For many Americans, the ever growing checklist of bank account-draining expenses means that they need to be more selective about what they buy and why. House with a hefty mortgage: Check. Two kids and another baby on the way: Check. Totally awesome minivan of indisputable practicality? Check.
Children in particular are a special kind of expensive; not only do they have the ability to end up in the ER at any given moment, but they also have very specific needs that your Scat Pack-equipped Challenger cannot provide. Add in the additional pitter-patter of little feet in the house, and you’re destined for either a full-size SUV with its parallel parking woes or the minivan of shame.
While SUV ownership continues to be the far more popular option, automakers have been hard at work making minivans less of an embarrassment to be seen in and a whole lot more fun to drive. Toyota has without a doubt the sportiest of the bunch, with its TRD-inspired SE “Swaggerwagon;” Kia has the sharply styled Sedona, and Honda has just revealed its all-new 2018 Odyssey, which has seen some outstanding updates. Meanwhile, the Dodge Grand Caravan was given the axe and the Nissan Quest hovers in the background anxiously awaiting an overhaul.
But the undisputed leader of the pack — at the moment — comes from Chrysler, a company that scrapped not one but two minivans in order to bring you the 2017 Pacifica. Since the previous generation of the Grand Caravan was well past its prime, and the Town & Country was little more than a warmed-over Grand Caravan, Fiat-Chrysler used its budget from both and resurrected the Pacifica name.
In order to see just how good this eight-seat minivan is, we took a Touring L Plus model on a road trip with the family to test its merits. What we found was that not only has Chrysler created one hell of a clever family hauler, but it has proven that smart, safe, and sensible minivan life doesn’t always have to be an embarrassment.
Admit it: Minivan body lines are damn near impossible to erase, and instead of fighting the inevitable, Chrysler has reshaped the Pacifica into one of the best looking soccer mom machines ever made. With the available 18-inch alloy wheels and Touring suspension beneath it, and LED lamps aglow both front and aft, the days of square and top-heavy minivans are long gone.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Stylish LED lighting, integrated and easily-removable roof rails, optional hands-free sliding doors and lift gate, and a ride height that’s ideal for toddlers all add significant family value.
+ Those 18-inch alloy wheels look great and come wrapped with upgraded Michelin Premier all-season rubber and a re-tuned Touring suspension setup.
+ The forward-facing camera and sensor systems may seem overt, but the way in which Chrysler has packaged them is right on the money and blends beautifully with the lines of the car.
– Bold chrome touches out front may not be for everyone, and the Sienna SE is still stealthier and more masculine looking.
Available with the 287 horsepower Pentastar V6 and a smooth nine-speed automatic gearbox, the Pacifica has plenty of get-up-and-go if so desired. The transmission sorted through gears with ease, and the V6 (which would be familiar to anyone else who’s driven a six-cylinder Mopar) moves the van along without much fanfare. If the Pacifica had a sore spot, it would have to be that its lack of all-wheel drive still — still — leaves the Sienna as the only minivan on the market with the option. Snow storms happen, and knowing that you have the ability to get your children home safely could be a deal-breaker for many parents.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque from a 3.6-liter V6 and a smooth nine-speed automatic earn best-in-class towing capacities (3,600 pounds).
+ The EPA’s city/highway estimates of 18/28 prove to be right on the money, scoring drivers a 22 MPG average.
+ Acceleration feels silky and reassuring when passing on the interstate, and engine noise is minimal.
– There isn’t an all-wheel drive option or controls for selecting and holding gears.
Clever, cavernous, connected, and kid friendly, the cabin of the Pacifica provides a sensational experience for drivers and passengers alike. Although folding the second row can’t be done single-handedly, the sheer amount of seating adjustability and useful parental unit tools in this minivan make for a strong sell. Our model came upgraded with an eighth seat as well — a $500 add-on — which folded down to provide cupholders for the second row.
Interior pros and cons
+ Easily customizable rear seating allows easy access, the fold-flat third bench opens up extra stow space, and an eighth seat can be added for a fee.
+ The heated steering wheel and seating in the front and in the middle row were nice and greatly increase the cabin enjoyment with minimal investment.
+ Pockets, cupholders, storage drawers, and hidden cargo holds spread throughout leave plenty of options for item placement.
– The child seat LATCH points aren’t all that easy to access or clip into/out of, there are no overhead handles up front (shorter people and the elderly must reach forward for support), and the folding seats aren’t as one-touch-ready as Nissan’s system.
– Despite the overall niceness of the interior, there are still some cheap looking and feeling plastic pieces in the far back, under areas of the dash, and atop unattractive speaker covers.
– There’s no dedicated button for surround view cameras, so navigating through Uconnect menus remains required.
Tech and safety
Touring L Plus models feature all kinds of cool tech upgrades, like an 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen, a theater package with seat back video screens, three-channel wireless headphones, 13 Alpine speakers, and much more. Toss in an optional $2,000 safety tech package and you’ll score things like parallel and perpendicular park assist with auto stop, adaptive cruise with stop-and-go capabilities, collision and lane departure warnings, automatic high beams, and rain sensing wipers. Its tech safety features may be a bit sensitive at times, but overall it offers an outstanding blend of connectivity and safety.
Tech pros and cons
+ The Advanced Safety Group package only costs $2,000 and adds rain-sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control, lane departure and collision warnings, automatic high-beams, 360-degree cameras, and a whole lot more, all of which works well.
+ The Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen is informative, as is the stylish digital driver display, and once loaded with navigation makes for a useful driving aid.
+ The theater package is easy to use, permits swapping DVDs while moving, provides dual touchscreens for the second row, and comes with wireless headphones, pre-installed games, and more.
– An alarm inside the cabin beeps incessantly if you leave the van running and exit with the key in your pocket. This does little to catch your attention once you’ve left the vehicle, and is guaranteed to wake up sleeping spouses and children. Ask us how we know.
– Auto high-beams blind semi drivers as you pass and having both adaptive cruise control switches and normal cruise options next to one another seems pointless.
Driving a minivan with the curb weight and proportions of a portly hippopotamus forces you to reconsider the importance of brake calibrations and driver assistive technologies. While the Toyota Sienna SE, with its revised V6, tightly-wound TRD sport springs, re-calibrated steering, and lower ride height still provides the best minivan driver enjoyment, the way in which the Pacifica’s Touring suspension performs is both smooth and surefooted.
Potholes can still be felt but don’t jar, corners come and go but feel surprisingly flat, and while braking could likely be firmed up by the addition of some Mopar pads, coming to a complete stop in this van reaffirms how truly balanced it is. On the freeway, noise pollution gets filtered through active noise controls, and even though the accelerator pedal feels purposefully moderated for smoothness, the ZF-sourced nine-speed gearbox keeps efficiency and linearity a priority.
While the softer electronic steering could use a more forceful approach, we know that the majority of parental units shopping this segment will prefer the softer calibrations, which makes the 2017 Pacifica a very smart option. It’s a well-balanced blend of parking lot competency and silky smooth interstate cruising. Spending $895 on the optional Tire and Wheel Group should be mandatory.
This affordable upgrade doesn’t just offer unique 18-inch wheels and specialized all-season rubber, but a super smooth, re-tuned suspension setup as well. Up front, the independent MacPherson coilover struts have been re-valved and the stabilizer bar features a hydroformed steel perimeter cradle for rigidity and less roll. In the rear, an independent twist-blade concoction with coil springs and twin-tube shock absorbers support integrated rebound springs in order to balance out back-end bounce.
Wrap up and review
For just under $44,000, the Pacifica Touring L Plus offers plenty family practicality in a package that is both aesthetically appealing and far more enjoyable to drive than one might expect. While we aren’t keen on the fact that things like navigation, 360-degree cameras, and certain safety features are not offered as standard on such a trim line, this minivan does land right where it should in regard to competitive pricing when compared to the rest of the segment.
While performance-focused parents will likely prefer the Toyota Sienna SE, and anyone living on a hill up north may opt for the segment-exclusive AWD, the Pacifica still has the upper hand in many ways. Segment-leading towing capacities, outstanding cabin materials, attractive cabin and menus, standard features like a heated second-row and steering wheel, and a loaded theater package, all make for strong selling points.
So as Honda prepares to unleash its latest Odyssey, and SUVs offer more cabin space and efficiency than ever before, the Pacifica has to work extra hard in order to attract buyers. Only time will tell if it has the appeal to play the long game against the exploding crossover segment, but until that time comes, we feel that the Pacifica is more than plenty for the majority of picky parents.