First Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica HybridPosted on November 17th, 2016
Plug-in hybrid technology gives minivan a green footprint
By Nina Russin
The all-new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the first production minivan with a plug-in gasoline/electric powertrain: one of a bumper crop of family-oriented hybrids entering the market. While their first inroads were in the compact segment, hybrids make a lot of sense for busy, value-conscious families.
The plug-in feature in the new Pacifica gives owners up to 30 miles per charge on electric power. That’s enough for the average commuter to get through a day, so owners rarely need to refill gasoline. Charging with the standard 115-volt plug takes about 14 hours, but those willing to invest in the optional 240-volt plug can fully recharge in two. A Uconnect phone app enables owners to schedule recharging during off-peak hours and remotely change charging times.
While the powertrain is based on its gasoline-powered sibling, there are significant differences between the two cars. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine was modified to Atkinson cycle with a higher compression ratio for greater efficiency.
Despite its 11.3:1 compression, the engine runs on 87 octane gasoline. Chain drive eliminates expensive timing belt replacements after the warranty expires.
The hybrid also has a new eFlite electronically variable transmission whose single clutch design enables both of the car’s electric motors to drive the wheels. The most noticeable difference to consumers is that unlike the nine-speed transmission in the gasoline car, the eFlite has no obvious shift points.
Engineers located the 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack under the second-row seats. While the battery doesn’t reduce interior space, it does occupy the bucket space for Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go system, so the seats in the hybrid are removable but not stowable.
Buyers can choose between two grades, the Premium priced from $41,995 and upscale Platinum priced from $44,995. Pricing does not include $1,095 destination. Both models quality for a federal $7500 tax credit.
The test car is the upscale Platinum grade that comes with a 13-speaker Alpine premium sound system, navigation, hands-free sliding doors and 18-inch rims, as well as an active safety package including collision warning, adaptive cruise control, 360-degree around-view camera, lane departure warning, parallel and perpendicular park assist. The car has one option: a tri-pane panoramic sunroof. Final MSRP is $47,885.
Test drive in Southern California
At a recent media event, I had the opportunity to test drive the Pacifica on city streets in West LA as well as canyon roads north of Malibu. For those who can afford the price of admission, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is a great option, with appealing styling, lots of room for growing families and their gear, and a driving range of 530 miles between fill-ups according to the manufacturer.
Since buyers pay a premium for the hybrid technology and electricity isn’t free, the primary benefit from hybrids isn’t cost, it’s convenience. Think about being able to drive your family from Phoenix to Los Angeles without having to stop for gasoline: it’s a pretty appealing proposition. With the ability to recharge for daily use, owners don’t have to worry about scheduling fuel stops between the kids’ soccer games or with a carpool full of co-workers.
Although the hybrid weighs about 400 pounds more than its gasoline-powered sibling, performance is comparable if not better. The new transmission eliminates some uncomfortable hunting that the nine-speed suffers from when drivers push the envelope on hilly roads. The lower center of gravity makes the vehicle more stable at speed, while electric motors provide an appealing boost of power off the line.
An electric power assist steering system delivers good low-speed assist. Pacifica’s 39.7-foot turning circle is larger than the Toyota Sienna that comes in at 37.4, but the car is easy enough to maneuver into parallel and perpendicular parking spots. The Platinum grade comes standard with parallel/perpendicular park assist that automatically guides the vehicle into parking spots.
On center response is soft, which is typical of electronic power assist steering, but the driver shouldn’t feel disconnected from the wheels.
A four-wheel independent suspension with stabilizer bar on the front axle keeps the chassis flat while cornering.
Visibility around the perimeter is decent, with the largest blind spots coming from the car’s thick rear D-pillars. Blind spot monitoring on the test car illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through these areas.
Engineers did a good job of minimizing noise intrusion to the interior so occupants can enjoy the audio and rear-seat entertainment systems.
Since Chrysler invented the minivan with models dating back to the early 1980s, it’s no surprise that its designers excel at interior packaging. The Pacifica’s bright, spacious interior includes third-row seats that fold into the floor, making it easy to extend the cargo bay for larger items such as bicycles.
Power driver’s seat controls on the test car include adjustable lower lumbar. I found both front seats comfortable for trips lasting over an hour.
Second-row seats are removable, but the seats are heavy, so it’s not a particularly easy process. On a positive note, occupants riding in back should find the more robust seats comfortable for longer road trips.
Keyless entry and start saves the driver from having to fumble for the key fob after dark. Chicklets on sliding doors make them easier for kids to control.
Both the gauge cluster and center stack screens contain bright, easy-to-read graphics. Both are well shielded from bright sunlight. A thin-film-transistor display in the gauge cluster includes a driving coach to help owners improve their efficiency. A power meter in the center stack display shows the flow of power from the engine and electric motors.
A standard rearview camera displays a wide angle view to the back of the vehicle when the driver shifts into reverse. Lines superimposed over the image reflect steering inputs.
Standard roof rails and crossbars on the test car make it easy to mount a gear rack or cargo carrier up top. A recessed design prevents any additional noise and minimizes their aerodynamic drag.
The Chrysler Pacifica hybrid comes with blind spot monitoring, rear backup camera, electronic parking brake, front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control and tire pressure monitoring.
Chrysler builds the Pacifica Hybrid at its Windsor, Ontario Canada assembly plant.
Like: A minivan with a green footprint and 530-mile range between fill-ups, including 30 mile pure-electric range.
Dislike: Soft on-center steering response.
Model: Pacifica Hybrid
Base price: $41,995
As tested: $47,885
Horsepower: 260 (net)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 80 MPGe estimated2017, Green Hybrid, Minivan 2017, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Chrysler, Pacifica Hybrid, performance, pricing, standard safety