Chrysler was faced with a real head-scratcher when it came time to remake the most ridiculed passenger vehicle on the American roadscape: the minivan. How do you disguise the box that a minivan has to be and make it into something desirable?
It was this Detroit Three carmaker’s family-centric engineers and designers who created the minivan in 1990. Baby boomers swooned, and other carmakers rushed to develop their own. But now the gold rush is over, and there are just six minivan offerings still on the market — two of which are from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
It is a slim market segment mainly composed of families and those who bought a minivan for family use and still like them. Minivans are like vegetables, we should eat more of them, but ick, particularly when there is a fresh seven-passenger crossover in the neighbor’s drive.
The 2016 Chrysler Pacifica is sold in five trim levels with starting prices that range from $29,590 to $43,490, including the $995 freight charge from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. The Pacifica Limited tester was $47,280 with options for Uconnect Theater and the 20-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system.
Its competitors are the Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest and Toyota Sienna.
Chrysler expects to grow market share with its rethought Pacifica minivan, renamed from Town & Country. And, while providing creature comforts is not new for the Chrysler minivan, its sleek new styling is. I have driven $80,000 luxury sedans that are not as comfortable, convenient or accommodating as the Pacifica.
The only refinement it needs to qualify as executive transport is a quieter ride at interstate speeds. Around town the ride is smooth and snug, but tire noise and hard suspension mounts tend to transfer much ambient sound to the cabin when driving at speeds above 60 mph, even with the audio system’s active noise cancellation. But just turn up the Harman Kardon audio system and drown out raucous passengers.
This car has new architecture, with front-wheel drive, that is a little wider and lower to the ground and has a longer wheelbase.
There was a long list of things that needed to be changed in order to bring pride of ownership back to owners, including:
–Fix the interior.
–Use more contrasting materials and colors.
–Use higher-quality elements, and assemble them with precision.
–Make the Stow ‘N Go second-row seats wider with a thicker cushion, and give them a simpler folding mechanism.
It now takes just one pull to release and drop the seats into the floor. The backseat DVD system has dual 10-inch touch screens with eight games included. The second-row seats can be tilted for third-row access, even with a child car seat in place. Back-seat areas have soft, rounded surfaces to be kind and gentle to children, particularly while they’re sleeping.
The designers added some intriguing twisted surfaces and engaging arcs and lines to the interior. There is a three-pane panoramic sunroof. The rear sliding doors open with a push of the “chiclet” button on the handles (so kids can open the door from the outside). To help keep those three rows from becoming a pig(let)sty, there is a heavy-duty vacuum with 14 feet of hose that reaches from the tailgate to the front cup holders.
And, you can still fit a sheet of plywood in the cargo area. Actually, up to 56 4-by-8-foot sheets can be hauled. The engineers even added stubby chocks on the floor so the sheets don’t lie completely flat, making it easier to get a grip when unloading.
Safety technologies include a surround-view camera, parking assists for parallel and perpendicular spaces, adaptive cruise control with a stop-and-hold feature for commuting traffic and lane-departure warning that nudges the steering wheel and can assist in a corrective maneuver.
While no carmaker has offered a hybrid minivan, the Pacifica will be offered as a plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid this fall. It will have 30 miles of battery driving and is expected to have an EPA rating of 80 mpg equivalent. It will have a 260-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 engine and continuously variable transmission.
But the gasoline model is quite efficient, too. Its reworked 3.6-liter V-6 has 287 horsepower. With the new nine-speed automatic transmission, EPA mileage ratings are 18 mpg city, 28 highway and 22 mpg combine on 87 octane. I averaged 21 to almost 23 mpg.
A good minivan is a faithful servant — always ready, always discreet and always helpful. The Pacifica does all that with grace and style.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage