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2017 Chrysler Pacifica: A ‘Paradigm Shift’ For Minivans, As Dodge Preps Crossover

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The debut of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica marks a lot more than a name change and a new, sixth-generation version of Chrysler’s minivans.

For one, it’s the first minivan on the U.S. market to get a plug-in hybrid version, the Pacifica Hybrid, which will offer 30 miles of pure electric driving on a charge. Secondly, it signals a new direction for these vans—not just in their far more flamboyant styling, but in a package that for the first time won’t be essentially mimicked with a Dodge version.

The Grand Caravan and its sliding side doors on the way out, to be replaced this next year by a model that’s expected to offer comparable three-row seating and space but characteristically brawnier Dodge styling and hinged rear doors.

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Last week at the Detroit Auto Show we caught up with Tim Kuniskis, the North American head of passenger-car brands for Dodge, SRT, Chrysler, and Fiat, for some more details. And while he wouldn’t reveal any more information about the Grand Caravan’s replacement, found out a lot more about the how and why the Pacifica took the form it did.

Chrysler minivans winnowed down to one—Pacifica

“It’s going to be ultimately the only minivan in the portfolio, going head-to-head against a long list of mainstream competitors,” said Kuniskis. “So making sure we had all the right package and content, and being able to price this vehicle... you’ll see that we’ll be lined up well against our competitors in the segment.”

2008 Dodge Grand Caravan

2008 Dodge Grand Caravan

Enlarge Photo

The Pacifica is built on what’s called the RU platform. The RU vehicles don’t share any likeness, components, or geometric “hard points” with the RT predecessors, which arrived in 2008; and it’s not related to the “short wide” platform that underpins the Jeep Cherokee, among others.

It was entirely developed by Chrysler’s U.S. engineering team, with scalability and the easy addition of all-wheel drive in mind, and it can apply to cars, vans, or SUVs, down to compact (D) size.

Kiniskis says that the team wanted to overcome the “mental image of a minivan,” and decided on the name change from Town & Country to Pacifica “because as we moved through the development of the vehicle we realized that this is a complete, revolutionary change.”

Not the first time Pacifica has signaled a sea change

Reviving the nameplate might not be a positive to everyone, as the previous Pacifica did suffer from some quality issues—such as transmission woes—but it was noteworthy in design, as one of the first SUVs to undergo a rather revolutionary change, pitting it against the Lexus RX in some respects. Even today, Kuniskis says, they found that the name has “good consideration and awareness.”


 
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