There’s so much to love and now, even more capability
It looks like the era of the car-as-bubble-space won’t end any time soon. With more focus on the safety of those we need to shuttle from school to doctors appointments, curbside pickup, dog walks and playground time, we need more space, safety and necessities in our cars.
Minivans are feeling the love right now. In just the third quarter of 2020 Chrysler saw an uptick of 32% in minivan sales. And, with the additions to the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica, there are even more bubble-must-haves to opt for.
Way before the pandemic, Pacifica’s product team, led by Mary Ann Capo — who is a delight to see leading the vehicle team for her fashion sense, petite stature and mom sense — was figuring out how to improve on their own work. It was just 2017 that Pacifica made its debut with a lovely design that didn’t scream ‘minivan,’ but still offered space for people, tons of cargo room and a plug-in hybrid option with 30 miles of pure electric driving.
The Pacifica brought a refined look to its leather seats with contrast piping; it offered clever storage spots and turned the cabin into an even more luxurious space with a panoramic sun roof. Innovative technology, plenty of charge ports, cup holders for everyone and a vacuum sealed the deal.
And, it had all the best things about minivans, from center and third row seats that stow in the floor to sliding doors and a liftgate that operate with the swipe of your foot under the car to a third row that is easy to access even if you’re not a nimble 10 year old.
Fast forward to the year none of us could have predicted and the Pacifica adds important improvements just in time for Holiday driving, winter getaways and that beach vacation you’ve been thinking about all year.
The Best New Addition? All Wheel Drive.
This is the one that makes me the happiest. After hearing a traumatized friend tell of her minivan nearly skidding off a mountain road on a winter ski trip, I’m glad that she won’t have to give her up beloved space to cram her three kids, husband, ski equipment, dogs and luggage into an SUV. After hearing from potential buyers in northern states where sloppy winter weather is a regular part of life, Chrysler added an intelligent AWD option, a $3,000 addition, to the full line of Pacifica minivans. The only one that can’t add AWD is the plug-in hybrid — drivers will have to choose between these options.
Still, the AWD system that Chrysler uses is ‘smart’ in that it only engages when the system detects slippage or low temperatures. That means when AWD isn’t burning gas by powering all 4 wheels all the time, only when it’s needed. And, you don’t have to flip a switch or decide when you need AWD, it just kicks in when it’s needed.
My Next Favorite Feature: Fam Cam is Like Eyes in the Back of Your Head
This one is brilliant—and I truly wish I’d had this when my kids were young. No longer do you need an array of mirrors and duct tape to keep an eye on your little ones in rear facing car seats or to rely on she said/she said accusations. A fish-eye camera embedded in the ceiling allows you to see the faces of everyone in the rear even if they are sitting backward, rear facing car seat or not. And, you can tap the seat you want to see a close-up view of for an even better look. Brilliant.
The Top of the Line Got Even More Posh
Chrysler added a Pinnacle edition to the lineup, its priciest at $50,000 but also, most lovely model. It’s outfitted with quilted Nappa leather seating and trim on the doors and armrest, and even includes Nappa bolster pillows for center row passengers. The headliner, or ceiling cover, is microsuede, a luxe and luscious material that we all need in our lives. The Pinnacle edition is offered with the hybrid system standard, though a conventional gas engine with AWD is also available (the price tag on this is about $53,000). And premium materials like wood trim on the dashboard and door panels, and chrome accents, berber floor carpets (that don’t show dirt as easily!) and the new UConnect 5 infotainment system give the Pinnacle edition a truly premium feel.
UConnect 5 Infotainment System
A few years ago Chrysler expanded its technology team to add game developers, video experts and computer user experience experts. The team expanded to 30 people, all of them focused on creating the most intuitive and advanced system. And they hit a home run.
The new system has a more ‘digital native’ look and feel; with higher resolution and more app-like icons, it looks like something you’d find on a laptop or tablet. It lets you drag and drop to configure the screen however you’d like so you can customize the screen as well as other functions like SiriusXM. Along the top of the screen you can easily see the systems that are at work, and along the bottom a stationary array of functions — home, comfort, apps, media, — are always there.
The system has truly plug-and-play Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; these work either with a USB plug or wirelessly, which is simply brilliant.
And, two phones can connect to the system, so you can run your phone or your co-pilot’s.
In keeping with the wireless theme, Chrysler has added wireless charging to the front center console. And for those who still need wires? There are two standard USB and two USB-C ports in that cubby, two in the center arm rest and two standard USB ports embedded in the front seatbacks, so there are 8 in all.
What’s It Like to Drive?
Surprisingly nimble. With front wheels that are set right at the front of the vehicle, and with an overall length that is about the same as a full size car or SUV, it’s not nearly as imposing as you might think. During my test drive I easily followed some very narrow winding roads, pulled a few u-turns and even whipped the Pacifica into a tight spot at Starbucks.
The hybrid is super quiet; it elicits a low-pitched hum at low speeds, both driving forward and in reverse, so you can hear it and so can pedestrians; the sound is more like an electronic device than a car. I drove around downtown Charlotte for an hour making several stops along the way and only used 50% of the battery and drove on all electric.
In all, driving the Pacifica is super easy. And with the sliding side doors, you can actually fit in even tighter parking spaces and not worry about dinging the doors of the car next to you.
Peace of Mind is Standard
And that is probably most important in minivan consideration: feeling secure. Not only did Chrysler add a number of new safety and driver assist features, but the Pacifica also has new Michelin and (Pirelli on the Pinnacle edition) self sealing tires as standard equipment. These tires can withstand a puncture to the tread and seal up the hole without going flat. To anyone with a car load of people, that’s good news.
Chrysler also added a number of new driver assist and safety features to the Pacifica’s standard list of features, including:
- Pedestrian emergency braking
- Forward collision warning
- Adaptive cruise control with stop and go
- Lane departure warning
- Lane keep assist
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Auto high beam headlights
And a new camera package called Safety Sphere can be added for a 360-degree surround view camera and semi-autonomous parking ParkSense for parallel or perpendicular park assist.
That Chrysler decided to make these last features standard is a great thing; that means you can get them on the $35,000 Pacifica; safety should never be a luxury. Which is probably why minivan sales are so hot right now. We’re gathering everyone closer and sticking together to make it safely through this time. And if we can stretch out, plug in and have fun without killing each other, all the better.
Disclosure: I was Chrysler’s guest for this test drive; all opinions are my own.