DRIVEN: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited


You may recall that Chrysler “invented” or at least defined the modern minivan with its original K-Car platform front-drive derived Dodge, Chrysler, and Plymouth minivans that came to market in 1984. These vans were well packaged, affordable, people friendly, practical, and good looking enough. Over time, the Chrysler van lineup had become a bit tired, and was strongly challenged by innovative, high quality offerings from KIA, Honda and Toyota.

And why didn’t any carmaker produce a hybrid van? I never understood it, because if any vehicle type could use the benefits of strong low end, around town torque and power, plus better fuel mileage, it’s a van — which of course is a large box designed to move lots of people and stuff, and certainly when fully loaded didn’t get great fuel economy.

With the new Pacifica, Chrysler put itself right back in the minivan business. You may recognize this name from a handsome yet not terribly successful crossover model produced some years back. No matter, Chrysler has restyled and somewhat reinvented its vans bringing back that nice sounding name in the process. Few would call most minivans “handsome” yet this thing looks great. And finally, the hybrid minivan glass ceiling has been broken through.

Chrysler offers the Pacifica in conventional gasoline or plug in gas/electric Hybrid models, the latter meaning that you plug it in to charge up the batters for a limited electric-only powered range, and then when those batteries are discharged, the Pacifica operates like a normal electric assist gas powered hybrid — meaning a torque laden electric motor helps the gas engine produce more power, and use less gas, plus achieve superior emissions ratings — a lot like a big Prius.

My fully loaded top of the line Limited tester had every bell and whistle a minivan can have short of a Jacuzzi tub. And Chrysler has really upgraded the state of the minivan interior union too. The cabin in this vehicle would pass for an Audi, at least, and rivals Chrysler’s own top model 300 sedans. Handsomely stitched high quality materials, very comfortable seating, superb infotainment with a great nav and very good connectivity interface.

Charging is also very convenient; you can plug it into a conventional 110 volt home plug (slower charging) or fill ‘er up at a high speed recharging station. You can also purchase a 220 volt high speed charger for home install if you wish — which recharges the batteries from dead to full in about half the time. The electric assist motors are paired with an efficient, smooth, and plenty powerful V-6.

Chrysler rates the range at 33 miles on pure electric use only, and a total of 566 miles combined on a full charge and a full tank of gas. The EPA numbers are nearly identical. I had no problem going the 33 miles (and sometimes 35) miles on pure electric, but during my week with this vehicle encompassing several long trips, I never got close to the 566 number. It delivered good mileage, and reasonable range, but fell short of the promised numbers.

That isn’t to say it wasn’t great to drive.  And it certainly is handsome — never thought I’d say that about a minivan.  The Pacifica’s styling has a certain Euro flair to it, and that reverse angled rear side window cut breaks up a minivan’s normally boxy looking windowlines.  The luxuriously appointed uber comfy cabin always welcomed.  I always particularly enjoyed the car on a fully charged battery, while operating on EV power only.  Virtually silent with only a whispering whir coming from the powertrain, off the line power is really strong, and it cruised effortlessly at legal speeds, and even above.  Once the gas engine cut in it was also pretty seamless with non of the herking and jerking of some other hybrids.  The only physical downside of the hybrid packaging is that the floor space in the middle of the passenger compartment, normally used for Chrysler’s innovative “Stow and Go” fold away seats magic trick, is needed to store all the batteries.  The nav system, interface, infotainment, Xenon headlights, instrumentation and all controls are handsome, easy to understand, and operate flawlessly.

All in this is a great first effort at a modern, luxury hybrid minivan, but I expect more range.  For the cost of all the hybrid hardware and batteries, I’d be happy with the projected 560-70 mile total range, but never could attain it nor come within 100 miles of those numbers.  Maybe it needs even more battery capacity or an even more economical gas engine to even up the equation.  There is potential here for sure.  Otherwise the Pacifica Hybrid was a dream to drive, never felt like a science experiment or a big golf kart or anything strange.  I discussed this issue with a Chrysler rep, who said that the engineers selected the Pacifica’s electric motor capacity and battery specs to meet most people’s daily commute needs, giving that first 33 or so miles of driving “free” per charge.

A lovely vehicle that just needs to reach a little farther in terms of range and deliver more on its plug-in hybrid promise.