Is luxury the missing link?
THE GOOD
  • All-wheel drive
  • Uconnect infotainment system
  • Styling
THE BAD
  • Expensive Pinnacle grade
  • No stowable second-row seats
  • Fuel efficiency relative to hybrid competition

Minivans could be the perfect fit for so many families except that we live in Canada, where access to all-wheel drive is one of the factors driving the intense popularity of SUVs.

Until now, there was only one minivan available with that coveted feature, the Toyota Sienna. But as part of its mid-cycle refresh, the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica now offers it as well, which introduces some very welcome competition into this space. But wait, there’s more: this Pinnacle grade takes premium finishes to a new level for a minivan, complete with quilted leather and fancy throw pillows. A halo van is not necessarily something anyone asked for, but it might garner the Pacific some added attention.

Styling: 8/10

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the saying goes. To this writer’s eye, the Pacifica is the best-looking minivan on the market right now, and that statement even holds when zooming the lens out to consider a broader range of three-row family vehicles. This is true despite the updated front-end design being less elegant than the outgoing version, with taller, boxier headlights and a more aggressive grille shape. The interior design of this Pinnacle version is attention-grabbing with quilted Nappa leather and premium materials. I happen not to be a fan of the caramel colour that’s used as the exclusive interior choice, but that’s entirely subjective.

Safety: 8/10

By the time you reach the price point of this top trim, there’s a solid amount of safety equipment included. Forward collision warning and automatic braking and pedestrian detection, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert are included at lower trims, while the Pinnacle grade integrates a surround-view monitor, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, automatic high-beam headlights, lane-keep assist and lane-departure warning, and a self-parking system.

Features: 8/10

With a nod to the fact that we’re looking at a vehicle priced at almost $70,000 here, the feature content does largely align with that pricing for those who have the budget to attain it. The Pinnacle grade includes 20-inch wheels, an 18-speaker sound system, a rear-seat entertainment system that comes with built-in games on top of DVD, HDMI, and casting options, and the onboard vacuum that’s handy for families with younger kids. What’s not available in the Pinnacle grade that prospective buyers will need to weigh carefully are stowable second-row seats that tuck into the floor; the upgraded upholstery and seat bolstering on the captain’s chairs make them too bulky to fold into the floor.

User Friendliness: 8/10

There’s excellent usability in the Uconnect infotainment system, which remains one of the best on the market, with clear and consistent operational steps and great integration of steering wheel controls. On the other hand, there’s the Pinnacle grade’s less-flexible second-row seats and the lack of kick-opening side doors, the latter of which are offered on the Pacifica’s only all-wheel-drive competitor, the Toyota Sienna.

Practicality: 8/10

It’s no secret that a minivan is about as practical as it gets. Again, that’s where this Pinnacle trim comes up short because of those seats that fold but don’t stow. [In fairness, none of the Pacifica’s fellow minivans offer stowable second-row seats either, the feature being a Chrysler exclusive. – Ed.]

The second-row seats can come out entirely, of course, but it’s not quite as easy a process. Opting for the Limited grade one step down brings those seats back into the picture. With 915 L of cargo space behind the third row, 2,478 L behind the second row, and 3,979 L behind the first row, it’s probably splitting hairs to point out that there are other vans that offer slightly more cargo space. Unless you’re regularly hauling a full vanload of gear, the Pacifica should ably fit the bill for family life.

Comfort: 8/10

As with all minivans, the Pacifica is spacious in all three rows with plenty of leg- and headroom to spare. The premium seats found in this model are well-shaped and supportive. The leather is a little stiff, but that would likely ease over time. Where there’s room for improvement with these upscale second-row seats is to incorporate long tracks like those found in the Toyota Sienna and Kia Carnival, both of which offer far greater flexibility in seat positioning and second-row legroom as a result.

Power: 7/10

The Pacifica’s 3.6L V6 engine produces 287 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque that hits peak availability at 4,000 rpm. Is it exciting? Not especially, but that’s not what minivans are made for. The powerplant does a satisfactory job, including during highway passing. The nine-speed automatic transmission isn’t especially smooth or quick to react, but again, this isn’t built for autocross. It’s only the Sienna and its standard hybrid powertrain that has extra low-end kick from the electric motor that feels a fair bit more energetic than what the gas-powered Pacifica can provide.

Driving Feel: 8/10

The addition of all-wheel drive here did make a noticeable difference in getting the Pacifica’s 2,215 kg (4,883 lb) moving in the stormy winter weather encountered during this test. Of course, all-wheel drive does nothing to help with stopping, so winter tires remain very important regardless of which vehicle you choose. But access to all-wheel drive is one of the factors driving Canadians so deeply into the SUV market right now, and with vans like the Pacifica being a better solution for many families who aren’t currently considering them, adding new options into the space is a welcome change.

Fuel Economy: 6/10

Unfortunately, the downside to the all-wheel-drive Pacifica is that its fuel consumption figures aren’t stellar. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) rates it at 12.0 L/100 km in city driving, 14.1 on the highway, and 9.4 combined, and I observed an average of 13.3 L/100 km over a week of winter driving that was spent largely in the city. This would be easier to shrug off in a world without the Sienna, with its standard hybrid powertrain averages nearly half the fuel consumption seen in the Pacifica – and that goes for the optional all-wheel-drive version, too. The Pacifica is available as a plug-in hybrid, of course, but that version can’t be equipped with all-wheel traction.

Value: 6/10

On the Pinnacle grade level, I’m not sure the value is there. For nearly $70,000, the interior quality is excellent and there’s a good mix of features, but losing the stowable second-row seats is too much of an ask in a vehicle where that kind of flexibility is the primary selling point. Plus, the throw pillows are a cool idea, but in my house I predict it would take less than a month for them to either go missing or become too crusty to live with. On the upside, stepping back a grade to the Touring L Plus keeps those seats and access to the optional all-wheel drive and most of the features on the Pinnacle grade, albeit at an extra cost. There’s some flexibility to customize the van you’re looking for at the base price of $59,795 plus fees, which makes a little more sense.

The Verdict

Credit where it’s due: Chrysler invented the minivan, and the brand’s iteration of it is usually without compare. But in today’s market the minivan originator has been outduelled by a couple key competitors on some compelling features, and especially by the only other all-wheel-drive minivan sold in Canada, the Toyota Sienna. Chrysler was late to the game in introducing all-wheel drive to this space, and while catching up it’s fallen behind in other areas, most notably in powertrain and fuel efficiency. There’s still much to appreciate in these minivans, so let’s hope it doesn’t take long to regain that stride.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.6L   Model Tested 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle AWD
Engine Cylinders V6   Base Price $65,795
Peak Horsepower 287 hp @ 6,400 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 262 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm   Destination Fee $1,895
Fuel Economy 12.0 / 14.1 / 9.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $68,785
Cargo Space 915 / 2,478 / 3,979 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row  
Optional Equipment
$995 – Colour charge, $100; Trailer tow group, $895