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2017 Chrysler Pacifica: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Michelle Krebs March 2016

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is not your soccer mom's minivan, or at least it is trying not to be.

School parking lots used to be packed with minivans. They were the first choice for family haulers. At their peak, more than a million were sold a year. Nearly every major manufacturer played in the minivan sandbox.

Then "soccer mom" became a derogatory term that was synonymous with minivans, causing the practical family transporters to fall out of favor. Sales plummeted by half as families turned to more rugged-looking sport utilities.

Since Chrysler invented the minivan more than 30 years ago -- and the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan dominate the market -- the automaker had too much invested to leave the market. Now Chrysler sees a potential new market for minivans as millennials start having children, and some major players -- notably Chevrolet and Ford -- have dropped out of the game.

For those reasons, Chrysler has somewhat reinvented the minivan with the Pacifica, which goes on sale in mid-April. The Pacifica is so different from the Chrysler Town & Country it replaces that Chrysler deemed it worthy of a new name -- or at least a name it hasn't used in some time.

A Hint of SUV

Indeed, the Pacifica looks a bit different from the boxy minivans of the past. Its body is sleek and aerodynamic with soft sculpted lines and hints of sport-utility styling, most noticeable in the shape of the side rear window.

Still, the Pacifica has double sliding doors -- a feature that defines a minivan and provides a practical way for loading kids, their safety seats and cargo. In addition to pushing buttons on the key fob or interior buttons above the windshield, the Pacifica's sliding doors can be opened with a light push of a button on the door handle, allowing children to easily open the doors themselves. Touchless-opening side doors and a rear hatch are optional.

It's What's Inside That Counts

The Pacifica comes with seating for seven or eight. Behind the third row is a deep well for carrying groceries, cargo or strollers. A new feature in the Pacifica is the second-row seat that can be tilted forward with the push of a button to allow third-row passengers to board while leaving the child safety seat locked into place in the second row.

The third-row seat folds into the floor for an even larger flat surface. For transporting even bigger items, such as plywood, the pair of second-row bucket seats can be stowed instead of removed (as some competitors' vehicles require). You just have to lift the floor mats, pull a lever and strap, and with a little bit of wrangling, the seats will plop into the floor.

The two tested Pacifica versions held seven passengers. While the front seats were comfortable and the rear ones might be for young children, two millennial test riders found the seats -- both second- and third-row -- to be too firm and not particularly comfortable on a 3-hour drive.

That's Entertainment

Nevertheless, they were wildly entertained on their test ride. They checked out all of the features that keep passengers amused. The tested Pacifica models have USB and HDMI ports. A mobile Internet hot spot is also available. The highlight was the Uconnect Theater, which includes 8.4-inch touchscreen displays in the second-row seats with a premium audio system. Test passengers suggested the Uconnect screen felt too far away and required them to lean forward to touch the screen to play the preloaded games. They suggested that screens should have the ability to be adjusted closer to the passengers. Some models come with a large panoramic sunroof that spans to the rear seats.

The central vacuum installed in the Pacifica allows you to clean up the popcorn acquired at the zoo with a snap. The Honda Odyssey was first to market an in-minivan vacuum, but Chrysler upped the cleanup game with more than 14 feet of hose inside the vehicle and an additional 14 feet that can be added to suck up Cheerios in the vehicle parked next to the Pacifica.

Quiet, Peppy Ride

One of the particularly pleasing things about the Pacifica was its extremely hushed interior. The Pacifica is built around a completely new body structure to achieve this silence. The stiffer body also gives it a firmly planted feel on roads. Indeed, Chrysler scored on both counts. The ride was quiet even during blustery winds on the test drive. On winding California mountains, test riders didn't feel a hint of body sway, which allowed the car to deliver a secure and confident feel.

The Pacifica also demonstrated plenty of zip from the 3.6-liter engine paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission. Engineers focused on weight reduction, which helped with acceleration and also made the vehicle feel nimble and lighter than you would expect from such a big vehicle. Lightness should help with fuel economy, as well.

A Hybrid in Waiting

The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid will go on sale later this year. It will be the first hybrid minivan and one of Chrysler's first hybrids ever. It is expected to achieve up to 80 miles per gallon. The hybrid is distinguished from the regular Pacifica by teal trim. Pricing and test drives will be available closer to the Pacifica Hybrid's on-sale date.

Worth a Look

Inside and out, the Pacifica has gone much more upscale than its predecessor in an effort to compete more directly with the popular Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. FIAT Chrysler will keep the Dodge Grand Caravan in its line for a bit longer (no end date has been given) to compete with more entry-level minivans such as the Kia Sedona.

To compete with Honda and Toyota, Chrysler has packed a ton of standard features and available options into the Pacifica. There are too many to mention, but the highlights are cameras installed on the vehicle to provide a complete view around the minivan, a parking system that helps with parallel or perpendicular parking, adaptive cruise control and forward-collision warning.

While adding content, Chrysler has kept the base prices of the four Pacifica trim levels just a smidgen below its competitors. The Pacifica LX starts at $28,595, while the top-of-the-line Pacifica Touring-L Plus starts at $37,895. When loaded with options, the Pacifica can be well above $40,000.

Quality has been a challenge for Chrysler, and there's no way to know for now how the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica will stack up against Honda and Toyota minivans in that realm. To that end, Chrysler has invested heavily in the Pacifica. They've spent $2 billion in developing the Pacifica and renovating the plant in Windsor, Ontario, to build the new minivan.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica: First Drive Review - Autotrader