Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited

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There’s really no vehicle better suited to hauling your brood than a minivan. If space is what you crave, you won’t find an SUV, crossover or wagon that will deliver the same level of passenger room and cavernous cargo capacity, period. Often maligned, and never cool, the minivan nevertheless spent decades at the forefront of dealing with the day-to-day transportation realities facing larger families.

Whereas the T&C was ginger in its approach to luring luxury customers, Chrysler has gone all-out [with the Pacifica]

Today, they happen to be somewhat of an endangered species. Minivans, that is, not families. Witness the cull that has seen Ford, Nissan, Mazda, and every brand under the GM banner pull their minivan offerings in favour of strong-selling SUV alternatives. Even FCA – once the last bastion of minivan might – has axed the Chrysler Town & Country and put the Dodge Grand Caravan on notice that it’s next.

Into this fray steps Chrysler’s “do-over” do-over, the Pacifica. You might recall that name from a van-like people mover that was ignored by the general public in the mid-2000s, a victim of its premium pricing as much as shifting tastes towards the four-wheel-drive set. The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, however, is unashamed of its heritage, and steps proudly into the chasm left behind by the Town & Country’s departure.

Did I say “steps”? Because the Pacifica practically gavottes. Whereas the T&C was ginger in its approach to luring luxury customers, Chrysler has gone all-out in a bid to convince moneyed breeders that their dollars will be most comfortably parked behind the wheel of the most advanced and best-appointed van it has ever built. It’s an intriguing strategy for a company that has whittled its line-up down to a pair of models (not counting the Pacifica’s Hybrid sibling), with FCA betting the Chrysler house that people can be made to care about minivans again.

Pretty much everything about the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is new, severing almost all ties with the Town & Country / Grand Caravan twins mechanically and stylistically. From the outside, it doesn’t try to hide its long-and-tall silhouette but does manage to achieve more grace than the breadbox that was once typical of minivan profiles. It’s largely a success, as this is a handsome vehicle that looks less anonymous than many of its blob-tastic crossover competitors.

Inside, the transformation depends largely on what trim level you pick up – and there are many to choose from. Start with the LX at $37,995 and you get a fair bit of gear – including Chrysler’s Stow ’n Go folding second-row seats, three zones of climate control, Bluetooth, LED exterior lighting, and a rear-view camera – but moving up through Touring, Touring-L, and Touring-L Plus will pile on the gear until you’ve spent close to $10,000 extra dollars. Reach for the stars and you’ll end up hold the keys to the Pacifica Limited, which for $52,995 includes a full leather cabin, the latest Uconnect navigation and infotainment system, remote controls for the hands-free tailgate and sliding side doors, a pair of enormous sunroofs, HID headlights, and a raft of comfort gear (including heated second-row seats). It also opens up access to a full range of active safety features that help protect you and your loved ones from the unexpected out on the road.

Paying more than $50,000 for a minivan might offend the sensibilities of some, but the Pacifica is in good company with trims of the 2017 Toyota Sienna and 2018 Honda Odyssey occupying the same lofty pricing perch. It was the seven-passenger Limited that spent a week in my care, and so I had the opportunity to sample the very best the Pacifica has to offer families with deeper pockets.

My strongest impression after spending time with the Chrysler Pacifica – aside from how handsome its pleasing shape and deep red paint looked in a sea of bland family haulers – was how pleasant it was to drive. The carryover-but-tweaked 3.6-litre V6 that represents the only available engine for the van generates 287 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, managed by a nine-speed automatic transmission that was largely transparent while delivering effortless acceleration. I was surprised by how many times I chirped the front tires on the van (there’s no AWD option), but I didn’t have the chance to haul more than a few car parts in the back, so I’m not able to comment on what it’s like to drive the Chrysler with a full load of passengers in tow. With a combined fuel economy rating of 10.9 L/100 km, the van finds itself comfortably mid-pack in its peer group.

The smooth handling and quiet ride of the Chrysler Pacifica was complemented by an interior that felt almost worthy of its high price tag. Most of the minivan’s surfaces were slathered in either soft brown leather, or similarly easy-to-touch plastics, but there were a few puzzling exceptions to this rule, including the less-than-premium feel of the center console and parts of the van’s center stack. If I’m honest, as nice as the Pacifica is, it still trails behind the excellent cabin offered by the 2017 Kia Sedona SXL+ which offers amazingly comfortable ottomans for less money.

I also had a fair bit of bother in using the Stow ’n Go seat feature to fold the second row flat, which required me to slide the front seats all the way forward in order to remove the in-floor storage bins and sink the buckets down. Even then, the folding cover for the seats wasn’t as friendly to use as past Stow ’n Go implementations. Still, the end result is a whopping 3,964 litres (140 cubic feet) of total storage space, which obliterates any sport-utility on the market in terms of internal carrying capacity.

If you really and truly need to haul as many as eight passengers – or move a dorm room – then it’s hard to argue against a minivan. The Chrysler Pacifica’s calm and collected on-road presence and nicely appointed cabin are strong marks in its favour too, as it feels very close to being worthy of the Limited trim’s price tag. How well all that leather will stand up to markers, toy dinosaurs, and endless spill cycles from various beverages and snacks is another story, of course, and one has to wonder why automakers bother making the second and third rows as posh as the front two seats if they’re truly targeting growing families.

If we all bought with our left-brains, we’d probably park two of these in our collective driveways – one for the kids, and one for taking all our friends out for a night on the town – and leave the bigger, thirstier, and less useful SUVs languishing on dealer lots. It’s hard to see how the Pacifica can shift years of built-in buyer momentum towards sport-utilities and crossovers, but wouldn’t it be nice if it could?

Engine Displacement 3.6L
Engine Cylinders V6
Peak Horsepower 287 hp
Peak Torque 262 lb-ft
Fuel Economy 12.9/8.4/10.9 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 915 L / 3,964 L seats down
Model Tested 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited
Base Price $52,995
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $56,585
Optional Equipment
$1,995 – Advanced SafetyTec Group (Surround-view camera, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, parking assist, rain-sensing wipers) $1,995