2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid first drive

Chrysler's new Pacifica gave us a reason to talk about minivans

When Chrysler re-invented the minivan back in 1984, they hit on a formula that answered the needs of families – an affordable vehicle that could haul a lot of people and even more stuff. Sure, minivans are never very exciting, but they get the job done for millions of families. That’s why American families bought more than 500,000 minivans last year, and about 40 percent of those sales were Chrysler products.

This year, Chrysler brought out the all-new Pacifica minivan in late spring, and the new ride received rave reviews. The new design incorporated a long list of important features and hit all the right notes with minivan shoppers. Chrysler has already moved more than 43,000 of the conventional Pacifica vans as of Halloween, helping to push FCA’s minivan market share above 50 percent this year.

Changing the minivan paradigm

Now in time for year-end, Chrysler is about to release the Pacifica Hybrid, and this van is a game-changer for the segment. That’s a bold assertion, and I’ll back it up. With the ability to travel up to 30 miles on all-electric power and then putting a 500-mile gas-powered range on top of that, the Pacifica Hybrid takes range anxiety off the table while still allowing the vast majority of families to bypass the gas station under all normal circumstances.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends

The average person drives fewer than 30 miles in a day. That covers commuting, errands – all the normal repetitive driving in your life. If you don’t know how far you’re going every day, it’s easy to get a pretty accurate idea. Just log your mileage every day for two weeks, or a month if you think that will make a difference. Chances are you’ll find your pattern very quickly.

But the thing that keeps people out of EVs isn’t the day-to-day commute, it’s the corner cases. It’s the “what if I need to load up a ton of stuff and drive somewhere far away” and “what if I get caught somewhere with no chargers” that keep buyers away.  With the Pacifica, that’s not a problem, and you can still reduce your regular gas bills almost to zero.

What’s this hybrid going to cost me?

Now you know the plug-in hybrid can work for your driving habits. The next question is how much extra is it going to cost you to buy the hybrid? That’s where the deal breaks down for a lot of people, but Chrysler very wisely priced the Pacifica Hybrid to compete.

With the Pacifica, range isn’t a problem, and you can still reduce your regular gas bills almost to zero.

The van comes in just two trim levels – Premium and Platinum. Those are Chrysler’s top trims so you’re getting all the bells and whistles, but the Premium trim is priced at $41,995 and the Platinum costs $44,995, before destination fees. After you add the fees and take off the $7,500 in federal tax credit, the hybrid Pacifica vans net out at $35,590 and $38,590 respectively.

Compare that to a comparably equipped all-gas Pacifica and you find the hybrids in the middle of the price walk. That federal tax credit makes all the difference. The Pacifica Hybrid is also priced attractively relative to the market-leading Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey vans. Both those manufacturers have hybrid vans in the works, but they’re not here yet. Meanwhile, when you match up features, their gas-powered vans come in several thousand dollars higher than the Pacifica Hybrid.

How does this van work?

The 2017 Pacifica Hybrid starts with the same basic gas engine as the regular Pacifica, and the same chassis. You get a 3.6-liter Pentastar engine, but modified to use the Atkinson cycle. If you’re not an engine design geek, that just means that the valve timing is a little different, which makes the engine more fuel-efficient, but that happens at the expense of engine power. However, the Pacifica Hybrid replaces that power with the electric motors in the driveline, so you end up with about the same performance envelope that you get in the gas-powered Pacifica.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends

The Pacifica Hybrid is front-wheel-drive only, and it uses an electronically variable transmission. You won’t really notice the transmission while driving, because unlike a conventional continuously variable transmission, you don’t get that whiny engine behavior where the car revs to its max power and then uses the transmission to accelerate the vehicle. The two electric motors are used to good effect. There’s no EV mode button or anything. If the Pacifica can drive on electricity, it does. If it’s out of juice, it switches over to the gas engine automatically. Just drive the Pacifica Hybrid normally and you’ll be fine.

If you find yourself wishing for more power, ask your sales associate to direct you to the Dodge Charger Hellcat.

The only caveat to driving normally is that if you’re running in all-electric mode, applying more than half-throttle will cause the gas engine to kick on to accelerate the van. That’s less fuel efficient, but it works if you need to accelerate quickly.

Here’s the bottom line – the Pacifica Hybrid is not fast, but what do you want? It’s a minivan! And the drivetrain is perfectly adequate for the vehicle’s purpose. If you find yourself wishing for more power, ask your sales associate to direct you to the Dodge Charger Hellcat.

The EPA has not provided fuel economy numbers at press time, but we saw mid-20s in normal combination driving on the gas engine, and we got close to 40 actual miles of electric range in city driving without even trying. Chrysler says that when running in EV mode, the Pacifica Hybrid is rated at 80 MPGe.

What else do I get?

The rest of the Pacifica Hybrid is a lot like the regular Pacifica. You have three rows of seating for up to seven passengers. The second-row captain’s chairs come out easily, and the third row folds flat into the floor. On the regular Pacifica, the second-row seats fold flat, too, but that’s where they put the batteries for the hybrid.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends

If you pop the second row seats out of the van and fold down the third row, you have enough space and weight-carrying capacity to stack 64 sheets of quarter-inch 4 x 8 plywood inside the van. You get 48.8-inches of interior width and total cargo volume of about 140.5 cubic feet. It’s fair to call the interior cavernous.

The seats are comfortable – firm and supportive, and because you’re buying at the top of the trim level menu, you get heated leather front seats at a minimum. If you buy up to the Platinum level, you get heated and ventilated leather. The second-row seats are also comfortable, and the slider doors make them easy to access. The third row still requires a climb, but once you’re there, the seats are good.

It’s easy to be smooth in this vehicle, and the hybrid drivetrain will encourage you to be moderate in your braking and acceleration.

Stepping back to look at trim levels, the Premium trim gets you remote start and cabin pre-conditioning, triple-zone climate controls, power liftgate, projector headlights with fog lights, a special driver information screen between the gauges, and an 8.4-inch touchscreen center stack interface. On the safety side, Premium trim means you’re getting a backup camera, rear parking assist with automatic stop, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic detection.

If you spend the $3,000 on Platinum trim, you can add the seat ventilation, heated steering wheel, a 13-speaker Alpine sound system, navigation, hands-free power slider doors, and the Uconnect Theater second-row seat entertainment system. That means that each rear seat occupant has access to their own screen with apps, games, movies, and game interface. Platinum safety includes all the Premium features plus forward collision warning with brake assist, rain-sensitive wipers, auto high-beams, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, 360-degree camera, ParkSense parallel and perpendicular parking assistance, and both front and rear parking assistance with automatic stop.

Needless to say, we recommend springing for the Platinum trim if you’re seriously considering this van. You’re going to get a ton of good features for $3,000.

How are the ratings?

The basic Pacifica earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating, and a five-star rating from NHTSA. The final word isn’t in yet on the Hybrid, but it’s reasonable to expect the same results.

Chrysler backs the Pacifica Hybrid with a battery warranty up to 10 years and 150,000 miles, and emissions components are 15 years/150,000 miles in some states, and 10 years, 100,000 miles in others, based on state laws. The overall powertrain warranty is 5 years and 60,000 miles, and everything else is covered by a standard 3 year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

How does it drive?

Driving the Pacifica Hybrid is unremarkable, and that’s a really good thing. You get in it and you’re instantly at ease. It’s predictable, solid, and has no bad habits. You’ve got plenty of brakes under your foot with no unusual behavior due to electrical regeneration. Visibility is good and the surround-view camera in the Platinum trim works perfectly.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends

Out on the road, you’ll definitely feel like you’re driving a van, but Chrysler brought everything they know to make the Pacifica inspire confidence in the driver. It’s easy to be smooth in this vehicle, and the hybrid drivetrain will encourage you to be moderate in your braking and acceleration.

One special feature to mention is Chrysler’s active noise cancellation system, which helps make the Pacifica Hybrid whisper-quiet even when you’re running on gas. This system notes engine speed and load and generates the exact opposite noise and pipes that noise into the cabin. The two sound sources cancel each other out and you experience the result as a quiet ride. You can have a conversation, listen to your music, or let the kids sleep in the back seats. More than that, a quiet ride reduces driver fatigue, so you’ll feel better when you get to your destination.

Conclusion

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid combines a really smart drivetrain with an impressive list of features at an extremely attractive price point. On top of that, it drives well and has what you need to move your family along to their various activities. But in the end, it all comes back to the economic case. It’s not just that the purchase price of the Pacifica Hybrid is good – it’s all the money you’re going to save each month by drastically reducing your gasoline purchases. Pencil out those numbers, and the Pacifica Hybrid is a truly compelling proposition.

Highs

  • Drive up to 30 miles on all-electric power
  • Drive up to 75 MPH on electric power
  • Whisper-quiet cabin
  • Plenty of safety and entertainment tech
  • Comfortably seats 7 passengers

Lows

  • Leisurely acceleration
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