Review: Step aside, minivan haters—the Chrysler Pacifica is awesome
“I’ll need 10 sheets of drywall for tomorrow.”
That was how my father-in-law would greet me in the early 2000s when I’d arrive home from work. After 45 years spent as a carpenter and foreman, he was retired—which meant he was working for free for his kids. In our case, that meant remodeling our 80-year-old Chicago bungalow. It was great to get his expertise for free, but it meant I had to help out as best I could with my limited skills. And one of those ways was being the errand boy.
After getting the next day’s supply order, I’d trudge out to our garage and remove the seats from our minivan. I’d head over to Home Depot, grab what he wanted, and then load it into our 1998 Chrysler Town & Country LXi. By day, our minivan hauled kids and groceries. By night, building supplies.
There’s a stigma attached to driving a minivan, but in my experience, it’s unwarranted. Indeed, for some people, minivans are one of the most practical vehicles you can own. No one aspires to own a minivan the way one might lust after a Mercedes or Jaguar, but viewed through the proper lens, they can be awesome on their own merits.
We decided Ars needed to take the wheel of a minivan, and I was the chosen one. When the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica minivan showed up outside of my garage, I was intrigued. And when the company took it away a week later, I was a little bit sad.
The Pacifica, redux
Strange as it sounds, the Pacifica constitutes half of Chrysler’s vehicle lineup these days. Stranger still, this is the second Chrysler to bear the Pacifica moniker. I own one of the former, a crossover that existed from model year 2004 through model year 2008.
Even if you’re not a minivan fan, the Pacifica cuts a striking figure. It bears a rather sleek profile for a family hauler, with a gently sloped front end that avoids the flying wedge look of some minivans. It's easy on the eyes, at least as far as minivans go.
I tested the Pacifica Limited, which at $49,665 has all of the trimmings you’d want in a family car. The Pacifica starts at $26,995 in the L trim, which leaves out most of the advanced safety and driver assist features. In order to get the good stuff like power sliding doors and adaptive cruise control, you’ll need to start with the $39,760 Touring L Plus and add the options for $795 and $995, respectively. Chrysler also offers three hybrid models, starting at $39,995.
Under the hood, the Pacifica has a 3.6-liter V-6 that cranks out 287hp (214kW) and 262lb-ft (355 Nm) of torque. It’s paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels that shifts smoothly. Not that you’ll want to confirm it, but the Pacifica can manage 0-60mph in 7.3 seconds.
It’s what's inside that counts
The interior features seating for either seven or eight, depending on whether you add an optional seat between the two captains chairs in the second row. Like many other minivans, the seats can be folded into the floor in about 45 seconds, making for a smooth transition between people mover and stuff hauler.
The interior is where the Pacifica truly shines. The front seats are very comfortable, and the massive windows all around afford the driver excellent visibility. Chrysler’s uConnect infotainment system lives in an 8.4-inch 4:3 display located in the center of the dash. The UI is crisp and easy to read on the high-definition display, putting most of the vehicle’s functions at the touch of a finger. I have just two complaints about uConnect. First, it tries to do too much—functions like seat and steering wheel heat can only be accessed via the touchscreen, and that’s a use case better suited for a physical button. Second, on some screens UI elements are too close together, making touching the exact correct screen challenging at times when the car is in motion. But those are nits—uConnect shows a level of attention and polish lacking in other American cars (hello, GM).
Below the display is a row of buttons for functions like parking assist. There’s a dial for selecting gear and physical buttons for climate control (you can make the same adjustments via uConnect).
The instrument panel has an analog tachometer and speedometer bracketing another HD display that can be customized to show the usual bits of data—mileage, radio, navigation, etc. The display here is also bright and crisp.
The interior feels downright roomy. The numbers bear this out: 32.3 cubic feet of storage space behind the third row, 87.5 cubic feet if you fold the last row down, and 140.5 cubic feet if you fold down all the seats. All in all, Chrysler has done an outstanding job on the interior.
Keeping up with the kids
Part of the allure of a minivan is that it’s designed with kids in mind. Not only does that mean safety—and the Pacifica is a top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety—it means entertainment and convenience. The Pacifica shines here, too.
The kids fortunate enough to occupy the second row each get their own 10.1-inch touchscreen HD display, which is mounted on the rear of the front-row seats. There are wireless headphones and remotes that are paired with the touch-screen displays, and they have their own dedicated pockets. If you forgot to bring a DVD or Blu-ray for the kids to watch, there are a handful of games built-in, including the road-trip staple license plate game. There are also “Are We There Yet,” which counts down the arrival time to your intended destination, and math flash cards for, I don’t know, last-minute test prep?
In my day we had a GameBoy…
You can also use one of the USB ports up front to pipe music or .mp4 video to the rear displays. While I was able to stream music back there, I couldn’t get video to work over USB from my iPhone or iPad. This is apparently a known issue, and the workaround is to use a Lightning-to-HDMI adapter. Each display has its own HDMI adapter, which gives you more options for entertaining your offspring. To test it out, my son and I hooked his PlayStation 4 up to the monitor, powering it via the 115v outlet next to the rear row of seats. I cruised around the suburbs while Rhys happily played Far Cry 4 in the back seat. Chrysler will also offer video streaming over the in-car Wi-Fi network, but that functionality was not yet available on our test vehicle.
Cars that haul kids tend to attract messes. Parents around the world know the horror of lifting up a child seat and seeing layers of Cheerio and Goldfish detritus, the bottom bits being stuck hard to the seat thanks to various and sundry juice box drippings. While the Pacifica can’t prevent spills, it can help you clean them up, thanks to the built-in vacuum cleaner. The flexible hose can suck up dry messes anywhere inside the car, at least if you go with the Limited trim (it’s not an option on the lesser models).
On the road
The Pacifica isn’t going to take your breath away when you’re behind the wheel. I didn’t push it too hard on the winding, hilly roads in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago. It’s just not that kind of car. It handles well, with just a bit of heaviness around corners at pace. But you don’t buckle yourself into a minivan with the intent of discovering how much understeer you’ll be dealing with going around a tight curve. At least I don’t. [This is why Eric is testing minivans and not me—Ed.]
What the Pacifica does provide you with is a very smooth and comfortable ride. The eight-way adjustable chairs in the front seat are comfy for long rides, and the V-6 is capable of all that’s asked of it, even if it you can really hear it working when you step on it.
Driver assists are there to help
Chrysler’s driver-assist tech is also excellent. It’s a $995 add-on once you select the Touring package, and it’s worth every cent. When I would let the Pacifica wander into another lane, the lane-keep assist would subtly move the wheel, leaving me in the center of my lane and oriented in the right direction. By contrast, the lane-keep tech in the Buick and Range Rover I’ve driven recently had a tendency to overcorrect. If the Pacifica figures out your hands are off the steering wheel after a couple of corrections, you're told to put them back where they belong.
I had a bit of an unexpected encounter with the collision-avoidance system when someone decided to pull out of a side street right in front of me. I saw a “BRAKE!” message on the instrument panel in giant red letters accompanied with rapid beeping.
Chrysler’s park-assist feature works really well. Hit the park button on the center console and the Pacifica will immediately start scanning for a space to parallel park in. Hit the OK button on the steering wheel and it will switch to perpendicular. The minivan did a better job recognizing parallel spots and nailed it each time (in contrast with the BMW X3 in the gallery above). It didn’t always see open spots, but when it did, it backed into them perfectly. You’ll need to control the gas and brake while parking; the car handles the steering bits and tells you when to shift between drive and reverse.
Chrysler claims 22mpg for the Pacifica: 28 on the highway and 19 in the city. In a week of heavy driving in all sorts of conditions, I got 21.2mpg. There’s a bit more road noise than I would have liked to have heard at speed, but chances are your kids will drown it out.
If I had two or three young kids and was shopping for a new car, the Pacifica would be an extremely strong competitor. Not only is it designed to make shuttling your progeny around much easier and more pleasurable, but it’s surprisingly satisfying behind the wheel. There’s not a single thing that I can point to that makes the Pacifica enjoyable to drive, rather, it’s the sum of the parts—comfort, superior ergonomics, a well-thought-out infotainment system, excellent driver-assist tech, and scads of room for your family and associated gear—that makes the Pacifica a winner when it comes to minivans.
Listing image by Marlowe Bangeman