2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Review

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2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
March 9, 2018

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is a winner, combining our favorite minivan with a fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid powertrain and useful 33-mile electric range

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the only plug-in hybrid minivan on sale, a modern adaptation on a classic idea. The battery pack is large enough to propel the car for 30 miles or more on electricity alone, with a conventional gas engine to take over once electrons run dry. The Pacifica Hybrid is available in Touring Plus, Touring L, and Limited trim levels.

Though pricier than the conventional Pacifica powered by a gasoline V-6 engine alone, this mix of virtues gives the plug-in hybrid model a rating of 8.3 out of 10 on our review scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

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We like all versions of the Pacifica for their attractive design, comfortable interior and excellent infotainment systems, and their family-friendliness and generous accommodations for even seven adult-sized people. The Hybrid variant is missing only two features of the standard minivan: an eighth seating position and the Stow’n’Go second-row seats that fold into the floor. The box for the seats is now occupied by the lithium-ion battery pack that powers the electric motor and stores recaptured energy that would otherwise have been wasted.

During 2017, the Pacifica Hybrid suffered a double whammy that limited its availability. First, a recall to replace a faulty diode froze production until the new part could be provided for new version, and then a several-week shutdown of the assembly plant for retooling interrupted production again. We expect those problems to have been resolved by late in 2017, and since the hybrid minivan is sold in all 50 states, it should be in stock or available for order at any Chrysler dealer by then.  

If we have one reservation about the hybrid Pacifica, it’s that Chrysler is deliberately telling drivers they don’t need to plug it in. That’s true; it delivers vastly better fuel efficiency even when run only as a conventional hybrid. But plug it in overnight to charge the battery pack, and the Pacifica Hybrid becomes a smooth, capacious electric minivan for as much as 30 or 35 miles. That even includes highway speeds if you’re not a leadfoot driver.

It’s the most convincing rebuttal we’ve seen to the public image of electric cars as weird-looking little hatchbacks. Trust us: this one’s worth plugging in.

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2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Styling

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid shares the handsome shape and elegant interior of the entire Pacifica range; that’s a good thing.

As essentially big rectangular boxes on wheels, minivans are particularly hard to style in an appealing way. Chrysler didn’t get it right with the last generation, but the 2018 Pacifica more than makes up for it. Now in its second year, its shape is already a familiar one in family suburbs, and we suspect it’ll endure after minivans with more swoops and flourishes start to look tired.

The only visual differences that distinguish the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid from the conventional version are a discreet charge-port door in the left-front fender, subtle differences in the grille and lower frontal shape, and a handful of badges. We rate the hybrid Pacifica at the same 8 points out of 10 that the regular model earns. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Chrysler has kept the Pacifica’s nose as sleek and slim as you can imagine, and the tall side glass is outlined in chrome. Boxiness is avoided by a reverse angle on the rearmost side window, echoed by a black trim panel that seems to make the tailgate wrap around the van’s corners—even though it doesn’t, really. Sliding-door tracks are hidden below the rear side-window trim, and the base of the driver’s window is low enough to give close outward visibility. Overall, it’s hard to find fault with the Pacifica’s exterior.

The inside is even better, with a dash that wraps around front-seat occupants, highlighted by sculpting and stitching that could come from a premium sedan rather than a seven-seat vehicle to be filled with kids, sports gear, cargo, or home and yard supplies. Buyers can even choose among upscale color palettes and combinations such as “Soho,” a collection of light and dark browns and tans that no mass-market minivan has seen to date.

A large touchscreen occupies the center of the dash, complete with some added information screens for energy flow and hybrid system operation. But it’s the small details that count, from a thin metal steering-wheel trim to that stitching. It’s the kind of interior that’ll make mom or dad feel better just getting into the car.

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2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Performance

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid not only provides smooth electric running and seamless transitions among modes, it ride and handles well too.

The powertrain and driving behavior of the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid are its most distinctive characteristics against conventional versions with a standard V-6 engine and 9-speed automatic transmission. We rate it at the same 7 out of 10 points as the conventional version, though the added points are for its smoothness in electric mode as well as its ride quality. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The hybrid Pacifica gets a different version of Fiat Chrysler’s stalwart 3.6-liter V-6 engine, tuned to run on the ultra-efficient Atkinson Cycle, and paired to a hybrid transmission with a pair of motor-generators that replaces the automatic altogether. The total system puts out 260 horsepower, Chrysler says, in a heavier vehicle that’s lower in power than the 287 hp of the regular engine. But because electric motors instantly produce maximum torque, acceleration from a stop isn’t notably affected.

It’s not just a hybrid, despite the name, but a plug-in hybrid, with a 16-kwh battery pack in the floor ahead of the rear seat that gives it 33 miles of all-electric range if you don’t hot-rod it around. Chrysler wants to market the Pacifica Hybrid as just like any other hybrid, which is to say more fuel-efficient, which it is (32 mpg combined against 22 for the standard model.)

But plug it in, and you’ll find you can easily drive it entirely on electric power around town and in general city and suburban usage. It’ll go up to highway speeds on electricity too, and it defaults the powertrain to electric-only operation when there’s charge in the battery. The accelerator is easy to modulate and linear, and for its first hybrid vehicle in 10 years, Chrysler has done an excellent job on blending regenerative braking and friction brakes.

Mash the pedal to the floor and the engine will kick on for maximum output. Drive it judiciously, and you’ll stay in electric mode the vast majority of the time until the battery depletes. A two-motor hybrid will always be smoother than a single-motor system, and we found no lurching or hesitation among modes. Switching from all-electric to hybrid mode were seamless, smooth, and shudder-free. Drivers can increase regeneration using a “Low” setting, but it’s only an incremental improvement and nowhere near the strength of regen in a BMW i3, Chevy Bolt EV or Volt, or any Tesla.

While minivans are not sports cars, many of our test drivers felt the Pacifica’s roadholding and ride set a new standard for the segment. This year, there’s a new Honda Odyssey in the field, and we’d say its handling equals the Chrysler’s, though the Pacifica Hybrid gets the edge on ride due to its heft and low-down weight. It’s composed on every road surface we could find to test it, and it tracks well while suppressing bad road surfaces. Winding roads are a pleasant surprise too, as the ride control proved to be far above our expectations.

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2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Comfort & Quality

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is comfortable, capacious, and well-designed, though an eighth seat and the foldaway second row are gone.

Chrysler invented the modern minivan more than 30 years ago, and the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid uses every bit of the company’s experience and expertise to show what a modern minivan can be. It’s comfortable for seven people and a family’s worth of gear, almost as flexible as the conventional version, and has interior storage that’s not only unparalleled but smart.

While we gave the conventional Pacifica a full 10 out of 10 points for comfort and quality, the Hybrid model loses a point and falls to 9 out of 10. We docked it one point for the loss of Chrysler’s trademark Stow’n’Go foldaway second row, since the hybrid system’s lithium-ion battery pack now rests in the box where the seat would normally go. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Those losses aside, the Pacifica remains a large vehicle but one that takes advantage of its volume, accommodating even 6-foot adults in its third row. That’s a rare feat indeed among minivans, let alone three-row crossover utility vehicles. The second row can still be folded down, but it no longer drops into the floor, though the third row still folds away as usual. Cargo volume is unchanged at 98.5 cubic feet behind the second row and 32.3 behind the third row when it’s raised.

The power-adjustable front-row seats are relatively supportive, and the sliding second-row seats were fine for us as well. The third-row seats aren’t as lavishly padded as the front seats but adults won’t find them uncomfortable, just perhaps a bit less supportive—and the head room and leg room back there is exemplary. The Pacifica Hybrid Limited doesn’t offer the power folding third row that’s found on the same trim level in the conventional version, however.

Storage space is more than ample, including deep bins in the console big enough to hold a tablet and quite a lot more, storage in door pockets, and cubbies, trays, and cupholders galore. Even the third row has multiple cupholders. It’s the only vehicle in which we’ve covered thousands of miles without being able to fill all the available cabin storage.

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2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Safety

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid isn’t rated separately for safety, but the model overall has excellent scores and a sweeping array of features.

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid hasn’t been separately rated for crash safety either by the NHTSA or the IIHS, but its conventional version gets excellent scores. Its overall NHTSA rating is five stars, the top score, and it gets five stars in all but one of the agency’s individual tests. The four-star rating for rollover resistance isn’t surprising for a vehicle as tall and large as a full-size minivan.

It achieved the best rating of “Good” on all crash tests conducted by the IIHS, which rated its available active-safety systems as “Superior” and named the 2018 Pacifica a Top Safety Pick. That’s a hugely important title for family buyers, and for 2018, the company added blind-spot monitors and rear parking sensors to the standard safety features that previously included a rearview camera. For all those reasons, we give it the same 8 out of 10 points for safety as the conventional version. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

An optional Technology package wraps together adaptive cruise control, a surround-view camera system, and forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking. An optional system for parallel and perpendicular parking assist can replace the parking sensors, and active-lane control is part of an ultimate SafetyTec package that bundles all of the above.

The Pacifica’s outward vision is worth mentioning; it’s extremely good for such a large vehicle. In an age where SUVs have increasingly thick roof pillars and rear three-quarter vision gets continually more limited, the Pacifica’s large glass area makes a large vehicle much safer to operate than others of its heft.

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2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Features

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is well-equipped and a good value after incentives, but its feature array is a bit less generous than conventional models.

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid comes in three trim levels—Touring Plus, Touring L, and Limited—meaning it forgoes the bottom two among six trim levels offered on its conventionally powered sibling. With some small exceptions, the hybrid trims contain the same features as on the regular Pacifica, though small differences exist.

The lowest starting price of a 2018 Pacifica Hybrid is around $41,000, but federal and state incentives can cut that to $35,000 or lower—meaning that the effective price represents a much more fuel-efficient minivan at an effective price as good or better as the conventional version. We docked the hybrid Pacifica one point for a less generous array of features in its Premium trim compared to its conventional sibling, and another for the loss of some high-end infotainment options altogether. That means it’s fallen from an exemplary 10 out of 10 to a still-laudable 8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

All Pacifica Hybrid versions include an 8.4-inch touchscreen audio system that includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, steering-wheel audio controls, three-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitors, rear parking sensors, and automatic halogen headlights. Power sliding side doors, power-adjustable front seats, and a sliding second row are also standard, but no hybrid trims include a foldaway second-row seat.

The Touring Plus version has cloth seats, the Touring L adds leather trim and heated seats, and the Limited has premium leather seats. The hybrid model forgoes heated second-row seats altogether, however.

Move up to the Pacifica Hybrid Limited and you’ll add hands-free operation for the powered sliding side doors and tailgate; 17-inch polished aluminum wheels (with 18-inch alloys as an option); and HD radio, navigation, and real-time traffic. A three-panel power-operated panoramic sunroof is optional, but some of the high-end entertainment and video features and packages offered on the conventional Pacifica Premium are optional or not available on the Hybrid Premium, so check the spec sheets carefully to ensure the features you want are offered on the Hybrid.

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2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Fuel Economy

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid combines remarkable electric range with far higher fuel economy than its conventional sibling.

Because it has a plug-in powertrain that can cover a meaningful distance on electric power alone, the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is rated at 10 out of 10 on our scale for its energy efficiency and fuel economy. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The EPA rates the plug-in hybrid Pacifica at a much higher 32 mpg combined, higher than the 22-mpg combined rating of the conventional version. The EPA rates it at 33 miles of electric range, and 84 MPGe when operating on battery power. (Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, or MPGe, is the distance a car can travel electrically on the amount of energy contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.) While most electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles come in at more than 100 MPGe, they are generally far smaller and less capacious vehicles than the seven-seat Pacifica Hybrid.

The standard version of the Pacifica, with its 3.5-liter V-6 and 9-speed automatic transmission, gets EPA ratings of 18 mpg city, 28 highway, 22 combined—with the combined number equaling that of the 2018 Honda Odyssey, and topping all other minivans of similar size.

The plug-in hybrid Pacifica comes with a portable 120-volt charging cord as standard, kept in a bag that can be housed in a cargo-bay wall bin below the left-rear window. Chrysler says it takes roughly 2 hours to recharge the 16-kwh battery using a 240-volt Level 2 charging station at 30 amps, or 14 hours on standard 120-volt household current at 15 amps.

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$39,995
MSRP based on Hybrid Touring Plus FWD
 
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8.3
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 8
Features 8
Fuel Economy 10
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