The NMA Foundation presents Eric Peter’s Car Review, a weekly Saturday feature on the NMA blog.
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Give ’em credit for not giving up.
Chrysler — the company that invented the things — is the last of the Big Three to still have a minivan in its lineup. GM and Ford long ago said to hell with it — ceding this market to the Japanese (and Koreans).
Which the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna pretty much own now, as a result — with the Kia Sedona and Nissan Quest cleaning up most of the scraps.
So it’s brave, at the very least for, Chrysler to even stay in the game. And downright courageous of them to bring out a brand-new van, with all the resources that took — and all the prestige that’s now on the line.
It even has a new name — Pacifica.
WHAT IT IS
The Pacifica is Chrysler’s replacement for the Town & Country, which has officially ceased to exist.
Like the T&C, the Pacifica is a traditional, full-size (and not-so-mini) van.
Like the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna — the Pacifica’s primary rivals — the emphasis is on luxury and technology at least as much as utility.
Also like them, it’s a big galoot.
Bigger, in fact, than both the Odyssey and the Sienna — which are “mini” vans like Donald Trump is an introvert.
You could live — comfortably — in any of them.
With your family.
Prices for the Pacifica start at $28,595 for the LX trim, with seating for seven. This can be increased to eight by ordering an optionally available (and removable) second-row center seat.
There are also Touring, Touring L, Touring Plus and Limited trims — the latter including a built-in vacuum cleaner, 20-inch wheels and two sunroofs: a sliding panorama roof plus a fixed rear glass section, kind of like a ’70s-era Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon had.
No big V8, though.
MSRP for the Limited is $42,495.
The Pacifica’s main rivals, the Sienna and Odyssey, start at $28,850 and $29,400 respectively — topping out at $46,410 and $44,875.
A plug-in hybrid variant of the Pacifica is on deck for later this fall or spring 2018. Chrysler says it will be able to travel about 30 miles at normal road speeds on battery power alone.
Neat, in terms of the tech.
But the price (not officially available when this review was written in late August) is likely to be high vs. whatever savings you achieve at the pump.
Everything — including the name.
Available rear-seat entertainment system includes two 10-inch Blu-Ray monitors built into the driver and front seat backs.
Easily removable second row center seat adds (or subtracts) passenger/cargo capacity, as needed.
Can tow 100 lbs. more than Sienna and Odyssey (3,600 lbs., max — vs. 3,500 lbs.).
If you ever wanted an Airstream but have been put off by the price, here’s something similar — for less — that doesn’t need a truck to pull it around.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Equipped with Airstream-esque features, these things come with near-Airstream MSRPs.
Adaptive cruise control sometimes struggles to keep set speed on downhill grades.
Much wider turning circle (39.7 feet) than either Odyssey (35.1 feet) or Sienna (37.5 feet).
UNDER THE HOOD
The Pacifica comes standard with a slightly larger — and slightly stronger — V6 engine than either of its two main rivals, the Sienna and Odyssey: 3.6 liters and 287 hp vs. 3.5 liters and 266 hp in the Toyota and 3.5 liters, 248hp in the Honda.
The Chrysler also comes with a nine-speed automatic vs. the six speed automatics in the Sienna and Odyssey.
But it works out pretty much the same.
These vans all get to 60 in the mid-high seven second range — runs that are in the same time slot as sporty cars like a Mazda6 sedan.
But unlike a Mazda6, the mileage sucks.
Of the three, the Toyota’s is — surprisingly — the worst: 18 city, 25 highway. 16 city, 23 with the optional AWD. Which is probably why the others don’t even offer AWD.
The Pacifica comes in second — 18 city, 28 highway — also surprising, given it has the leverage leg up of nine forward speeds, three more than its rivals.
It ought to have the advantage.
Even so, the Odyssey squeaks by (though just barely) to the number one slot: 19 city, 28 highway.
All these vans cry out for diesel power.
And diesel mileage.
Instead — because Uncle — we get inefficient gas engines and (in the Pacifica) expensive hybrid drivetrains.
Either way, we pay.
A diesel engine would make so much more sense in these heavy, not-very-mini-vans. The diesel’s superior low speed torque would get them going better, with much better efficiency — and for a much better price than the technologically interesting but economically demented hybrid set-up.
Yeah, you can go as far as 30 miles at normal road speeds without burning — or paying for — a drop of gas.
But how much did you pay the dealer to get the fancy hybrid powertrain?
Chrysler hasn’t spilled any beans yet, MSRP-wise — but plug-in hybrids are always more expensive than regular hybrids — because of their higher-performance battery packs and additional gear, including more powerful electric motors (necessary to move the vehicle at more than the usual crawl).
The last time Toyota sold a plug-in version of the popular Prius hybrid back in 2015, it cost about $32,000 vs. about $24,000 for the standard-issue (no plug-in capability) Prius. Which is probably why there is currently no plug-in version of the Prius hybrid. The cost-to-benefit ratio isn’t favorable.
Especially when regular unleaded is only about $2 a gallon.
For the same reasons, the hybrid Pacifica is likely to be a tough sell, too.
You’ll also pay another way.
The otherwise standard second row Stow and Go seating that lets you “disappear” the second row seats into the floor, leaving a flat surface you can use to sleep on or load stuff on is nixed in the hybrid because of the battery pack — which takes up the space under the floor where the seats would otherwise Stow and Go.
ON THE ROAD
From the driver’s point of view, this not-so-mini-van doesn’t feel as lengthy as it is because the nose is fairly short — and you sit very close to the front axle centerline. This gives you a good sense of where the front corners are relative to potential paint-scraping/fender denting obstacles, as when docking into a parking spot.
But be aware of the rest of the van.
The Pacifica is the longest in length of the three (203.6 inches vs. 202.9 for the Sienna and 200.2 for the Odyssey) and has the longest wheelbase of the three (121.6 inches vs. 118.1 for the Odyssey and 119.3 for the Sienna) and — probably on account of this — the widest turning circle: 39.7 feet vs. 37.5 for the Toyota and just 35.1 feet for the Honda.
However, this only becomes apparent when maneuvering in very close quarters, such as making a U turn on a narrow street — while the ultra-plush ride (a function of the extra-long wheelbase) is your everyday companion.
Given that — and the liner-like length and wheelbase — I expected the Pacifica to take corners like the Titanic.
Slow — and wide.
With lots of roll.
Minivans are known for this. You should know the Pacifica’s not like this. It can be tossed around (if you’re into that) without it tossing you around.
The ride and handling are remarkably Feng shui.
I particularly liked the way the engineers programmed the Pacifica’s traction/stability control to not come on abruptly and frantically. In some other vans, at the first hint of tire squeal, the throttle is cut (by the computer) and the brakes pumped (via the ABS) which is no one’s idea of a good time.
Or at least, not mine.
Unusually, the nine-speed transmission doesn’t have “Sport” or “Manual” models. Just Drive and Low (and Park and Reverse). Nothing wrong with this, in my view.
It’s a minivan.
Should a Corvette have 15 juice box holders?
It also doesn’t have a shift lever, as in the Sienna, Odyssey and the other vans.
Instead, gear selection is controlled by a rotary knob mounted on a shelf just to the right of the steering wheel. It’s as simple to use as turning a doorknob and adds an upper class vibe to the package — but it also lacks the tactile feedback you get from a doorknob.
Or a shift lever.
This is however purely personal and subjective.
You may like the knob better than the lever.
The Pacifica’s nine-speed automatic, notwithstanding its leverage advantage, is of negligible benefit as far as fuel economy or performance and the nine speed box does more up-and-down shifting, especially on downgrades, with the cruise control engaged and trying to maintain your set speed.
There have been some complaints about this — which Chrysler says it is working to address.
The V6 engine is strong but thirsty.
I averaged just over 20 MPG during my week-long test drive. This is typical; the Sienna and Odyssey suck fuel, too. This is inevitable in 4,300-plus pound (empty) vehicles shaped like bricks. With a family and stuff on board, the curb weight of any of them will be well over 5,000 lbs.
Consider yourself lucky to average just over 20 MPGs in such a fatty.
AT THE CURB
Minivans started out as appliances. They have become very nice appliances.
Particularly the Pacifica, which is the only minivan sold under a brand label that’s at least entry-luxury.
Not quite Lexus or Acura.
But a cut above Toyota and Honda.
Examples of which include the Pacifica’s available double sunroofs (a large, panorama main section that slides and tilts plus a fixed glass panel at the rear, to provide natural light for the third row occupants), available 20 inch wheels (Sienna and Odyssey max out at 19s) and the individual LCD monitors for the optional entertainment system. These are built into the driver and front seat passenger seat backs, as in high-end luxury cars. Passengers can play games or do whatever while the other passengers do (and watch) what they want to do/watch.
Sienna and Odyssey have a single (drop down) LCD monitor. Everyone watches the same thing.
Pacifica also offers a very elegant-looking (and larger than rivals) 8.4 inch iPad-style LCD touchscreen — standard in Touring L Plus and Limited trims. It’s delicately framed, canted slightly toward the driver.
The problem with all these touchscreens is that there is literally no tactile feedback. It’s a flat screen. Which makes it hard to operate them accurately without looking at them. Particularly while the vehicle is moving. Because your finger is moving with the movement of the vehicle. Tapping/swiping with precision in a moving vehicle while also keeping your eyes on the road is inherently problematic; you have to take your eyes off the road to do it.
This is tempered in the Pacifica to some extent by conventional (button/knob) secondary controls, including for the AC and audio. These can be operated by feel.
However, if you want to turn on the seat heaters or make other adjustments, you’ve gotta tap/swipe.
The Toyota and Honda (and pretty much every new vehicle) have the same issue, because pretty much every new vehicle now has a touchscreen. These flat screens look good — but whether they’re a good idea is very debatable.
As far as people — and cargo-carrying — capacity:
But — and this is kind of surprising, given the Pacifica’s the longest of the three — it has the least cargo room of the three: 32.3 cubic feet behind the third row and 140.5 cubic feet with the second and third row folded. The Sienna makes up for its somewhat crampy second row with the most cargo room of the bunch: 39.1 cubic feet with all its seats in place and 150 cubes with the seats removed/folded.
The Odyssey slots in between with 38.4 cubic feet behind its third row and 148.5 with everything folded down.
But you may not need the maximum capacity of the Sienna/Odyssey — while the Chrysler’s neat Stow &Go second row (which also tilts forward, easing access to the third row) is a definite draw. It’s also nice that Chrysler offers eight-passenger capacity as a kind of a-la-carte feature. Just buy the removable center seat and there you go.
In the others, you have to buy a higher trim to get eight-passenger capacity. Or — as in the Sienna’s case — the higher trims aren’t available with eight-passenger capacity at all.
If you need an Airstream that can haul itself around, you will not be disappointed by any of these (cough) “mini” vans.
They are RVs in all but name, with huge capacity for people and their stuff. Designed for comfortable cross-country travel, including — if you want to — sleeping in them as you go. As soccer-mom-ish as the look (and rep) may be, the layout — low floor height, dual sliding doors and swiveling/reclining captain’s chairs — have their charms.
The Pacifica’s the newest of the bunch (Honda will update the Odyssey next year) and so has the latest stuff — examples of which include the nicer/larger (and more abundant) touchscreens.
But it’s also the newest of the bunch — without an established reputation. The Honda and Toyota are extremely safe bets, reliability-wise and also depreciation-wise.
The Pacifica may not be.
On the upside, it is likely — for just this reason — that you’d be able to whittle down the asking price to a much more reasonable price. With the Toyota and Honda, this is often much harder to do — precisely because they have the blue chip rep.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Pacifica is competitive with the segment leaders. But that may not be enough for Chrysler to snatch back pieces of a market it once owned but which has been taken away one conquest at a time, by rivals like Honda and Toyota, that just did a better job executing the concept Chrysler was first to market with.
Time will tell.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos