With a new platform and a new drivetrain, the Chrysler Pacifica puts some of the automaker's performance shortcomings in the rearview mirror. The new minivan is a smart performer, with more grip and acceleration than it really needs to outpace its rivals.
It's passed the Honda Odyssey in most performance dimensions, though there's a new Odyssey coming late this year.
We like its engine and ride, which is why it earns a 7 out of 10 on our new performance scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
A flick of its keyless ignition, and the Pacifica spools up a new version of its 3.6-liter V-6. The updated version of Chrysler's core engine is lighter and 5 percent more efficient even before coupled to its transmission, Chrysler says. On the road, it accelerates strongly and smoothly, with a crisp V-6 punch to accompany its 287 horsepower.
Spin the Pacifica's rotary dial transmission into drive, and it responds more predictably than other Chryslers with the same transmission. The 9-speed automatic hasn't been a point of glory in vehicles from the Jeep Cherokee to the 200 sedan, but in the Pacifica, the new-generation transmission has almost none of the jerky shift action we’ve found in those other installations. There's no direct control of gears, either, but putting the rotary control into "L" raises the revs and engine braking, for towing or low-speed cornering.
Fuel economy is much improved in the Pacifica. At 22 mpg combined it's near, but not at the top of the class. That distinction likely will come late this year, when the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid goes on sale. The new plug-in hybrid model arrives with a 16-kwh lithium-ion battery pack mated to two electric motors and an electrically variable transmission. The EPA rated the van for 33 miles on electricity alone; more than 80 MPGe in combined travel. (MPGe is the metric used by the EPA to rate the distance traveled on the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline.)
Chrysler says it will be able to drive about 30 miles on electric power alone, and EPA ratings should come in at 80 mpge in city driving.
Excellent ride and handling
Powertrain performance isn't the only impressive aspect of the Pacifica. With a new front-strut and rear trailing-arm suspension, the van responds impressively when pushed to limits it'll almost never encounter when there's a baby on board. A new, sturdy body structure that's much stiffer than the outgoing vans gets much of the credit.
The Pacifica's ride and handling set a new, higher bar for all minivans. Weighty steering helps it track straight on highways with a precise feel, and the suspension mutes most road surfaces with a composure the old Town & Country lacked.
Shift it into its low gear range and aim for more challenging roads, and the Pacifica responds ably. Its balanced ride feels more in control than, say, the new Honda Pilot. It controls wheel bounding very well, and the steering winds and unwinds naturally into corners.
Hustling the Pacifica through one of our favorite California canyons made it clear: there are decades of progress baked into this minivan’s hardware, even if performance isn’t what most buyers put at the top of their must-have list.
The only sore point on the Pacificas provided for press drives so far has been in brake feel. The pedal on our test vehicle felt stiff with shallow travel. We'd like more gradual and controllable response, so that the brakes mirror the control feel baked into the Pacifica's other systems.