The Pacifica is not going to fill you with the thrill of driving. It’s not going to have you dreaming of slaloming through the mountains at top speeds. What it is going to do however, is reinforce the fact that minivans are teeny little living rooms that you get to drive around. Places where everyone is comfortable and has their own space. The bonus here is that, with its 35-mile plug-in battery, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is going to let you squeeze every last drop you can out of a tank of gas.
I have a history with Chrysler vehicles, one that’s not always been positive. When I first got wind of the new hybrid minivan (a first for this kind of vehicle), the only thing that came to mind was my mother’s ’87 New Yorker with the voice alert system. It was cutting edge tech (for the time), but served mostly to annoy the entire family as it told us repeatedly that the washer fluid was low (but failed to alert anyone that the car had sprung a fuel leak and was almost out of gas).
Unsurprisingly, thirty years of refinement has served Chrysler well. They’ve pared down their offerings to just three vehicles and they’re focusing on producing the best vehicles they can.
The hybrid’s interior is pleasant, with jaw dropping sunroofs (three total) that stretch all the way back to the third row. It’s less practical here in Florida, but for everyone else, where the sun isn’t their eternal enemy, it’s exceedingly nice. The leather seats and trim, with electric blue stitching, are inviting. The only thing that I missed was the built-in vacuum, which is excluded from the hybrid trim due to the space the battery takes up under the floor.
The infotainment system is relatively easy to use. It’s not quite as informative as the Prius Plus, nor as intuitive as the Chevy Bolt, but it gets the job done. It’s also where you’ll access the surprisingly useful backup camera system. In addition to the usual fish-eye rear view, the Pacifica Hybrid, equipped with the Advanced SafetyTec Group package, adds 360-degree surround view cameras. The result is a composite aerial view of where you’re parked. It made getting in and out of my packed-to-the-gills garage a breeze.
The controls are laid out well and easy to access. The caveat is that there are a lot of buttons. Especially with the parking assist and lane departure features, you’re going to want to familiarize yourself with the dash before you head out. I only realized I’d missed an entire row of buttons after I looked at my pictures after Chrysler took the Pacifica back.
The other oddity is the shift control. Instead of a lever, you twist a giant chrome knob that sits where a shift lever would be in a similar van. Aesthetically, I understand why the designers made the decision, but functionally, it’s not as successful. This may not be a problem for someone just starting to drive, but for me, it felt awkward (I was trying to undo thirty years of motor memory).
Shifting issues aside, there’s clearly a focus on functionality and comfort throughout the cabin. Cup holders, USB charging ports, and 12V charging ports are accessible from every seat. This is a vehicle that’s meant to haul folks and keep them comfortable.
On the Road
For long trips, I can’t recommend the Pacifica enough. The extended sunroof is a joy for passengers, giving them a chance to lean back and watch the clouds roll by. The rear infotainment system is nice as well. Linked so that passengers in the middle row can play road trip games together (and more than a few games of Tic-Tac-Toe). Streaming internet is also available on the high-end hybrid, but I wasn’t able to get it working without a secondary subscription to Chrysler’s service (a shame, because my daughter had her YouTube account and iPod Touch at the ready).
On the highway, the radar-assisted cruise is fantastic. It’s one of those features that’s becoming more ubiquitous in modern vehicles. I miss it whenever I switch back to my old Honda Odyssey. However, the Pacifica is beholden to the same quirks as those other radar-enabled vehicles. Sometimes it works perfectly, other times, it just doesn’t brake quickly enough for your liking. This is no Tesla autopilot, you’ll want to make sure you’re not putting the “ass” in “assisted.”
For short trips, the Pacifica is even better. With a 35 mile electric range, most suburbanites will have more than enough power to run errands and get back home without using a drop of gas. If you’re charging off a standard 120V wall socket, it will take a while to top the battery back off, but I found keeping it at full was easy enough after I got it there. Most of my in-town errands were within a 15-mile radius, making it difficult to actually drain the battery empty.
Performance-wise, you’re not going to be able to mess with settings so that you can get big boosts from the electric engine at stop lights and the like. That’s because the Pacifica’s electric motor is strictly hands-off. There are no modes to switch to, no button to press, no extra drive settings to access. Chrysler has left the balancing of the electric motor’s performance a completely behind-the-scenes affair.
Honestly, I didn’t miss having to fiddle with the settings. With a van full of passengers (or stuff, the third row drops easily into the floor, leaving tons of cargo space, the second row has to be pulled out because of the under floor battery), I already had enough challenges maintaining proper driving form. I didn’t need an extra level of buttons or gear shifting to distract me further.
And while vans get short shrift as gas guzzlers, my Pacifica churned through 700 miles on a single tank and still had a quarter tank left when I handed it over after a week.
What Price Glory
Here’s the sticking point. The Pacifica is a well-appointed, comfortable, efficient vehicle. But you’re going to pay for all that engineering. The base price of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is $45,000. Add in the safety features package, the wireless entertainment package, and those gorgeous sunroofs (sunrooves?), and you’re suddenly pushing $50,000 (granted, that’s before the $7,500 federal rebate). If you’re serious about battery power, you can grab a pre-owned Tesla for that price.
But gas-free isn’t for everyone. And there are plenty of families where a minivan is the only sensible option. Considering that a top-end Honda Odyssey costs about the same, if not a bit more, why not get a vehicle that will give you a break on your fuel budget each month? If you’re in the market for a family vehicle, and are looking to go green, the Pacifica Hybrid should be on your list.