For most Americans, a minivan is the best people-hauler for the demographic called parents-with-kids-and-all-their-crap. And the 2020 Chrysler Pacifica minivan serves the demographic better than virtually every other sports utility vehicle or minivan. You can have a Pacifica sort-of-inexpensive or trimmed in leather, with or without hiding stowable second-and-third-row seats, or as a plug-in hybrid, all with third-row seats usable by adults. Come 2021, you’ll again be able to get the Pacifica with all-wheel-drive.
The Pacifica handles relatively well. The plug-in hybrid goes 32 miles on battery power and has a battery-plus-engine cruising range of 520 miles. It is roomier and lighter than a full-size SUV. On the downside, some useful driver assists are optional on the Pacifica. Pacifica’s reliability from recent years past is not on par with competing minivans, especially from Toyota and Kia.
On the Road with Pacifica
I drove an upscale Pacifica Hybrid with a full suite of driver assists, the latest UConnect 4 infotainment system, and black leather seats with contrasting stitching. It feels roomier than a full-size SUV because it’s roughly the size of the full-size Dodge Durango SUV, 203.8 inches versus the Durango’s 201.2. With a shorter nose and without the sloping rear of some SUVs, plus a couple more inches of width than Durango, there’s a lot more room in the Pacifica for people and cargo inside.
Handling is pretty good for something that weighs a handful of pounds shy of 5,000. It gets to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds via a 3.6-liter V6 Atkinson cycle gas engine (higher efficiency, lower peak power) and an electric motor that net 260 hp, all driving the front wheels. Once in a while during testing, the nine-speed automatic was slow to shift or thunked into the next gear. The shifter is a rotary knob on the dashboard. Most reviewers hate shifter knobs (or buttons). I say: They leave more room for cupholders and phones on the dash or console. Nobody manually shifts a minivan. This knob would work better if it was coated in grippy rubber.
The infotainment system and navigation, called UConnect and now up to version 4, continues to be one of the easier packages to comprehend. The display is 8 inches diagonal, which is good, but a 10-inch display would be nicer (likely on 2021 models).
The Pacifica excels three ways:
Around town, driving is almost zero-cost because the 16-kWh battery tucked under the floor lets you cover 32 miles of commuting to work, car-pooling, and handling daily driving tasks. It will recharge overnight on 120-volt power, or in about two hours at 240 volts. Many owners won’t burn any gasoline most days of the week, although maybe you might, because there’s no button to force the Pacifica to run electric-only before going to the combustion engine. So Chrysler uses an algorithm to decide when to use what. In a week of driving, I averaged 29 mpg, close to Chrysler’s 30 mpg EPA overall rating, which is quite good for a 2.5-ton vehicle.
Second, on longer weekend or vacation trips, you get up to 520 miles of driving. You only have to fill up once a day. Yes, the kids have to go pee more often than that, but the interstate service area choreography of one parent taking the kids to the bathroom while the other heads for the fueling islands, then meeting up while the refueler parent dashes back to the restrooms, seems to save very little time.
For weekday carpooling tasks and weekend family trips, you can fit up to seven people; the middle row is always two buckets, not a bench. And everybody, in every seating position, is plenty comfortable, especially in the hybrid. The under-floor battery means there’s no space for the stowable (Stow ‘N Go) seats that fold into the floor, but those stowable seats are thinner and less comfortable. The comfier PHEV’s seats are heavy to take out, though.
Lots of Trim Lines
Shopping for a Chrysler Pacifica starts with “Where do I start?” There are eight Pacifica gas-engine versions, five of them called Pacifica Touring (gut none called Pacifica Car Pooling); plus six Pacifica Hybrid versions; plus more two gas-engine entry model Pacificas, only they’re called Chrysler Voyagers (explanation below). As for the hybrid models, there are three Touring models (Touring, Touring, 35th Anniversary Touring L) and three Limited models (Limited, Limited 35th Anniversary, Limited Red S). The hybrid 35th Anniversary (of the first Chrysler Corp. minivans) and S models are upholstery, badging, and paint variants. If this sounds confusing, it is, and there’s not much on the Chrysler Pacifica website that helps you see what features are on what trim lines.
The least costly hybrid, the Touring, is $41,490 including $1,495 freight. That is $6,250 more than the gas-engine Touring, but you are eligible for a $7,500 tax credit, so really it costs less. The Touring gets you power-sliding doors, heated mirrors, keyless entry/ignition, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, three-zone climate control, the 8.4-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and USB jacks. Driver assists are blind-spot warning/rear-cross-traffic-alert (same system) and rear parking sonar. No forward-facing driver assists.
The Touring L, $45,780 including freight, may be the sweet spot: It adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, and a power liftgate. But it, too, lacks a full range of driver assists.
The Limited, $47,340, is where you can add a fuller array of driver assists. It has nicer leather, vented front seats, navigation, UConnect Theater (rear entertainment), and 20-speaker audio. For $995 you can add the Advanced Safety Tec Group: stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, advanced forward collision warning, advanced lane departure warning, parallel/perpendicular parking assist, front sonar (rear is standard) with auto-stop, and surround cameras. You can also add a $1,895 panoramic sunroof.
The top-line Hybrid Limited Red S fully optioned runs $52,000, before tax credit.
The Shrinking Minivan Market
Minivans as we know them date to the 1984 Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, boxy vehicles, some with woodgrain wrap on the sides. They helped keep Chrysler Corp. alive. (The vehicles, not necessarily the woodgrain.) Sales of minivans, all brands, peaked in 2000 with 1.4 million sold, 8 percent of the year’s 17 million sales. Most had three rows of seats, and even the third row was reasonably comfortable at a time when there were far fewer SUVs. And they drove like cars at a time when SUVs didn’t.
Minivans were popular with college-educated boomer parents in the suburbs who drove their children to sports practices a lot, had similar-to-each-other buying patterns, got involved in the PTA, and tended to vote. Demographers called them soccer moms or soccer parents, which annoyed the heck out of them, more because soccer mom was too easily understood as well as misunderstood. In retaliation – “how dare these people reduce me to two words” – they switched to SUVs that were bigger, top-heavier, tipsier (until electronic stability control came along), cost you 3-5 mpg in fuel economy, and lacked room for teens in row three. Nothing like seeing six kids in shorts and cleats disembark from a GMC Yukon Denali, not a Pacifica, to prove you’re not a soccer dad or mom.
Fast forward to 2019, and sales of the five minivan models (plus leftover Chrysler Town & Countrys) amounted to just over 400,000, or 2 percent of the (again) 17 million sales of light vehicles. The best-seller Dodge Grand Caravan gets the majority of sales in fleet markets, making the Honda Odyssey and Pacifica the top two sellers to individuals.
|Minivan Model||2019 Sales||2018 Sales||Change|
|Dodge Grand Caravan||122,648||151,927||-19%|
|Chrysler Town & Country||5||6||-17%|
Between 2000 and today, more than a dozen minivan brands departed the market: Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Chevrolet Venture, Chrysler Voyager, Ford Freestar, Ford Windstar Cargo, Mazda MPV, Mercury Monterey, Nissan Quest, Oldsmobile Silhouette, Pontiac Montana, Saturn Relay, and Volkswagen Routan. The one significant entrant is the Kia Sedona in the 2015 model year.
In 2020, the aging Dodge Grand Caravan goes away this spring, to be replaced by the Chrysler Voyager, effectively an entry-level Pacifica. That will likely be the rental-fleet minivan. Insiders say the two-name strategy helps the residual value of the Pacifica. Any time more than half the sales for a model go into fleets, it depresses resale prices.
Should You Buy?
If you do a lot of urban driving, you’ll likely love how much of it can be on electricity, where the cost of electricity (low) is equivalent in cost to the Pacifica getting 82 mpg on gasoline. It is roomy on legroom as well as side to side shoulder room, so you really can get three across in back.
The Pacifica scores well on IIHS safety tests: good overall on crashworthiness, and a Top Safety Pick. However, it’s light on standard driver safety assists: Blind spot warning is standard, plus government-required features such as a rear camera. If you want a fuller range of assists that help especially on long highway trips, you’ll really want one of the Limited trims and the features of the Advanced Safety Tec package.
Only when you reach the Limited are significant additional driver assists offered in an options package.
Against the competition, the same money, roughly, will get you the sensational Kia Telluride or Hyundai Palisade three-row SUVs with less space and a premium-car fit and finish. Against other SUVs, the Honda Odyssey is well-thought-out and so is the Toyota Sienna, which is the only minivan to offer all-wheel-drive. The Kia Sedona, less flashy, has rock-solid build quality and reliability on its side. Consumer Reports rates recent Sedonas at 3, 4 or 5 of 5, while the Pacifica is rated at 1 or 2 out of 5.
The Chrysler Pacifica has been out since the 2017 model year. It gets a significant refresh for the 2021 model year with all-wheel-drive offered on the gas-engine Pacifica only (Chrysler last had an AWD minivan in 2004). Chrysler could have redirected the PHEV’s electric power to the rear wheels for all-wheel-drive (as Toyota has done to create AWD on a front-drive car), but chose not to. There’s a new, version 5, of UConnect Drive by Android software. And there’ll be an additional trim line at the top end, called Pinnacle. To keep up with the competition, the 2021 Pacifica will make standard forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and lane departure warning/lane-keeping assistance.