by Roger Garbow…
In a perfect world, we enthusiasts would exclusively drive our choice of British roadsters, German sport sedans, Italian exotics or American muscle cars. Unfortunately, back here on Planet Reality, we sometimes need more practical vehicles, especially for folks with families. If that’s you, read on.
Chrysler reportedly spent $2 billion creating their all- new Pacifica and it shows. The body structure is nearly twice as stiff yet lighter in weight than the 2016 Town & Country minivan which it replaces in the lineup. The extra stiffness rewards the driver with car-like response, ride and handling. A large part of the improved handling prowess can be attributed to a stiffer front suspension and a new independent rear suspension. It may be hard to believe for a vehicle like this, but with the new platform rigidity and suspension design, the 2017 Pacifica is actually fun to drive. If driving excitement is not your thing, you’ll still be happy: the seats are seriously comfortable and the Active Noise Cancellation technology creates a very quiet cabin.
The 287hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is responsive, making the Pacifica feel quick both off the line and in mid-range passing maneuvers. The engine’s Variable Valve Timing combined with the new 9-speed transmission is rated at 28mpg highway, but for a quick trip to Boston and back, I saw over 30mpg. For those seeking even better efficiency, the Hybrid version returns 80 MPGe, up to 30 miles on electric power alone and has a range of up to 530 miles.
On the outside, the Pacifica make a bold statement with exterior styling that is fresh, fluid and much more attractive than anything else in its class. It is a fine looking automobile, yet function was not forgotten. The rear gate and sliding side doors open with a swipe of a foot or the touch of a finger. No more yanking of handles…unless you really want to.
Chrysler’s Stow’N Go® seating is still the best in the business when it comes to converting the interior from three rows of seats for carrying people to a flat floor for carrying stuff. The new Stow’N Assist® feature makes dropping the middle row easier than ever. The third row seats even disappear with the push of a button on top-line models. Unlike the third row seats in many other vehicles, real full-sized humans can actually sit on these for extended trips. As expected there are numerous cupholders, storage bins, USB ports and 12-volt power outlets. The Pacifica adds more good stuff with seatback touchscreens and even an available Stow’n Go® vacuum to keep the interior in concours-ready condition.
For active lifestyle folks, one of the coolest features of the Pacifica is an integrated roof rack system where the side rails quickly convert to crossbars when the need arises. Seems simple yet why did it take so long for a manufacturer to do this?
If it’s so great, what’s the problem? So, here’s the rub. After all this money and engineering to create an entirely new vehicle, Chrysler is still calling it a minivan. Sure, they consider it a reinvention of the minivan. But since Chrysler arguably created the segment with the Caravan back in 1984, they can rightfully abandon the moniker. The word “minivan” is a non-starter for a lot of potential consumers. When people ask me what vehicle to buy and I recommend a minivan, some look at me like I’m off my meds. The word “minivan” is a turn-off. To a large segment of the car-buying public, the idea of buying a minivan is about as appealing as going on the kale-only diet. They would rather walk.
If Chrysler truly wants to attract new buyers to the Pacifica, they need to create a new vehicle category. To get them started, I have some suggestions for names. Americans like acronyms, so how about MUV (Multi-Use Vehicle), FFV (Fully Functional Vehicle) or BUV (Better Utility Vehicle). To get young people excited, they could try BFV (Best Family Vehicle).
Perhaps a European sounding name would work such as a Super Estate, Grand Avant or even Super Shooting Brake. Super makes anything sound better, right?
If the name thing doesn’t work out, Chrysler can always just add an accessory that no enthusiast could resist. A Grom or a small dirt bike will easily fit in the back if you drop the mirrors and handlebars…even with the middle seats up. A couple of tie-down straps to hold it in place and off you go. Think of the envious looks when you park your Pacifica, pull a motorbike out of the back, don your aviator shades and ride off. Now that would be cool.
If you are still on the fence, check out how the 2017 Pacifica stacks up against the latest and greatest SUVs:
Final thought: There are a couple of exterior design cues that set a minivan apart from an SUV: a lower ride height and the positioning of the rear door handles on the leading edge of the doors. So I did a quick Photoshop fix to see how the Pacifica’s shape works re-imagined as an SUV…