Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Best Seven-Passenger Choice

Imagine a world where a sport utility vehicle did not exist and the words, “I am not a minivan mom!” never were uttered. Imagine a family yearning for a seven-seat vehicle that could also carry all their luggage, in comfort, in a vehicle that gets the best fuel economy in its class–with the majority of the around-town, family trips using no gasoline at all.

What kind of a world would this be? Except for the no SUVs, it’s one we can live in now with the all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV).

Hybrid Exclusivity

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the first and only plug-in hybrid minivan on the market. This does not mean it is best in class by default. This claim, and all the accolades that have been bestowed on the Pacifica, must be and have been earned. Let’s start with the fuel economy.

Reinventing the category they invented

The front-wheel drive Pacifica Hybrid has a powertrain consisting of a gasoline-powered 3.6-liter Atkinson cycle V6 and two electric motors, all mated to a nine-speed automatic. Using regular fuel, the total system combines for 260 horsepower. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates fuel economy at 19 mpg city/28 highway/32 combined, with an impressive 84 mpge, or miles per gallon equivalent. MPGe is an EPA measurement of how far a car can travel, electrically, on the same amount of energy as is contained in one gallon of gasoline. No minivan can equal these numbers. Not even close.

Common on all hybrids is a regenerative braking system, which recharges the Pacifica’s 16-kWh Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. Regenerative braking converts braking or coasting energy into electricity. Driving around town, stuck in stop-and-go rush hour freeway traffic or coasting down hills will recharge your battery you’ll see an instant display of the battery state of charge and mileage range on dash gauges.

The advantage over every minivan on the road

The advantage of the Pacifica being a plug-in hybrid, is that when the battery is fully charged, the first 33 miles you drive produce zero tailpipe emissions. After this all-electric driving range is exhausted, the Pacifica is powered by the gas-hybrid system. A welcome addition would be for Chrysler to add a small generator that would replenish the Li-ion battery while you are driving in gasoline or hybrid mode. This way, you could choose when you want the ability to drive in all-electric mode.

Plug-in charging can be scheduled for off-peak hours to save on electricity costs. The 6.6-kW onboard charger will replenish an empty battery to the maximum 33 miles driving range in about two hours using a 240-volt, Level 2 charger. Expect about 14 hours with a 120-volt household outlet.

The upshot is that the Pacifica Hybrid has an estimated 570-mile total driving range. Not that you wouldn’t hear a constant cacophony from the rear seats of “Are we there yet?”, but you could drive San Diego to San Francisco with sixty miles to spare. Or maybe the family is going to a NASCAR race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and then hitting the road to Disney World in Orlando. Easy stuff, as those 525 miles are well within the Pacifica Hybrid’s driving range.

Driving Experience: On the Road

Smarticd drove the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Platinum, with an EPA curb weight of 4,987 lbs. At an additional 657 pounds more than the non-hybrid Pacifica, the batteries located under the floor are responsible for most of the increase. Coming in at about two-and-a-half tons, we were curious how it would ride and handle. As far as the ride goes, the Pacifica Hybrid is as smooth as would be expected, with wind gusts or passing big rigs not having any effect on stability. The electric rack and pinion steering was tuned to leave sufficient road feedback, but don’t go crazy taking corners like you would in a sports car. The Pacifica Hybrid cornered well and the easy-to-predict minor body roll was manageable. A low center of gravity, thanks again to the batteries being located under the floor, and the 235/60R/18 all-season Michelin tires providing excellent grip, made the overall driveability of the Pacifica Hybrid a pleasant experience.

The dash is clean and functional

Stopping was straight. The four-wheel power-assisted disc, anti-lock brakes, were easy to modulate. As part of the regenerative charging system, more aggressive regenerative braking can be achieved by setting the drive mode to the “L” position. Doing so results in feeling the braking more than if in the “D” drive mode.

Completing the stopping suite were brake assist, traction control, electronic stability control and Rainy Day Braking. Rainy Day Braking is a helpful technology that lightly applies the brake pads whenever the windshield wipers are turned on. This helps keep the rotors dry during wet weather for more efficient braking, aiding shorter and more controlled stops.

Driving Experience: Exterior

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid retains the sharp, crisp design of the non-hybrid Pacifica, which was all-new in 2016. From the side and 3/4 views, the Pacifica Hybrid has a stance and silhouette that makes people say it doesn’t look like a minivan. The smooth exterior design, with a very low 0.30 drag coefficient (Cd), begins with LED headlights that extend wide on the fenders. Fog lamps are set low in the fascia, and chrome accents are kept to a pleasant and tasteful minimum.

A power lifegate ends of the aerodynamic van

The windshield sweeps to a roof that peaks just behind the front seats. The roof, with rack rails, a shark fin antenna and a built-in spoiler over the rear hatch (which has its own wiper), leads to the LED tail lights. The low lift-over means loading items as large as a 4×8 sheet of playwood into the interior bed is an easy task.

Driving Experience: Interior

Smarticd’s Pacifica Hybrid Platinum model came with the optional Customer Preferred Package, which included the Advanced Safety Tech Group and the Connect Theater Package. Our Pacifica Hybrid also had the optional Tri-pane panoramic sunroof. With the batteries placed under the floor, the very handy, and easy-to-operate Stow ’N Go function is not available on the hybrid. While the two middle bucket seats do not fold into the floor, they can be easily removed. They are somewhat heavy, but once removed you have a completely flat floor. This van will handle a whole bunch of your stuff!

The cockpit layout is simple and clean with soft touch materials on the dash and door panels. The easy to find and reach cruise, telephone and audio controls are housed on the leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel. I was especially pleased to see the radio had on/off knobs for volume and channel selection, and the climate control wheel was a different size than those of the radio. This may not seem like a big thing, but it is when reaching for these very different controls in the dark–regardless of your familiarity with the vehicle. The simplicity of the dash layout made for easy reading of the gauges and the full-color driver information display. The center cluster includes charging and battery information, displaying the power flow from battery to the engine, engine to the wheels and back into the battery during regenerative braking.

A touch of luxury surrounds the front cabin inhabitants

Another nice touch, which opens-up cockpit space and reduces clutter, are the gear selector (a large wheel) and the electronic parking brake (piano switch), located side-by-side and next to the radio knobs. The well-thought-out dash is elegant in its design, as is the complete interior.

The UConnect Theater Package included an 8.4-inch touch screen for 3-D GPS navigation and the rearview camera display. A great sounding Alpine audio system, with a 506-watt amplifier and 13 amplified speakers, controls the AM/FM/HD with SiriusXM radio (one-year subscription included). There is a Blu-ray/DVD player with an USB video port. You also get Siri Eyes Free connectivity, Aux-in jacks, a 115-volt auxiliary power outlet and Bluetooth streaming audio and hands-free telephone.

Rear seat passengers have a full entertainment system

For the second row (configured as two bucket seats) the passengers get individual, high-definition multimedia 10-inch HD seatback video screens. With three-channel, wireless headphones and Bluetooth touchpad remote controls for an uncluttered entertainment experience. Third-row passengers get a USB charge port and cup holders.

The list of convenience features on the Pacifica Hybrid Platinum is what would be expected. You get power everything, including the twin sliding side doors and rear lift gate, and exterior mirrors. The very comfortable heated and ventilated front Nappa leather seats are power for the driver, with the driver also getting power lumbar adjustments. The power panoramic sunroof opens the skies through-out the cabin.

Safety Features

Smarticd’s 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid came with a good combination of safety features, including 12 air bags, remote keyless entry, push button and remote start, hill start assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross path detection, rear parking assist with auto stop, anti-theft engine immobilizer, tire pressure monitoring system and the fore-mentioned four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes (ABS) with brake assist. The optional Advanced Safety Tech Group package also included rain-sensing windshield wipers, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control and the very helpful surround-view camera system. This system provides a bird’s-eye view on the 8.4-inch screen, as if looking down at your car’s positioning. This is extremely useful when parking.

The Pacifica Hybrid has not been rated National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the its highest rating of a Top Safety Pick.

Pricing and Warranties

The 2017 Pacifica Hybrid comes in two models, with these MSRP.

The gauges tell the hybrid story


$41,995 Base, options


$44,995 Base, options

Smarticd’s test Pacifica Hybrid Platinum had option packages that brought the price to $46,790.

All prices exclude the $1,095 destination charge.

The 2017 Pacifica Hybrid comes with these warranties.

  • Battery 10 years/100,000 miles
  • Hybrid System 10 years/100,000 miles
  • Basic   Three years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain 10 years/60,000 miles

Observations: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Chrysler invented the minivan. First introduced in 1984, Chrysler has had massive success with their Chrysler Town & County, Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager models. Competitors over the years and the SUV craze, that began in the mid-1990s, winnowed Chrysler’s minivan offerings. The Voyager and the complete Plymouth division were discontinued; the Caravan was superceded by the larger Grand Caravan and still survives. Competitors from GM and Ford disappeared as things got rough for minivan sales.

Chrysler has reinvented the minivan segment from the inside out

To revive this once robust segment, Chrysler knew they again had to do something that was completely new. The release of the gasoline-powered Pacifica in 2016 was only the start; the 2017 Pacifica Hybrid is the new game-changer for Chrysler.

Knowing that most minivan owners are running in-town errands and hauling their kids and their kids’ friends everywhere and anywhere, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is engineered to go the first 33 miles on pure electricity. This range conceivably means that all those short trips would be made without burning any gasoline. As long as the Pacifica Hybrid is plugged-in each night, the range will max-out at 33 miles and off you go again for another fun day of sports practice and grocery store runs.

But the Pacifica Hybrid isn’t just for around town jaunts. Where it really shines is on the open road where the family can go for hundreds and hundreds of miles in extreme comfort. With available rear seat personal video screens (complete with included wireless remote and headphones) and storage space to carry whatever a family would want to carry, hearing the words–“Hey, honey, grab the kids and let’s head for the mountains”–is no more daunting than driving to the corner store for milk and eggs.

Chrysler has made getting into the class-leading Pacifica Hybrid a two-model choice. There is only (and I say “only” knowing I am spending your money), a $3,000 price difference between the Premium and Platinum models. Deciding to go for the Platinum trim line is worth the investment considering the additional features that are packed into this package. And to top it off, opt for the $1,795 panoramic sunroof and your 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Platinum is fully loaded for around $46,000. With Federal and state tax credits, your final price could be in the mid-$30,000 range.

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid leads the category

When compared to a fully optioned seven-seat SUV, this is an excellent value for the money–and this does not even take into account the money you will save on gasoline over the lifetime of ownership. Plus, in many states, owning a plug-in electric vehicle qualifies you for a coveted, single driver carpool sticker.

There is nothing frumpy or dowdy about the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. You will get positive comments on its looks, as well as people saying they wish they had bought one instead of the SUV they just signed onto for the next five or six years of payments.

Until it happens, and there are no rumblings out there that it is anytime soon, Chrysler has the only plug-in hybrid minivan. Not only are they first, but they have designed a wonderful vehicle. Go check it out for yourself.

Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!

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Smarticd is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected].

John Faulkner is Road Test Editor at Smarticd. He has more than 30 years’ experience branding, launching and marketing automobiles. He has worked with General Motors (all Divisions), Chrysler (Dodge, Jeep, Eagle), Ford and Lincoln-Mercury, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota on consumer events and sales training programs. His interest in automobiles is broad and deep, beginning as a child riding in the back seat of his parent’s 1950 Studebaker. He is a journalist member of the Motor Press Guild.

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Sandeep Mall November 7, 2017 at 11:18 pm

I must say, amazing features this car have..

    Michael Coates November 8, 2017 at 12:03 am

    @Sandeep Mall–you are correct, there! –ed.






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