A minivan made by people who get minivans
THE GOOD
  • Stow-n-Go seats still brilliantly flexible
  • Mid-trim means more value-laden price
  • Maximum comfort
  • Built in Canada
THE BAD
  • Some key safety equipment optional, like active braking
  • All-wheel-drive option not coming until revised 2021 model
  • Real-world fuel consumption had me pining for hybrid model
2020 Chrysler Pacifica Review

Having driven my fair share of Chrysler Pacifica minivans the last few years, this particular 2020 mid-level Touring tester came with two items I hadn’t yet seen in the family-friendly people-mover: seating for eight, and an as-tested price under $50,000.

With an updated and more SUV-like Pacifica set to arrive for the 2021 model year, which will include an all-wheel-drive option for the first time, there seems to be a more motivated sales push for the Pacifica on now, which is good news for those buyers drawn to its unparalleled flexibility and long-distance comfort. Yes, there are some features missing from this mid-grade model, but the Pacifica provides a compelling combination of space, value, and overall intelligent design.

Styling: 8/10

Some maintain that there’s not much that can be done with a minivan from a styling standpoint, but I still stand on my belief that this minivan is the most handsome of any on the market (the sporty-looking Toyota Sienna SE is arguably close behind). And if you happen to feel the title of “best-looking minivan” is like picking the least worst, try to name any vehicle that comes standard with three rows of seats that’s better-looking.

The Volvo XC90? Certainly. Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class? Likely. Chevrolet’s minivan-fighting Traverse? Perhaps, but that’s debatable. Overall, the better-looking list of three-row vehicles of any type is short, and most that make it are significantly pricier than the base Pacifica’s $40,000-ish starting MSRP.

The interior styling is clean and attractive, with eye-catching blue backlighting that’s a long-time Chrysler feature. Even so, the traditional two dials in front of the driver, the relatively small screen on this model, and the multiple buttons all around are starting to appear a tad dated.

Safety: 8/10

With a clean five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), there’s no doubt plenty of crashworthiness was built into the Pacifica’s impressively smooth and refined body architecture.

That Top Safety Pick award was bestowed upon the higher-end Pacifica Limited, which features some important but optional safety features including adaptive cruise control and automatic braking functions, as well as forward collision warnings.

This tester included a so-called SafetyTec package consisting of rear audible warning sensors, (with mandatory rear-view camera standard, of course), plus blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic warning as well. But there was no auto braking or adaptive cruise, nor any frontal collision warning systems. There also weren’t front parking sensors or a 360-degree camera, which would make it much easier to park in tight parking lots, and really do help overall visibility when backing up.

Practicality: 9.5/10

This van is one of very few vehicles that can offer eight seats that all disappear. The rear three-person bench boasts the usual minivan flip-and-fold-away capability, while the second-row outboard seats can also be folded into the floor. The skinny central seat has a backrest portion that must be unlatched and removed manually; not as elegant, but not a high price to pay for an extra seat when it’s needed.

With all seats folded away and removed, there’s a gaping maw of cargo space. Its 3,979 L dwarfs other minivans and SUVs alike, including new – and similarly priced – three-row SUV rivals like the Hyundai Palisade (max 2,447 L).

The second row’s outboard seats also provide an easy pathway to the rear, with the ability to be tipped forward with a handy lever located nice and high on the seat. Second-row passengers also receive their own climate controls, but their location on the passenger-side ceiling means the right side is likely to become the favoured rear-seat spot.

User Friendliness: 9/10

From the multitude of cupholders (up to 17) to the ample interior space and the available integrated vacuum, the Pacifica is all about user-friendliness. Attention to interior detail is clear here, with good design that’s geared towards practicality rather than panache: the centre console has been flattened and made stubby, its shift knob just below the middle vent to allow for quick and easy stowing of grocery bags, soccer balls, or backpacks. This came in handy for weekend morning coffee runs.

Features: 9/10

This Touring model, priced at $50,000 before freight and fees, has many conveniences, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power seats, a remote start system, tri-zone temperature controls, nicely integrated second-row sunshades, a power tailgate, and keyless entry that only needs a button pushed to unlock the doors (which some folks may prefer to ones that automatically unlock when the key fob is close by).

But for the money, this version is also missing lots of niceties that come in many lower-priced vehicles – or pricier Pacifica models. That includes easy-wipe leather seats, foot-operated side door and tailgate openings, twin rear entertainment screens, and the aforementioned on-board vacuum cleaner.

The 2021 Pacifica will offer all-wheel drive on most models, with an upcoming special-edition version of the 2020 that also powers all four wheels – our tester was front-drive only. Either way, all-wheel-drive Pacificas maintain their stowable second-row seats, which can’t be said for the Sienna, the only other minivan to offer AWD.

Power: 8/10

With a standard 3.6L V6 and a nine-speed automatic transmission on all non-hybrid Pacifica models, there’s a healthy if not overwhelming amount of smooth output on tap here. With 287 hp and 262 lb-ft available, it falls right in line with most of its minivan rivals, though more and more of its three-row SUV rivals are starting to cross the 300 lb-ft threshold for more immediate throttle response. Its tow rating of 1,633 kg (3,600 lb) is similarly right near the top for minivans.

Comfort 9/10

A mid-level Pacifica is a very comfortable place to be, even without the top-trim pampering of ventilated leather seats. I was very happy to have the heated steering wheel and front seats, priced as a package at $695, though the fabric upholstery is undoubtedly warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than leather.

Rear-seat riders also have ample space to stretch out, while the central seating position in the second row folds down for cupholders when required. Those opting for satellite radio will also get a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot – perhaps the ultimate accessory these days for childhood happiness on the go.

Driving Feel: 7.5/10

The Pacifica’s suspension settings are unsurprisingly ride-focused, and even with winter tires, the family-hauler dealt with potholes with a minimum of harshness or rattling – a marked contrast to the Dodge Grand Caravan that remains available in Canada for minivan bargain hunters, but which relies on a platform that dates fairly close to the Jurassic era.

Highway ramps are taken confidently but not enthusiastically, probably up there with all but the most sporting SUVs, and right near if not leading the front of the minivan pack. But it’s really the powertrain’s refinement that impresses the most here, rather than the vehicle’s driving dynamics.

Fuel Economy 6.5/10

While the Pacifica’s official 10.6 L/100 km Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) average fuel efficiency is right at the front of its diminishing field of modern minivan rivals, and way ahead of the Grand Caravan’s 11.8 combined city/highway rating, real-world winter conditions suggest these are based on a best-case scenario. I observed averages within the 16–17 L/100 km range, without using the remote start or much idling overall.

More than anything, these figures had me pining for the Pacifica Hybrid model, with its official 8.0 L/100 km combined figure, and its 51 km of all-electric range. Yes, it starts at roughly $8,000 higher than the similar trim gas-only Pacifica, but there’s also a $5,000 national rebate available to all Canadians, as well as provincial incentives in British Columbia and Quebec.

Value 8.5/10

As mentioned, this particular Pacifica was missing some features one would expect at $50,000, and some of its optional features one would reasonably expect to be standard at the Pacifica’s base price of roughly $40,000. But bear in mind, there are often discounts offered on minivans that mean the MSRPs listed are often higher than reality. Though these rebates change regularly, they can help make for a compelling value proposition.

The Verdict

There’s a good argument that even four years after its debut, the Chrysler Pacifica is still the most refined and best-engineered product from parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). The company is clearly working hard to keep its lion’s share of the Canadian minivan market at both ends – even if it is a shrinking segment.

With that revised and freshened model on the way, wise buyers would do well to sniff out some good deals on higher-end Pacifica models that provide class-leading comfort, features, and cargo flexibility.

A minivan made by people who get minivans 4/2/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.6L
Engine Cylinders V6
Peak Horsepower 287 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Peak Torque 262 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy 12.4/8.4/10.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 915 / 2,478 / 3,979 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row