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Chrysler's minivan is reborn with a hybrid powertrain, spiffy styling, new name

Chrysler launched the first minivans over 30 years ago, and has since watched them first conquer the station wagon and then be conquered by the crossover SUV. They may be quite good at hauling lots of people or stuff, but minivans have never been cool. At the 2016 Detroit Auto Show, Chrysler is trying to change that.

The Detroit carmaker is replacing the old Town & Country with a minivan that’s all-new, from its platform to its name. The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica takes the name of a discontinued Chrysler crossover, and ditches the Town & Country moniker that actually predates the model it’s most associated with by decades.

The new direction is also clearly telegraphed by the styling. The Pacifica borrows the front fascia and other elements from the well-received Chrysler 200 sedan. It’s still instantly recognizable as a minivan, but details like a steeply-raked windshield, funky taillight design, and heavy side sculpting make the Pacifica fairly stylish, without descending into the cartoonishness of the Japanese competition.

There’s even bigger news under that sheet metal. Chrysler will offer a Pacifica plug-in hybrid, which will be the first production hybrid minivan, and is Chrysler’s first serious attempt at a mass-market plug-in car. Right now, it only sells the all-electric Fiat 500e in California and Oregon, and only because of California’s zero-emission vehicle mandate.

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The Pacifica Hybrid has two electric motors and a 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, which Chrysler says provides enough capacity for 30 miles of electric driving range. Chrysler expects its minivan to achieve 80 MPGe city in EPA testing, but was unwilling to share any other details of the plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Non-hybrid versions of the Pacifica will get a version of Chrysler’s ubiquitous 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, with 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. In the Pacifica, this engine gets cooled exhaust-gas re-circulation and an engine start-stop system for improved fuel economy.

Living up to its name, the Pacifica will be able to pacify the herds of children it carries with plenty of entertainment tech. Options include Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system with an 8.4-inch central display, and a new Uconnect Theater rear-seat entertainment system, with two 10-inch screens. A 13-speaker Alpine audio system and 20-speaker Harman Kardon system are also available.

Aping the Honda Odyssey, Chrysler will also offer a built-in vacuum cleaner, and the Stow n’ Go folding-seat system returns as well. There’s also a foot-activated tailgate and sliding doors, and an array of electronic aids, including a 360-degree camera system, park assist, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with automated braking, and lane-departure warning.

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica goes on sale this spring, while the Pacifica Hybrid launches later in the year. Both models will be built at Chrysler’s plant in Windsor, Ontario.