2017 Chrysler Pacifica First Drive:
Shining in a Shrinking Segment (with video)

I recently traveled out to Los Angeles to spend a few days driving around in the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. Having recently spent time in the current Toyota Sienna, Chrysler Town & Country, and Dodge Grand Caravan, I can confidently say that this new Pacifica is superior to the segment’s most popular current models.

LA minivan

The stigma against the “tragically unhip minivan” and the growth in popularity of SUVs has cut minivan sales, but with only the heaviest hitters left swinging, the new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is ready to hand out major blows to the competition. The company that literally invented the minivan has rolled out their latest and greatest – the latest in their lineup and the greatest in this segment.

Driving the New 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

First up, let’s talk about the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica drivetrain. Like the current Town & Country and Grand Caravan, the Pacifica is powered by the 3.6L Pentastar V6, but this new minivan gets a new version of the engine with 287 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful option in the class by a comfortable margin. Also new for the 2017 Pacifica is the 9-speed automatic transmission, which makes for a peppier, more nimble and more efficient minivan.

pacifica

I understand that the vast majority of people who buy minivans aren’t all that worried about driving dynamics, but lots of performance car owners also have a minivan. If you have three kids, a minivan is far more convenient than a Challenger, so when driving your minivan instead of your Challenger, wouldn’t you rather your minivan be more fun to drive? That is why the handling and acceleration properties of the 2017 Pacifica are so important. Minivans don’t need to be fun to drive, but making them more fun to drive while also making them more efficient and safer leads to a much better minivan.

pacifica in palm treesThe aggressively geared 9-speed transmission paired with the Pentastar V6 makes the 2017 Pacifica surprisingly quick from a stop, easily giving the front tire a quick spin if you hammer the pedal too hard. In normal driving situations where that power is needed, such as merging into fast-moving SoCal highway traffic, the Pacifica pulls hard through the midrange and will easily get right up to highway speeds and that strong pull continues well beyond any posted speed limit in the United States.

More importantly, when acceleration, decelerating or just cruising down the road, the 9-speed transmission seems to perform beautifully. There have been complaints about other 9-speed models having shifting issues, but as the company has continued to work out the issues, and the Pacifica I drove had no problems of any kind. In many cases, the transmission will “rest” at cruising speed in 6th gear around town and 8th gear on the highway, so it isn’t like an older automatic transmission that almost always had the vehicle in high gear when cruising at almost any speed. It doesn’t always use every gear, and because of that, it isn’t constantly bouncing from gear to gear and, as is the case with most modern non-performance automatics, the shifts are nearly unnoticeable.

The new chassis is both lighter and stiffer, leading to improved handling without compromising ride quality. The low center of gravity, the revised suspension setup, and the reduced weight allows the Pacifica to handle corners nicely, with very little body roll when taking corners at speed. When cruising on the highway, the gentle bends really have no impact on the passengers and in a harder, higher speed turn like a highway cloverleaf onramp, the body roll is very minimal. In tighter quarters, like the roads leading to the PCH in Cali, the Pacifica does a nice job of zigging and zagging through the twisties.

doors open

More importantly to most buyers, on every road I drove, the Pacifica did a great job of keeping out both the road harshness and any noise from around the outside of the vehicle. This is a very quiet minivan, but what little you can hear or easily drown out by the premium infotainment system.

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica has official EPA fuel economy numbers of 18 mpg around town and 28 mpg on the highway. In my two days driving the Pacifica, I averaged just under 25mpg, with a highway-heavy driving mix. In an area like Detroit, with less hills and less LA traffic, I could easily hit that 28 mpg highway number, but I was unable to get what I would call a good average fuel economy test with traffic and such.

Interior Packs Technology and Comfort

On the inside, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica offers a massive spread of infotainment options, including the newest UConnect setup with dual 10 inch screens mounted in the front seatbacks. These screens work in cooperation with the front infotainment screen to display a variety of media forms or games, or they can be used independently with USB or HDMI inputs. This is the most elaborate infotainment system in the industry, essentially integrating tablet systems with apps, while other rear seat systems are little more than video screens.

Theater seats

The UConnect screen in the dash has a premium layout; the screen is flush with the rest of surrounding area, in gloss black. This touchscreen controls the radio, media sources, HVAC controls, apps, navigation, and the hands-free phone system, much like the current, award-winning UConnect system. There are new options, including the rear screen system.

Below the touchscreen is a spread of dedicated knobs and buttons for the sound system and the climate control, along with the electronic parking brake and the shift knob. The steering wheel has a large spread of buttons to allow the driver to access the information screen in the gauge cluster or the sound system options without taking his or her hands off of the wheel. Even if you do not get the UConnect Theater with the dual 10-inch screens, you do still get the big dash screen and the premium UConnect features (not all models have the 8.4 screen standard).

Pacifica front seats

My test vehicle had the standard seven passener seating, with second row bucket seats and a third row. The second row seats are part of the new generation of the Stow-N-Go system, which works as easily as the current generation, with one interesting change. The current Stow-N-Go seats require the seat to shift slightly inboard, so the center seat won’t fit. With the new Pacifica, you can order a removable second row center seat with the stowaway seats for eight seats total.

pacifica center row

The low floor and high ceiling of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica leads to a ton of head room at every seating position, and it also makes for easier loading into the rear-most seats. You can easily get to the third row by climbing between the second row seats, or you can flip the second row seats forward to climb behind them. Once in the third row, the seats are spacious enough for a smaller adult, but it will be a tight ride. It is really better suited for children, but the second row seats and both front row seats are comfortable and will accommodate even very tall adults. Best of all, the plush leather seats of my Pacifica Touring and Limited test vehicles were comfortable for day-long drives around Southern California and with the massive new triple-unit sunroof system, every row gets a view of the bright blue sky.

pacifica from the hatch

The Pacifica is a great vehicle for a trip across the country, or the daily drive to work, with a stop at day care or school. The interior is nothing short of luxury level in every way, except this roomy luxury vehicle is packaged as a minivan.

Summary

I spent a week driving the current Chrysler Town & Country, and while I liked it, I can comfortably say that the Pacifica is better in every way. It is a little more powerful, a little more efficient, a little roomier, a whole lot quieter, and more packed with technology than its predecessors or any of the competitors, and it does so with a price in the same range as the competition. While margins vary by trimline, the Pacifica offers more standard features than the competition on a dollar-for-dollar basis, while also offering standard features (like Stow-N-Go or UConnect Theater) that you cannot get elsewhere.

I can’t say that the Chrysler Pacifica reinvents the minivan, but I will say that this new minivan is the best minivan to ever hit the US market. It does everything as well or better than the competition and in many cases, it does so for less money.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica main page: prices, features, power, hybrid, first looks

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