Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited

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The word “van” is a truncated form of the old-ish military term “vanguard”, which was the front line of an advancing military, often cavalry but sometimes nautical.

So it’s easy to see how the metaphorical redefinition of the original word “vanguard” came to mean “leading thinkers”. Now, it’s been awhile since minivan producers were accused of being on the vanguard, but that’s changed – at least it’s changed a bit – with Chrysler and the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. Maybe we can say they’re on the minivanguard.

Sure, minivans are an easy target for the snide (though, seating seven comfortably, this van is hardly mini) but this one ticks off a lot of boxes and has much going for it.

Interesting to note: the amount of customer choice isn’t overwhelming – and there’s a lot of thinking out there suggesting that it’s a good thing. Too much choice tends to freeze us. Consider: You’d pass out from trying to recite the titles of all the SUVs out there in one breath, but minivans? Inhale. And go: Mazda5, Dodge Grand Caravan, Kia Sedona, Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey and, umm, Chrysler Pacifica. You’ve still got a couple of Mississippis left before you need to inhale again.

The week that I tested the Pacifica Hybrid Limited, I was away for three days and sick for eight. So I didn’t drive it much. Its odometer barely changed, beyond getting it to our home, the grocery store once, cinema once, liquor store more than once, and finally back to Chrysler’s office, 40 km into darkest suburbia.

So I can’t say a lot about how it rides. Not that I have to. Few buyers purchase a minivan for its sporty handling or devilish good looks. Indeed, Chrysler recently announced they’re supplying thousands of these models for Waymo’s driverless ride-hailing service, a worldwide first on the metaphorical vanguard.

Is there any better proof that the quality of ride for the driver is moot when there is no driver?

Purchasing decisions are based on practicality, and likely to entail lists of features. The Pacifica Hybrid Limited is not cheap but comes thoroughly endowed.

Cabin space

As said, it seats seven comfortably. Three weeks ago, I spent a two-hour drive to LAX from Malibu in the very back row of a Pacifica, following a Jeep Cherokee assignment. You can remove the headrests and there is actually legroom back there. The Pacifica’s third row does not rest on the floor like so many SUVs’. So it’s a viable riding space for adults, not just a distant outpost for that brat who has yet to master his indoor voice.

Removing a headrest also creates room for a baby seat. Access is fairly easy given how readily the middle row’s pair of captain’s chairs slide back and forth, and fold.

All the seats at this trim (Limited being the top of seven tiers) are wrapped in leather. The ubiquity of white inside this tester would prevent fried child legs in summer, though the colour’s called Toffee which creates an unnecessarily sticky picture for the saner parent. The other inside colour choices are Alloy (which doesn’t sound barelegged-friendly either), Deep Mocha (see above regarding sticky pictures) and, simply, Black, which would soak up sunshine and fry wee legs.

Creature comforts

I protest too much! The heated and cooled front seats, powered eight directions and with four-way lumbar support have more in common with your favourite La-Z Boy than any racing seat.

Speaking of easy chairs, regarding connectivity and entertainment, the Pacifica Limited’s a rolling home theatre/home office. Note the “Super Console” with 8.4-inch display powered by Uconnect, complete with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

The Pacifica also provides mobile hotspot functionality and each row has USB ports. So no passenger ever need miss the US president’s latest tweets in real-time.

Air conditioning with tri-zone temperature control means you’re not freezing up front while your children baste in the back. Meanwhile, second- and third-row window shades provide a low-tech, energy-saving supplement to the feature.

You can control an inordinate amount without moving your hands from the heated steering wheel. There’s a secondary, 7-inch customizable in-cluster display. Why customize? Many hybrid drivers like to keep their electricity stats close at hand. Rating your ride becomes a game. We’ll talk more about the hybrid tech soon.

This trim comes with a year’s Sirius XM Guardian Subscription. (Just remember what your neighbourhood pusher says: the first taste is free. You get used to this fast.) Thirteen speakers by Alpine bathe you in rich sound that you can play at a moderate volume courtesy of an active noise-control system.

The key fob has remote start, something Canadians will appreciate this harshest of winters. (My three-quarter-charged phone suddenly ran out of power three-quarters of the way through the Pacifica’s photo shoot in minus 20-degree gusts that raced through the twin sliding doors, sand-blasting the insides.) Unlike some more expensive vehicles, the Pacifica’s wipers will bend away from the windshield, a useful feature if you don’t happen to enjoy indoor parking. But if you do, the universal garage door opener will appeal.

The keyless Enter-N-Go feature unlocks all doors, including the aforementioned sliding panels. They’re hands-free, a vanguard-y segment first in convenience. You can kick open the liftgate, another of those features that quickly becomes a necessity once enjoyed.

Useful safety features include a back-up camera, Park-Sense Rearview Park system, blind-spot monitoring and cross-path detection. Useful storage compartments abound, totalling 915 L of cargo space.

Did we mention it’s a hybrid?

Minivans, saving the world one cupholder at a time! If that’s not a picture you expected upon waking this morning, you’re not alone. The first time she drove it, my wife reported the Pacifica was “broken” because when she flicked the start button, it remained silent. Hybrids take a few rides to get used to – never mind the idea of a hybrid minivan.

But you do get used to it soon enough when you investigate. If you live in Ontario, you can get $14,000 rebate with purchase or three-year lease; one- and two-year leases qualify for $4,667 and $9,333 respectively. Check your province’s website to see whether you can save too.

The Pacifica Hybrid earned a perfect 10/10 carbon dioxide rating and 7/10 smog rating from EnerGuide, Canada’s government-endorsed rating system. It’s capable of 2.8 Le/100 km, running on electricity and gas combined, or 7.3 L/100 km strictly on gasoline. This plug-in land yacht comes with a 6.6 kW battery charger which recharges it in two hours. Times have changed out here on the minivanguard. Meanwhile, the brakes are regenerative, letting you squeeze out every ion possible from the drive.

Lest you think the Pacifica’s anemic, consider the guts of the 3.6L V6 engine that can achieve 260 hp. There are no torque numbers available from Chrysler at the time of publishing, but if you want thrust, it delivers. And, as much as I droned on about the quality for the drive not mattering, it handles really well for such an immense vehicle. A low centre of gravity with a 13 cm ground clearance help keep it from becoming too much of a sail on blustery highway rides.

In case you’re nervous about the newness of all the integrated tech, it comes with a fully transferable five-year (or 100,000 km) warranty with zero deductible.

Utility comes standard

Have kids? Individual 10-inch touchscreens on the front seat backs come with three-channel headphones and allow the Blu-rays, DVDs, and games to pacify the Pacifica’s noisier riders. An available built-in vacuum cleaner helps keep things clean. It also looks enough like a microphone for your kids to yank out and sing along with whatever DVD they may have on. See above regarding noise cancelling tech.

With the combination of technology, comfort, and overall practicality it’s little wonder the gasoline Chrysler Pacifica was named the AJAC 2018 Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year. For drivers who regularly ferry a full complement of people and cargo about town, the Pacifica Hybrid is a no-brainer.

Engine Displacement 3.6L
Engine Cylinders V6
Peak Horsepower 260 hp
Peak Torque N/A
Fuel Economy 7.3/7.2/7.3 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb; 2.8 Le/100 km (24.9 kWh/100 km)
Cargo Space 915 / 3,987 L seats down
Model Tested 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited
Base Price $56,595
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $60,980
Optional Equipment
$2,490 – Tri-panel panoramic sunroof $1,695; KeySense Programmable key fob $795