Chrysler has been making minivans since the 1984 model year, but its latest, the 2020 Pacifica, is easily the best of the bunch.
Chrysler minivans have nearly always been comfortable and easy to drive. The company’s Stow N Go seats were a brilliant addition, as were its earlier rear seats that could be rolled out for easy removal and storage. But, let’s be honest, there were some mechanical issues, something about transmissions. That’s behind the company, now part of Italian conglomerate, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Credit Chrysler for not allowing its minivans to remain static. The new Pacifica, which replaces the Town & Country, has been smoothed and given a slightly sporty (for a minivan) profile. Plus Pacifica is now available as a plug-in hybrid. That’s the model I tested in Limited trim with a base price of $47,340. I know that’s steep, but you get a lot here, and most minivans push that mid-$40 grand to $50 grand price range now if they are well equipped.
Get this, Chrysler also announced at the recent Chicago Auto Show that it will be adding all-wheel-drive to Pacifica for the 2021 model year. Good idea.
For now, my Billet Silver Pacifica was a joy to drive, including a roundtrip to Chicago for that car show. Plug it in overnight (120-volt outlet) and you get a 26- to 36-mile charge before the van switches seamlessly to gas power care of a 3.6-liter V6 with 287 horsepower. You’ll never notice the switch.
Also, know that if you find a fast-charging station with 240-volt outlets, or install said outlets in your own garage, a full charge can be had in 2-3 hours.
Ride is relatively smooth with a little jiggle on major side road potholes but comfy for a family and its luggage. Power is fine from that engine and naturally when on electric power you have instantaneous torque when pulling away from stoplights. Handling too is good for a minivan, fairly light and easy and the van was a breeze to handle and keep in its lane on the highway. Side winds didn’t bother it much.
The automatic electronically adjusted variable transmission did a smooth job of delivery the power to the road and shifts are mostly seamless. Warning though, once the pavement is wet as when a little snow or falls, the electric power tends to come on so strong that you’ll likely spin those front drive wheels when accelerating from a stoplight. Go easy on the accelerator for a couple seconds if pavement is wet.
Being a hybrid, folks will wonder just how great the gas mileage is and it can be quite good. The EPA says if you run on electricity mostly you get the equivalent of 82 mpg, which for electrics they add an E to mpg. If you run only on gasoline, which is basically impossible as regenerative braking keeps restoring some power to the van’s batteries to help it start from a stop, the EPA says to expect 30 mpg. I got close to that with 27.8 mpg on the roundtrip to Chicago.
Beyond the plug-in feature, which is as simple as plugging in any electric appliance, the Pacifica Limited feels and looks like a luxury vehicle inside. It’s definitely more than most folks would expect in a minivan interior.
This one seats seven and includes captain’s chairs in the second row and adds armrests to the front seats too. Three will fit in the rear seat and legroom is good there too.
The test van added the S appearance package for $795 and that includes Nappa leather seats, some special badging and then black exterior accents, such as a black stow n place roof rack, black grille surround and handsome 18-inch Black Noise painted wheels. All add to the sporty vibe this Pacifica exudes.
For looks the interior is a winner with those black leather seats with gray piping and stitching. That look carries over to the dash with a leather feel and gray stitching. Other interior trim is gloss black by the stack and 8.4-inch infotainment screen. Matte silver door inserts are behind matte silver door releases too.
I like Chrysler’s Uconnect4 infotainment system. It’s easy to use and will hook up with your cell phone with Apple Car Play and Android Auto. There’s a navigation system built in too and all of this is simple to use and figure out, even while the vehicle is in motion. That’s important. The system also includes a year of SiriusXM satellite radio and Traffic Plus to help you avoid traffic jams and there’s a 4G hot spot here.
Up front there are heated and cooled seats with heated seats in row two and a heated steering wheel. Only downside there is a classy looking metal strip that is inserted in the wheel’s face for styling. THAT is quite cold on winter mornings until maybe 20 minutes into a drive as the wheel heats up and the strip heats with it. Eventually the wheel is so hot you’ll need to turn it off, so a high/low setting would be helpful, plus lose the metal accent strip.
For row two there are two screens built into the headrests of the front seatbacks, the main purpose to entertain row two kids and tagalongs. There are seven games built in plus a brilliant feature, “Are We There Yet,” that you can program in to help the kids know how much further to grandma’s house, or the traveling team’s soccer game. Front seat folks can control the DVD player that feeds into those screens too, so can assure PG rated videos to keep the peace between Junior and Felicity.
Overhead in the test vehicle was a tri-pane power panoramic sunroof, which seems monstrously large, but could add entertainment value on a trip to the mountains. It costs $1,895. Naturally the hatch in back is powered, like the sliding side doors.
Safety systems are plentiful too, as you’d expect with a family minivan. Standard are a bunch of airbags, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, ParkSense with rear park assist and stop and stability control.
This one also added the advanced safety/tec group that adds a 360-degree surround view camera, full-speed forward collision warning plus, adaptive cruise control, stop & go, lane departure warning plus, parallel and perpendicular park assist, ParkSense front and rear, along with rain-sensing wipers, advanced brake assist and automatic high beams. That’s reasonably priced at $995. Hey, the family is worth it, right?
There’s literally nothing major missing here, except a wireless phone charger and AWD, but the latter will be available next year. And one other bugaboo for me is the huge, heavy key fob, but in its defense it does open the power sliding side doors and features remote start. Still, you may need to holster this bad boy.
A base Touring Plus model starts at $41,740 including delivery. The top-level Limited 35th Anniversary model lists at $47,985.
Need a van? Chrysler continues to have the answer.
FAST STATS: 2020 Chrysler Pacifica Limited hybrid
Hits: Pleasant looking hybrid minivan that comfortably seats 7 and gets good fuel economy. Good ride and power, decent handling for van, plus oodles of comfort items, like heated/cooled front seats, heated second row and steering wheel, power hatch, flip-up screens in back seats with games and video. Also panoramic sunroof and good safety lineup.
Misses: Huge, heavy key fob, no wireless phone charger, metal trim strip on steering wheel is cold to hold.
Made in: Windsor, Ontario
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 hybrid, 287 hp
Transmission: Eflite Si-EVT automatic
Weight: 4,987 lbs.
Wheelbase: 121.6 in.
Length: 203.8 in.
Cargo: 140.5 cu.ft. (all seats down)
MPG: 27.8 (tested)
Base Price: $47,340 (includes delivery)
S appearance package (S badge, Nappa leather seats with S badge, gloss black upper and lower grille surround, 18-inch black noise painted wheels, 18-inch tires, Black Noise badging, black stow n place roof rack), $795
Advanced safety/tec group (360 surround view camera, full seed forward collision warning plus, adaptive cruise control, stop & go, lane departure warning plus, parallel and perpendicular park assist, ParkSense front and rear, rain-sensing wipers, advanced brake assist, automatic high beams), $995
Tri-pane panoramic sunroof, $1,895
Test vehicle: $51,025
Sources: Chrysler, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage