Remember the Chrysler Pacifica? Flash back to the early 1990s and you’ll likely recall one of America’s first crossover SUVs. I remember the first time I saw it in person and thinking, “This car may change the way people think about SUVs.”
I was right (so were countless other auto observers) and today the crossover SUV is so incredibly popular, you can’t find a spot in any parking lot without seeing a few of them in every direction you look.
Though the last of the first-generation Pacificas left the showroom floor in 2008, Chrysler re-introduced it for the 2016 model year as a completely re-thought, redesigned and massively improved replacement for the aging Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
After a week behind the wheel, I’m impressed. Seriously impressed. Let’s explore five reasons why this minivan is so much better than the van it replaces and is a viable competitor to the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.
Reason #1: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is Packed with Comfortable, Useful Features
If you’re reading a minivan review, there’s a good chance you have kids in the mix. Young kids get excited about a minivan in the same way that grown adult men swoon at the sight of a Dodge Charger Hellcat. Different strokes for different folks.
A few of the features that make a minivan so great for a family road trip include the available dual-screen Blu-ray DVD player and the wireless headphones that let the young kids focus on “Finding Nemo” while you enjoy “The Search is Over” by Survivor because you’re old school like that.
The Grand Caravan also does a nice job with connectivity thanks to an HDMI input for gaming, USB ports and available power plugs and Wi-Fi. It’s everything you need to keep passengers happy on even the most boring road trip.
Reason #2: A Powerful, Fuel-Efficient Engine
I’ve never expected to write this next sentence, but here goes. The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica feels urgent and peppy. Seriously, mash the pedal from a dead stop and you’ll zip out in front of traffic and may even burn a little rubber in the process. The standard engine is a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. I felt that torque in ways that were, frankly, surprising. In fact, a co-worker ended up at a large traffic stop a few lanes away and watched “some minivan” zip out in front of traffic when the light turned green. A few minutes later he pulled up beside me and said, “So you’re the driver of this hot-rod minivan that’s in a hurry.”
A nine-speed automatic transmission sends power to the front wheels and those nine speeds help improve fuel economy (plus, automatic stop/start technology will appear later this year to help improve fuel economy, too.
The 2016 Chrysler Town & Country and 2016 Dodge Grand Caravan each average 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway for a combined 20 mpg rating. The new Pacifica dramatically improves on both averages, returning 18 mpg in city driving and an impressive 28 mpg on the highway for a combined 22 mpg rating.
The only minivan that tops the Pacifica is the Honda Odyssey that averages 19 mpg around town and 28 mpg on the highway, yet it still manages to earn the same 22 mpg rating. The two-wheel drive Toyota Sienna falls between at 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway. However, the Sienna is the only model to offer an all-wheel-drive version and that one averages 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway for a 19-mpg average. If you must have all-wheel-drive, the Sienna is the only game in town.
I drove more than 350 miles in a mix of city and highway driving and averaged just under 25 mpg. That’s impressive since I didn’t drive it any differently than the last time I tested the Dodge Grand Caravan, yet I averaged only 22 mpg in that van.
Reason #3: Stow ‘n Go Seats
Stow ‘n Go bins/seats are one of the best innovations ever in the history of minivans. They lurk harmlessly below the floormats in the second row until you need the space. You have two options: 1) open the bin and mash the second-row seats into the floor to create a ton of storage space or 2) open the bin while the seats remain in place and use the space to store all your valuables — your laptop computer, portable DVD player, tablet computers, Blu-Ray DVDs or even food for a long road trip.
No matter how you use it, the Chrysler Pacifica and Dodge Grand Caravan are the only vans that offer the Stow ‘n Go system and it’s a winner. In fact, it’s one of the most useful features in any van or vehicle that doesn’t have a traditional trunk.
Reason #4: Plenty of Space for Your Family and Gear
The best part of a minivan is its ability to fit lots of stuff inside. That stuff can include people or, well, just stuff. My test model offered seating for seven with two in the front row, two in the second row and three in the third row. The second-row seats were decent, but not spectacular in terms of comfort. In fact, after an hour-long road trip, one of my passengers complained that the seats were too thin and didn’t offer adequate adjustments. Fair enough.
On the plus side, a built-in vaccum will quickly suck up crackers, cookies and other snacks kids drop on the floor and seats as rumble down the road.
The Grand Caravan has 33 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, 83 feet if you drop the third row and nearly 144 feet behind the front row. I’ve used that space in a variety of configurations for road trips and once delivered a full set of patio furniture to a neighbor in the back of a Grand Caravan.
If you need room for people and stuff, the Grand Caravan is a smart choice, offering more useful storage space than any big SUV you can compare it against.
Reason #5: Starts at $28,595
Last year, the styling, powertrain and luxury features of the Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna made it an easy choice to select the Grand Caravan.
The 2017 Pacifica offers an attractive starting price of $28,595 but adds all the goodness outlined above that will compel many families to choose Chrysler over Toyota and Honda. That’s a big deal for Chrysler.
By comparison, the most basic Toyota Sienna starts at $29,750 while the base Honda Odyssey starts at $29,850.
If you’re trying to keep the monthly payment as low as possible, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is the starting point. The good news is that even in base models it’s a well-equipped van that will serve its owners well.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica is a Game-Changer for Chrysler
Though Chrysler was an early leader in the minivan wars, they’ve long since become a laggard when compared to the class-leading Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey. Not anymore. This Pacifica is good, really good. In fact, Car & Driver named it their top minivan pick and Edmunds speaks highly of it as well.
Here’s my best proof: Four middle-aged buddies and I drove a few hours south to enjoy lunch with another college buddy this past weekend. Every one of them raved about the Pacifica and the adoration was completely unsolicited. They loved the fit and finish. They admired the smooth ride. They were surprised by the eager acceleration. Overall, the van was an immediate hit with guys who have families and can appreciate the value and convenience of a minivan — and don’t have too much ego to say so.
Give the Pacifica a serious look. Reliability and safety scores are unknown as this review is written, but if they prove to be decent, the Pacifica may find itself in the position of the leader rather than the follower in the coming years.