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2017 Chrysler Pacifica First Drive

Newport Beach, California ― Would you be surprised if I told you that luxury car sales are on the rise, and have been for a number of years? How many of your neighbours have upgraded from Honda, Toyota, Dodge, and Kia to BMW, Audi, Lexus, and Cadillac? 

In the majority of these cases, families have left behind their CUV or minivan for another luxurious CUV, but not a luxury minivan. Why? Because there really isn’t one on offer at the moment. Sure, the Chrysler Town & Country was meant to be the high-end pal of the Dodge Grand Caravan, but they shared far too much. This time around, FCA has given the top-line Chrysler minivan an identity all its own. 

The brand new 2017 Pacifica is purposely more utility vehicle than minivan, but despite that, it is undeniably a minivan. FCA has gone to great lengths to revamp its magic-wagon, but the question begs to be asked: Are minivan sales not falling? They indeed are, but in 2015, they still accounted for roughly 120,000 sales in Canada, which is a considerably large pie. And of that pie, FCA owns more than 55%. Thus, there’s money to be made. 

A few more stats: FCA’s sales were record-crushing in 2015, with a 15.2% market share. In just under 33 years, five generations of the minivan have come to life, selling 14 million units worldwide, of which almost 2 million are on the road in Canada. That is success. 

Bull-stance
How about that? A minivan with a dose of ‘tude for the owner/driver who wants or needs this type of vehicle, but would probably rather be behind the wheel of a 2007 Dodge Caliber. Now, the Chrysler Pacifica is not revolutionary ― a minivan can only look like one given its purpose ― but FCA has managed to make it, dare I say it, attractive. The proportions are well balanced, and there’s a sufficient amount of detail in the bodywork to catch the eye. 

The rear sliding-door tracks are hidden in the glass for a very clean look. The tapered roofline gives the Pacifica a stretched SUV appearance, which is accented by the windowed surface that varies in thickness. The wraparound rear glass blends the taillights beautifully into the shape. Throw in 20” wheels and Chrysler’s signature grille, and it’s all good. 

The Pacifica is low, wide, and bulldog-ish, but borrows visually from the soon-to-be defunct Chrysler 200. Some shades of the Dodge Durango are visible, too. The bottom line is that we have an attractive vehicle here. 

Everyone in mind
When FCA put pen to paper for ideas on the Pacifica’s interior, they simply decided that they were going to include everything in it. 

The Stow ‘n Go seating system is standard and likely the best feature on the van. It has been redesigned with easy tilt access to the third row. The second row again stows into the floor, as does the third row, for huge loading capacity. Stow ‘n Vac (I’m certain you can guess what it is) is available along with a monster panoramic sunroof and hands-free dual power sliding doors and rear liftgate. 

Seating capacity is seven or eight depending on the trim. The best seats in the house remain up front, but the middle captain’s chairs are just fine. The available dual 10" touchscreens behind the front seats can be operated independently by the passengers and controlled from the front screen. When I say FCA has thought of everything, they even created an "Are we there yet?" app that is brilliant fun. 

The hidden story
The all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is truly all-new. It is based on a completely new platform that is marginally longer and wider than that of the current Grand Caravan. Most notably, it is far more rigid than the previous chassis and, best of all, lighter. Aluminum and some magnesium body components are part of the equation. In total, the Pacifica is 250 lbs lighter than the Town & Country, while its torsional rigidity is double what it was.

One of the major improvements was made to the Stow ‘n Go tubs that are now an integral part of the structure and built with high-strength steel. As well, the rear suspension was revised with new individual bushings that improve steering response and ride quality. 

My favourite nugget of info is this one: The new platform is designed to accept AWD. I think FCA will be using it as a building block for a number of future utility vehicles. 

Sporty-quiet
Immediately after leaving the parking lot of the Resort at Pelican Hills, the Chrysler Pacifica’s new underpinnings became obvious. All the sloppy, soft, roll-y responses inherent in the previous van are gone, instead replaced by a solid, unified feeling. Describing the Pacifica’s drive is simple: It feels like a big sedan. 

Obviously, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is still a minivan that is almost 5.2 metres long, but steering is quick, with a wonderfully tight turning radius for shopping mall lots. The brakes were repeatedly put to the test in California traffic and survived. 

The number one strong point of the new Pacifica is how quiet the cabin is, even on the highway. After being shuttled in a Grand Caravan once or twice, it became incredibly apparent how soothing the new van is.

Power when you need it
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica gets all the power it needs from the tried and tested 3.6L V6. Under the sloping and short bonnet, it produces 287 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. The 9-speed automatic transmission comes standard and drives the front wheels exclusively… for now. 

There’s little good to say about this transmission. In fact, it’s generally bad and now an old story. It is slow to react, lazy on the downshifts, easily gets befuddled in traffic (from 20-60 km/h and back in a few seconds), and occasionally punched me back. 

At one point during the drive, I came up to a gate that is actuated with a detector. When it began to open, I realized that I was too close, so I moved the rotary dial into “R”. Well, it took so long for reverse to engage that the gate tapped the Pacifica’s front bumper. I fail to understand the logic behind the 9-speed transmission when a perfectly good 8-speed unit is already available with the 3.6L engine. 

The strategy
The all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica replaces the Town & Country as FCA’s premium minivan. The Dodge Grand Caravan will continue to be sold and offered as the value leader in the segment with a starting MSRP of $28,995. The entry-level Pacifica Touring-L carries a base price of $43,995, which is $3,200 cheaper than the 2016 Chrysler Town & Country equivalent. On top of that, the Pacifica has over $2,600 in added content. 

The value in the Pacifica is evident, however deals on Town & Country minivans are commonplace. The real deal will come to light should FCA offer incentives on the Pacifica. 

Question period
FCA’s goal with the new Chrysler Pacifica was not necessarily to reinvent the minivan, but to reshape the image of the segment and the car in the minds of the buying public and thus make the purchase of the minivan "exciting," emotional even. Have they succeeded? No. Will they sell many of them? Probably a few more than the Town & Country it replaces. Is the Pacifica a good product? Absolutely. 

The Pacifica will duke it out with the top-end Honda Odyssey Touring, Toyota Sienna Limited, and Kia Sedona SXL+. Price-wise, the Pacifica Limited is more expensive, but altogether a more appealing van. The Sienna’s edge (for some) is available AWD. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the Pacifica, but I’m actually more excited to see what FCA’s plans are for this new platform.

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2017 Chrysler Pacifica
chrysler pacifica 2017
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
Review this Vehicle
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Photos:M.St-Pierre
2017 Chrysler Pacifica pictures