ventilated and heated seats aswell as hands-free power side and rear doors to impress your neighbors with. Thehybrid version is around $1,500 more and does without the stow ‘n go seatingbut offers markedly better consumption figures.

Optionssuch as autonomous park assist, adaptive cruise control and advanced lanedeparture warning systems further add to the safety and convenience featuresyou can specify. So, there you have it. The best car in Chrysler’s range today is a minivan, and not just because there are only two models in the lineup, it truly is one of the very best offerings in its segment. Technologically advanced, luxurious and affordable, it is a worthy successor to the original Dodge Caravan and is hopefully an indicator of the direction upcoming Chrysler models will be heading.

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