Say goodbye to the Town & Country badge you know and love. Chrysler’s new minivan (there will be no Dodge version) is called the Pacifica, reviving a name used on a crossover sold from 2003 to 2007. The all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica brings a new design, a lower curb weight, more features, and an available hybrid powertrain to the minivan segment.
The name change, Chrysler reasons, was necessary to help ensure shoppers approached the new minivan with an open mind, says Dodge head of passenger car brands Tim Kuniskis.
“We don’t want them [buyers] to have any preconceived notions,” he says.
Still, we can’t help thinking that the Millennial shoppers who are likely to buy the Pacifica have fond memories of family road trips in 1980s- and 90s-vintage Town & Country vans.
And that’s why you’ll need a minivan
How different is the new minivan’s styling? “I think even single guys can get laid in it,” says Fiat Chrysler Automobiles head of design Ralph Gilles, before backpedaling and saying it was a scripted joke. But his point is that the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is sleeker and more stylish than most minivans; with its faster windshield and tapered roofline, it has almost crossover-like proportions.
The Pacifica continues several of the design cues we saw on the 200 midsize sedan, starting with a large, rounded grille design that dominates the nose. There are strakes on the hood to break its width up visually, and the sideview mirrors are now mounted below the beltline so engineers could fit quarter windows to improve visibility. The seats are all mounted lower inside the car, and the beltline is lower than in the old Town & Country, to promote a feeling of airiness for passengers. Instead of the vertical taillights on the previous van, the Pacifica has stylish horizontal light graphics that mimic those on the Durango SUV.
On top-level models, abundant chrome trim adorns the outside of the Pacifica, including in a cool infinity-symbol-like twist around the lower grille opening and the fog light surrounds. Whereas the Town & Country came from the factory with wheels no bigger than 17 inches, Chrysler will offer designs up to 20 inches in diameter on the Pacifica.
Going on a diet
Though it’s longer and wider than the outgoing Town & Country, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is about 200 lb lighter, thanks to updates like all-aluminum sliding doors, a magnesium/aluminum liftgate, and a magnesium dashboard structure. The car’s chassis, which is new for the Pacifica, is also stiffer than before. The giant sliding door openings tend to make minivan chassis very flexy, so Chrysler engineered the second-row Stow & Go compartments for the folding seats to integrate with tough frame rails that should keep the car 30 percent more rigid. Up front, Pacifica engineer Jessica LaFond says a special “flared outrigger” structure should help the model ace tough small-overlap crash tests.
The primary engine choice remains Chrysler’s 3.6-liter V-6 engine, though several revisions (a cooled EGR system, two-step valve lift, a four-lb weight reduction) are claimed to improve efficiency by 5 percent. It’s rated for 287 hp and 262 lb-ft. A nine-speed automatic transmission replaces the old van’s six speed. As if knowing how much we disliked the nine-speed automatic in our Four Seasons Jeep Cherokee, LaFond promises, “We have spent countless hours going after the pedal calibration.” Engine stop-start won’t be available at launch but will be added later in the model’s life cycle. Nonetheless, Chrysler expects class-leading fuel economy. That would mean beating the Honda Odyssey, which is rated for 19/28 mpg (city/highway), and the Nissan Quest‘s 20/27 mpg ratings.
There will also be a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid, which uses the same engine but supplements it with two electric motors in the transaxle. The hybrid’s 16-kWh battery pack is mounted in the floor, so Chrysler’s popular Stow & Go seats are unavailable; compared to the outgoing Town & Country, the hybrid weighs an extra 300 lb — figure about 500 lb heavier than a base Pacifica.
Though it’s a plug-in hybrid — there’s a small charge port on the front fender — Kuniskis wants buyers to know they can drive the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica even without a home charger. “Hybrid is a known technology that people trust,” he says. “If you never plug this in, you’re still going to get a really, really good number.”
If buyers do plug in and regularly top-up the battery pack, that number is expected to be 80 mpge, with about 30 miles of all-electric driving possible. Instead of the nine-speed automatic, an electrically controlled continuously variable transmission of Chrysler’s own design will divvy up power to the front wheels.
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica still doesn’t offer all-wheel drive, a feature that has long pushed many traditional van consumers toward crossovers (today, only the Toyota Sienna offers AWD). Officials admit that the Pacifica’s platform has provisions for AWD, whether driven by a propshaft or electrically from a hybrid system, but won’t confirm any plans for such additions. The van’s platform will eventually be co-opted for use by a crossover, which almost certainly will have AWD.
Quieter, larger interior
The entire cabin takes a step upmarket from before, looking more like a premium model than simply a nicer Dodge Grand Caravan. The Pacifica even comes with active noise cancellation technology as standard — no word on whether it can cancel out the sound of whining children.
A low and flat dashboard provides drivers with a commanding view out of the Pacifica. As on the Chrysler 200, there’s an angled lower part to the center stack, where you’ll find the rotary shifter for the transmission, as well as many physical controls. Chrysler’s excellent Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system tops the dashboard, and for the first time ever its 8.4-inch display sits flush with the adjacent air vents, rather than recessed inside a bezel. There’s an extra storage bin at the front of the center console designed for purses and other bags, more front seat travel to comfortably fit a wider range of driver sizes, an available tri-pane panoramic sunroof, and an optional vacuum cleaner integrated into the cargo area (as seen first on the Honda Odyssey).
Kids and adults in the second row can enjoy flip-up entertainment systems that are now mounted to the driver and passenger seats, rather than the roof, with USB and HDMI inputs for smartphones or tablets. The second-row seats have an “Easy Tilt” mode that allows them to slide forward for access to the third row without removing a child seat, and Chrysler claims that the third row now has best-in-class space. There’s an optional power-fold option for the back row, and the Pacifica still has the ultra-useful grocery-bag hooks on the back of the rear seats. Cargo space is up 10 cubic feet from before.
Available safety tech includes forward collision warning, a 360-degree camera system, and blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert. New to the Pacifica, the power-sliding doors can be opened by simply waving your foot under the door when the key is in your pocket; the power liftgate can be opened in the same manner.
Though exact equipment levels and pricing remain unconfirmed, there will be five trim levels for the non-hybrid model. The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica LX will have keyless entry, push-button start, and a backup camera; moving up the Touring model will add satellite radio and power sliding doors; the Touring L adds remote start, leather seats, and fog lights, with an option for the rear-seat entertainment package; the Limited builds on that with HID headlights, LED foglights, and the hands-free doors/liftgate; and the Pacifica Limited Platinum will boast the built-in vacuum and the panoramic sunroof.
The standard 2017 Chrysler Pacifica goes on sale this spring, with the hybrid set to follow in the second half of the year.