PROS: Suave styling; scads of space for people, pets, and stuff; robust drivetrain, fuel economy, sneaky good Uconnect infotainment system.
CONS: Apart from being a minivan, none really. Lacks an onboard vacuum cleaner in hybrid trim and doesn’t have all-wheel-drive.
Both those minivans are fine and dandy, though different. There is, however, a third choice: go Chrysler.
When Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was just Chrysler, it created the minivan under its Dodge brand, back in the 1980s. The original minivan was a wild success, and although the segment is frequently stigmatised, and although minivans have given ground to SUVs of late, the Big Three minivans still sell.
In fact, Chrysler’s new minivan, the Pacifica (replacing the Town & Country), is now outselling both the Odyssey — all-new for 2018 — and the Sienna, which is due for a redesign pretty soon.
We’ve checked out the Odyssey and we’ve sampled the Sienna. To complete our minivan roundup, we tackled the Pacifica last. We can’t really make a fair comparison because our tester was a $US47,885 Pacifica Hybrid Platinum. Yep, that’s right: a plug-in hybrid minivan, the only one currently for sale.
A bit of an odd wrinkle, by the way. Our Odyssey was built in Alabama, and our Sienna was made in Indiana. The Pacifica hails from Ontario, Canada (but just so you know, the town is Windsor, just across the Detroit River from Motown).
We put the Pacifica through its paces in suburban New Jersey. Here’s how it went.
The Pacifica arrived wearing a handsome 'Granite Crystal Metallic' paint job. BI's Ben Zhang had briefly driven the gas-powered version and was underwhelmed. Would the hybrid be different?
The design is actually quite elegant, stately even. Far more eye-catching than the Toyota Sienna and not quite as flashy as the Honda Odyssey. The lines flow into each other nicely, as typified by the the suave proportions of the front end.
The Pacifica used to be the Town & Country, but that nameplate was dropped. The Pacifica name had been used on a discontinued Chrysler vehicle -- and it was also the name of Chrysler's California design studio.
Our tester was the plug-in hybrid version of the Pacifica. It has a 3.6-litre V6 yoked to a hybrid electric system whose two electric motors provide 260 total horsepower. Other Pacificas get a straight 3.6-litre V6, making more hp: 287. The hybrid has a CVT transmission, while the non-hybrid has a nine-speed automatic.
So, what's the story with the MPGs?
On gas alone, the Pacifica's combined city/highway number is 32 mpg, while 'MPGe' in 84, a consequence of being able to run the minivan on electric power alone for 33 miles, according to FCA.
Those are all good figures for a large vehicle that can haul up to eight adults and plenty of stuff. The Pacifica is also the only hybrid minivan currently on the market.
Like all minivans, the Pacifica can open up all those doors to allow passengers easy ingress and egress -- and owners to cram as much gear in the cargo area as possible. Our tester had power everything, making the sliding side doors a breeze to operate. Literally, a child could do it (but not when the vehicle is moving).
OK, sorry, back to the previously scheduled review. Although the legendary VW bus was a common sight on American roadways, it did take Chrysler until the 1980s to create the modern minivan. The Pacifica is the culmination of all those decades of minivan know-how.
Everything I threw at the Pacifica was swallowed up with aplomb: groceries. gear, floaty things for a trip to a nearby lakefront beach.
No chance of the second- and third-rows feeling like a cave, not with a pair of power moonroofs. Let the sunshine in!
... and make use of the onboard charging cable, if you want to use home power. You can also use public Level 2 locations to rejuice faster.
From the driver's seat, the Pacifica's steering wheel and instrument cluster are fairly minimalist, although all the expected controls are present. When driving, steering strikes a nice balance between firm and soft -- not too far in either direction, even though it's electrically assisted.
Knobs and button for climate control are quite simple, and the transmission is an initially annoying rotating puck that's isn't so bad once you get used to it.
The entertainment system in the second row is based on flip-down tablet-style screens -- one for each seatback.
You can play music, tie in a device for other types of entertainment, load up a Blu-Ray or DVD, or fool around with the native apps.
The system has a pair of wireless headphones that are stashed in the seat pockets. Using them, kids in the second row can enjoy their entertainment with the driver and front-seat passenger rock out with SiriusXM radio running through a 13-speaker, 506-watt premium Alpine audio system.
On to the infotainment! Chrysler's Uconnect is something of a sleeper in the world of auto tech. It's solid, but not showy. In our testing, it does an excellent job of getting the job done. The seven-inch screen could be larger, but it's far from alarmingly small.
Some vehicle functions are managed through the touchscreen interface, such as heated and cooled seats, the heated steering wheel, and the rear climate.
The screen also provides a bird's eye overhead view by using the Pacifica's cameras. This is a very useful feature when manoeuvring the boxy vehicle in tight parking spaces.
A host of driver-assist features are also in the house, ranging from blindspot and cross-traffic warnings to front collision warnings, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings, and many, many airbags.
(The driver-assist features, along with the Uconnect 'Theatre' package for the second-row seat, are part of an $US1,800 option package.)
There's a wifi connection. USB ports abound, there are AUX and HDMI inputs, and even a 115-volt power outlet.
Bluetooth pairing is a snap, as is using the USB inputs for devices. Uconnect handles all this expertly, which is good as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't currently available.
The Pacifica Hybrid is probably the best minivan money can buy right now, and I say probably because in a future mega-throwdown review I'll be comparing it to the Odyssey and the Sienna. So stay tuned for that.
But eyes on the Pacifica for now. It's really, really well done. I've always had a soft spot for the Town & Country, even though I was an Odyssey owner. Chrysler invented the minivan and the carmaker still just seems to understand down deep how to do these people movers just right.
The Pacifica doesn't miss a trick, and the addition of the hybrid option, with a tasty 30-plus miles of all-EV range possible, means that for daily kid-transport duty, this machine could be a true money-saver. (With Level 2 240-volt charging, the lithium-ion battery can be restored in a few hours; lower-voltage will obviously take longer, but overnight is always an option.)
The electric motors add some pop to the acceleration, and the Pacifica Hybrid's CVT isn't onerous, although if you hate this type of transmission, a closer look at the nine-speed gas-only V6 might be worth it.
I'm not going to say that the Pacifica is exhilarating to drive; it isn't. The 0-60 mph run consumes about 8 seconds, which is actually respectable considering the Pacifica weighs almost 5,000 pounds. Take that bulk into a corner with any spiritedness and you can feel the suspension protesting.
If you want a minivan that doesn't drive like a van, the Odyssey is your ticket. The Pacifica is, however, fantastic at soaking up bumps and keeping road and wind noise to a minimum. Cruising at freeway velocities is a dream, and tooling around town is fine, although as with all minivans you have to aware of where the vehicle begins and ends to avoid minor bumps and scrapes.
The exterior design is appealing, and the interior is flat-out terrific. So much so that as a parent you might feel bummed as your progeny do what they will tend to with the Pacifica and slowly trash the insides.
From my point of view as someone who drives Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Porsches on a regular basis, but who also has three kids and a suburban lifestyle, the key selling feature for the Pacifica is that it's simply a damn pleasant place to spend time. If you have the right attitude, minivans can be extremely de-stressing vehicles.
And the Pacifica, as its name implies, is the most destressing minivan on the road right now. There's something to be said for that, in times like these.
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