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by Patrick Rall
I recently had a chance to fly to Santa Monica, California to drive the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, which is the best electric-driven minivan on the market…and not just because it is the only electric-driven minivan on the market.
I drive and review a few hybrid vehicles each year, and the best compliment that I can give them is that they drive similarly to the non-hybrid version of the same vehicle. Hybrid versions of cars and SUVs usually come with a considerable compromise in driving dynamics.
The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the first minivan with a hybrid assist system, and the first of its type with so much all-electric range, making me wonder if the gasoline-only version would be more enjoyable to drive. Outside of the most extreme driving situations, though, the Pacifica Hybrid rides and drives every bit as nicely as the non-hybrid models.
Like many modern hybrids, the new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid has an EV (all-electric vehicle) mode, but unlike most popular hybrids in the US, the EV mode is the primary drive mode when the battery is charged.
Unless you push the minivan up to around 80 miles per hour, the Pacifica remains in EV mode until the battery reaches the point where the gasoline engine has to kick in, as a range extender (similar to the Chevy Volt). From that point on, the Pacifica Hybrid uses regenerative braking and some juice from the 3.6L Pentastar engine to recharge the battery. As the battery charges, the Pacifica cycles in and out of EV mode as you drive, without any real input from the driver.
In most hybrids, full-electric (EV) mode is limited to lower speeds or lower throttle inputs; but you can drive normally with the Pacifica Hybrid and it will stay in EV mode.
When we first got into the Pacifica Hybrid in Santa Monica, California, the battery was fully charged and the screen stated that we had 34 miles of EV range. We spent the next hour driving around town in varying levels of traffic, and even with some elevation added to the drive, we still had eight miles of range remaining after roughly 30 miles of city driving. Based on that, I would say that the Pacifica Hybrid could get 40 miles of all-electric range. (Chrysler had billed the system as having just 30 miles of all-electric range when it was launched.)
During those 30 miles, we tested hard acceleration from stops, higher speed abilities on the highway, and plenty of stop-’n’-go driving around the Santa Monica area. In every way, the Pacifica Hybrid drove like a gas-powered Pacifica, except with an electric drivetrain. I must point out that I’ve also spent a few days driving the non-hybrid Pacifica around SoCal, so I can be pretty confident when I say they are similar in their driving dynamics.
On the second leg of our drive in the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, we headed into the hills of Southern California, weaving our way through the terrain over Malibu. Climbing the hill as we drove away from the California coast quickly killed the final few miles of electric range. Once the range hit 0 miles, the 3.6L Pentastar V6 fired up and shy of the sound, the performance of the Pacifica is hardly any different in gasoline mode. Even on the steep grades, the Pacifica Hybrid accelerated nicely on gasoline power, offering the same comfortable drivability as the non-hybrid model (despite the much heavier weight of the Hybrid).
Once we got to the top of our long climb and turned back towards the coast, we took the Pacifica Hybrid down a long, twisting road with a sheer wall on one side and a sheer cliff on the other – with switchbacks and oddly banked curves along the way. The majority of this 8-mile downhill drive required no throttle input, and during that downhill drive, we were able to regain about 5 miles of battery life from the regenerative braking. On a later downhill drive with fewer curves, we were easily able to pick up another mile or two of electric range, which caused the system to shut down the gasoline engine. During that long downhill drive, the regenerative braking system also did a great job of slowing the vehicle down without any fade – even under harder braking, later in the downhill portion.
Really, while the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid isn’t marketed as an EV, it functions more like an electric vehicle than a traditional hybrid. It starts off in EV mode and allows you to drive how most people would drive during their normal commute, but on electric power. Once the battery range hits zero, the engine fires up and it drives like a regular minivan, with the electric engine engaging from time to time, giving the gasoline engine a break whenever the system builds a slight charge. There is also a sort of transitional period where there isn’t enough juice to power the vehicle on its own, but as the battery is regaining power from the brakes and the engine, the electrical system provides assistance to the gas engine to improve overall mileage, like a traditional hybrid.
I really like this drivetrain; many people who have a daily commute of less than 40 miles round-trip wouldn’t have to use the gasoline engine when getting back and forth to work. If you work somewhere that has a 240V charging station, you could get to work some 40 miles away and during the course of the day, the Pacifica Hybrid would easily recharge while plugged in, as it takes only 2 hours to recharge at 240V.
Most importantly, whether you are in EV mode or gas mode, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid has very similar driving dynamics, so the driver won’t need to act differently when modes change. Acceleration is smooth and strong, with enough low-end torque to spin the front tires; while we didn’t time it, the Pacifica Hybrid got up to highway speeds with the fast moving traffic in both power modes without any problem.
Like most EVs and hybrids, the Pacifica has a gauge that shows you how efficiently you are accelerating and braking, which can help the driver improve EV range by working to keep the gauge in the ideal areas. That gauge is joined by a battery life gauge, a battery life meter, a traditional gas gauge and a range screen with EV range, gasoline range and combined range.
When driving the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid in normal conditions – and even when pushing it well beyond the speed limit on the highway – the first electric-assisted minivan in the US performed every bit as well as the non-hybrid model. To find a difference between the two, we had to push the Pacifica Hybrid to the edge of its limits on the twisty mountain roads. The battery system of the Hybrid adds around 400 pounds, and while that doesn’t make any difference under normal driving, the Hybrid doesn’t seem to handle a series of hard, tight turns as well as the non-hybrid version. When driven like a sports car on a twisty California coastal road, the added weight leads to it pushing through turns a little more than the “normal” Pacifica, but that was only when pushed to its limits.
That being said, I expect that very, very few Chrysler Pacifica owners will ever intentionally push their minivan to its handling limits in a driving situation like the roads rising away from the California coast, and in normal daily driving conditions, this hybrid model doesn’t require any compromise from the non-hybrid model.
The only other real downside to the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is that the Stow’N’Go storage system under the second row of seats has been removed to make room for the drive battery, so you lose the handy storage spaces behind the front seats (illustrated in the video below). The second row seats still pop out in a similar fashion to the Chrysler Group minivans before Stow’N’Go, but you do lose the underfloor storage.
Since the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid provides upwards up 40 miles of all-electric range with the same daily driving dynamics as the non-hybrid model, I would call a slight decline in handling abilities in extreme conditions and the loss of the Stow’N’Go a very reasonable compromise. There is a ton of storage elsewhere in the minivan, and since most drivers will never come close to the Pacifica’s handling limit, these two “losses” are fairly unimportant.
Calling the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid the best hybrid or electric minivan on the market is lost, because there is no other competition. However, the fact that this hybrid minivan offers so much EV function without compromising drivability makes it one of the best minivans on the market – and it has a hybrid drivetrain with between 30-40 miles of all-electric driving range.
After a $7,500 federal tax credit, the electric-powered 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid starts under $35,000, making it surprisingly affordable.
That price is for the “base” Premium trimline, whose list price is $41,995 ($34,495 after the $7,500 federal tax credit). The heavily-appointed Pacifica Hybrid Platinum starts at $44,995, or $37,495 with the federal tax credit, which applies to any buyer who has at least $7,500 in federal tax liabilities. The Ontario, Canada price is C$42,495 after provincial credits. The actual list price is C$56,495. Québec and British Columbia have similar incentives, lowering the price to below C$48,500.
The 2017 Pacifica Hybrid is also eligible for local and state incentives, so depending on where you live, you can shave thousands more off of the bottom line price of the electrified Chrysler minivan.
The “base model” 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Premium comes very well appointed, with 17 inch aluminum wheels, a capless fuel filler system, roof rails, auto-on quad projection headlights, and LED daytime running lights, fog lights and LED taillights.
Inside, the Pacifica Hybrid Premium comes with leather seats (heated in the first row), a 12-way power driver’s seat, remote start, remote power lift gate, passive entry for all doors, sun shades for the 2nd and 3rd row seats, 3-zone automatic climate control, active noise cancellation, Bluetooth connectivity, a back up camera, rear park assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, the 7 inch trip computer, and 8.4 inch control screen.
When you step up to the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Platinum, the outside is only slightly upgraded with bright roof rails and 18 inch wheels, but the cabin is loaded to the gills. The Platinum package adds Nappa leather seats and trim, heated/cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, the UConnect Theater system with screens mounted in the front seat headrests, a 110 power outlet, a 13-speaker Alpine sound system, hands-free sliding side doors, a hands-free rear hatch, 2nd row one touch windows, the KeySense programmable key fob system, the premium navigation system with Sirius XM Travel Link and Traffic updates and the Advanced Safety Tech Package, which adds Adaptive Cruise Control with full stop and go, rain sensing wipers, auto high beam headlights, a 360 degree exterior camera system, park assist, advanced braking assist and lane keep assist – all for just $3,000 more than the base model.
The tri panel panoramic sun roof adds $1,795 to the final price as the only option for the Pacifica Hybrid Platinum.
When you apply only the federal tax credit, both trimlines of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid cost less than the two top trimlines of the non-hybrid Pacifica (Touring L Plus, Limited). These tax credits also make the Pacifica Hybrid thousands of dollars less expensive than a comparably equipped Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey, so provided that you owed more than $7,500 in tax liability in the year that you buy the Pacifica Hybrid, you will be paying less for this electrified minivan than you would for the gasoline-powered competitors which don’t offer a hybrid option.
In other words, the Pacifica Hybrid will come with a hybrid drivetrain and a long list of top of the line features while costing less than the top of the line Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey when the owner applies for the $7,500 federal tax credit. Even without the tax credit, the Pacifica Hybrid offers all of the interior goodies for a similar price – while coming with all-electric range that you cannot get from the competition.
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid will be sold at every major FCA dealership across the country with the first orders set to be received sometime in December 2016. Production begins later this month and the first units should be delivered before the end of 2016, with full availability coming in early 2017.
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