Moms and dads of the world, it's time to get smart with your money and buy a minivan.
We were on hand at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show when the Chrysler Pacifica was revealed. Like many journalists our reaction was one of surprise. Chrysler’s big reveal was a minivan named after a long-dead SUV...cool. Why make such a fuss over a van? It took a year but we finally answered that question, having just spent a week with the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus. Conventional wisdom says that driving a minivan is supposed to be torture. Our week in the Pacifica was anything but.
Before the rise of the SUV, if you had kids and crap to haul around the minivan was the way to go. Nowadays “cool” moms and dads buy SUVs and crossovers. Yet the minivan segment is far from stagnant. Good Car Bad Car tabulated the stats and found that minivan sales in the US were up 6 percent in 2016, with 553,056 soccer mom-mobiles moved. The Toyota Sienna was the king with 127,791 units sold. Chrysler sold 62,366 Pacificas in less than a full sales year. But Dodge sold 127,678 Grand Caravans and Chrysler cleared out 59,071 outdated Town & Country models. Even without the Town & Country and Grand Caravan on dealer lots minivans will continue to be big business for FCA.
Under the hood is a 3.6-liter V6 rated at 287 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is available. Our tester got 15 mpg in city/highway driving, way off the official 22 combined mpg rating. Chrysler gets a pass, though, as we didn't go on any thoroughly long highway drives. The hybrid version, due out shortly, should do much better regardless of the drive. The engine is capable on the highway and the nine-speed automatic shifts smoothly. At 4,330 pounds it’s lighter than some mid-size sedans, and in conjunction with its independent rear suspension the Pacifica isn’t all that awful to throw into bends. That’s not to say you’ll have a ton of fun. You will be pleasantly surprised, though.
On the safety side the Pacifica has a host of standard features, including blind spot monitoring with cross path detection. Adaptive cruise control and Lane Departure Plus, the latter of which was surprisingly more helpful than annoying, are part of an optional package that runs $1,995. With the Pacifica, Chrysler's big pitch to parents is storage space and the ability to keep kids from bickering and boredom during long road trips. First, the storage space. With all the seats up there's a measly 32.3 cubic feet of cargo space. With the third row folded that number jumps to 87.5 cubic feet, and when both back rows are down you get 140.5 cubic feet of storage space.
The Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Kia Sedona and Dodge Grand Caravan all offer more storage space. Of course none of them, aside from the Grand Caravan, offer Stow ‘n Go. Once the rear seats are folded the minivan becomes the perfect vehicle for Home Depot runs or midday naps. When the seats aren’t folded the holds can be used for storage. Convenience is the Pacifica’s calling card. The only door handle you technically have to touch are the two up front. The three others can be opened via the key fob, or for $795 you can option the foot-sensing rear doors and liftgate, which seemed to work better on TV. After failing a few times to open each door using a foot we went back to using the key fob.
The Touring L Plus trim has screens in both front headrests that let the two kiddos (imaginary in this case) play games, watch movies and check how much time is left on the drive. The second row seats were also heated as well. As awesome as the second row is, whoever is stuck in back is a bit screwed. There are USB ports in the walls and available in-car WiFi, but would it have killed Chrysler to install a roof-mounted TV screen between the second and third row of seats? The interior as a whole is well done, although there are some issues. The 8.4-inch Uconnect screen was a breeze to navigate and easy on the eyes, yet the buttons below it are overly plastic-y. Cutting the music also revealed a mysterious and annoying rattle.
The new Honda Odyssey just debuted at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show and looked ready to do battle with the Pacifica. The thing is, the Pacifica may not just be competing for sales against other minivans. Our tester came in at $43,445 with options. That price doesn’t buy you a whole hell of a lot of SUV or crossover these days. Try getting an SUV that easily seats seven (and up to eight) with a Blu-Ray player, in-car WiFi, dual headrest displays, an 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen, two rows of heated seats—we could go on but you get the drift. Minivans are still far from cool, but the Pacifica makes a lot more sense for a family, both in price and capabilities, than any SUV or crossover we’ve tested.