Minivans

Hands-on with the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivans

• First Drive

Chrysler Pacifica minivan

The new Chrysler Pacifica minivan was shown first in Detroit, then in Chicago and Toronto. Replacing the Town & Country (and eventually the Dodge Grand Caravan), it has a new architecture with fresh styling that should attract folks more than the current “upscale breadbox” styling does. Three were on display – the Hybrid was up away from the crowds on a turntable, while a Limited and a Limited Platinum were opened up for folks to crawl in and around.

Pacifica front seats

The Limited was done in a dark granite paint with a two-tone black and saddle brown interior which I found to be very appealing. Visibility from the front seat was at least as good as my own 2006 Town & Country, if perhaps a little less tall from the top of the dash to the ceiling. There’s a small glass pane at the base of the A-pillar to help make up for the more severe rake of the windshield glass.

The front seats were more comfortable than the 2015 rental minivans I’ve been in. The instruments are the “large display between two dials” now present in most Mopars. I liked the level of customization you had with the center gauge-cluster screen, but still wished there was a way to have it “scroll” thru the various instruments or show multiple gauges at one time.

pacifica dashboard

The center stack is quite wide, making for a long reach to the right-most controls; it has the “Knob” shifter-dial to control the 9-speed automatic, and the big 8.4” uConnect touchscreen. There is not much height between the dash and the top of the windshield, similar to the arrangement of the 200, Dart, and Cherokee, and somewhat disappointing compared to the old “RS” minivans. 

The center console is rather large, and as it moves towards the front of the minivan, it kinks somewhat towards the driver. There’s an Easter Egg of past minivan silhouettes in the rubber mat that lines the forward part of the console.

pacifica center row

The second row had the middle seat which makes this an 8-passenger van. Like those in other minivans, this seat is narrow and essentially unusable for adults – it would be hard for it to fit anyone that’s not a little girl under the age of 9 in this seat – and the required booster seat that most kids should be riding in might be too wide for it as well. But, it’s there and there are belts for it, so it counts.

The dual 10-inch touchscreens in the backs of the front seats are nice and eliminate the rear-vision problems of the old ceiling–mounted screens. The individual HDMI and USB ports for each screen are a nice touch as well.

second row door opening

The ability to have the outboard second-row seats slide forward and tilt really opens up the access to the third row. This particular van had a car seat strapped into the passenger-side second row seat, and you could slide/tilt the main seat without removing the car seat, which is very nice – however, you’ll want to make sure there’s not actually a child in the seat when you do it, lest you crash their head into one of those 10” touchscreens.

I was able to get my aging 50-year-old body into the third row without drama or pain, and there’s a nice grab strap to pull the second row seat back into position once you are back there. The third row was more comfortable than the one in my 2006 model, with decent legroom and a USB port on the passenger side so the occupants can charge their phones, since they won’t have access to the 10” touchscreens to play with.

The sliding doors have a wider opening – 32 inches at the floor – than my 2006 model, which only goes 29 inches wide (thanks to the folks from CarSeatBlog.com for letting me borrow their tape measure.)

pacifica from the hatch

The Limited Platinum was in a nice dark red color with a white leather interior some darker bits of trim to break up the light – it might not be as dark and/or claustrophobic for some as the black/saddle interior, but I can imagine it will be much harder to keep clean. The Platinum gets the “Stow’N’Vac” vacuum cleaner and this example also had the triple-pane sunroof option which, when combined with the white interior, really made it seem larger than it is. The Limited Platinum rides on massive 20” tires – I believe it’s the first minivan to do so.

I noticed a bunch of local Toyota guys crawling all around the Pacifica, checking its features; some seemed astonished at the big screen in the dash.

All in all, I’m impressed with the looks and features of the new Pacifica minivans. My one concern is that – much like with the original Pacifica crossover – it may be too nice and too well-equipped (and too expensive) for some traditional minivan buyers, and we may end up seeing a clamor for a less-expensive and less-well-equipped model. Having the current Grand Caravan may satisfy that need in the short-term, but not having a “basic” model (or a Chrysler-branded crossover) could pose a problem for some.

I've driven every minivan sold today, and none of them check the luxury level boxes like the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. The exterior looks far more compact than the existing Town & Country — but it’s actually larger, inside and out. The new body looks much more modern, from front to rear, doing away with the boxy look of the previous models. 2017 Chrysler minivan with sliding door open

The seats are incredibly soft both, in terms of padding and surface material. They have a high end look and feel. I've always questioned hour the Town & Country fits into the luxury Chrysler lineup; there is no question how this vehicle fits. Dare I call this the first real luxury minivan?

Theater seats

The third row is roomier. The multi panel sunroof setup looks good and provides a sky view for every row, which will be great for kids on long road trips. The new infotainment system, with seat mounted screens and individual input docks, will be a welcome change for parents with multiple kids with differing taste in programs. A key difference that I see inside is the new dashboard. Finally, the minivan gets the same gorgeous gauge cluster as the Chrysler 200, along with the newest UConnect setup, which is leaps and bounds better than the system in the current Grand Caravan. There is nothing wrong with the current minivan infotainment setup, but the next gen system is really a step up in every way.

minivan dashboard

The small instrument panel under the touchscreen is very clean and looks far more upscale; it puts the HVAC controls and the shift dial into one small panel. This is going to be a much better family hauler, but I think that the exterior design and the interior layout will help fight the stigma of the minivan being so tragically unstylish. Thanks to that, I think that this minivan will be more acceptable to those folks who want a proper luxury minivan.

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