It can be a lonely existence. For automotive journalists, generally the majority of time spent in the cars we drive and review is solo time. But when it came to a vehicle that’s designed for families first, second and third, Chrysler wanted to find a way to, well, get those families in there (also, who would sign up to spend a week driving around in a minivan by themselves?).
And so it was that the four of us showed up one morning to the designated spot in Montreal where awaited a 2019 Chrysler Pacifica minivan, fully loaded with sustenance, on-board entertainment and a programmed itinerary for a three-day road trip that would take us through parts of Quebec and Ontario. Our destination was the Calabogie Peaks Resort west of Ottawa.
The designated replacement for the venerable Town & Country minivan, the Pacifica from Chrysler, now in its third year on the market, has constituted an anomaly in the current automotive landscape, enjoying moderate success in a minivan segment that has very few entrants still able to hang on and resist the tide of sport utility vehicles. It helps that the model comes in hybrid configuration, which is truly unique on the market.
Below that Limited version, the base model Pacifica is the L (starting price $36,995) with its front-wheel-drive configuration, 17-inch steel wheels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, manual 6-way adjustable driver’s seat, cloth upholstery, 7-inch screen for the Uconnect system and, crucially, a second-row bench seat (and not the famed Stow ‘n Go fold-in-floor seats). All versions get that system for the third row.
That second-row Stow ‘n Go feature comes in with the next trim, the LX ($38,995), along with a stop/start system for the engine, automatic headlamps and tri-zone manually controlled climate control.
The Touring edition ($40,995) brings in a 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with 4-way lumbar support, a power liftgate and bigger 17-inch Tech Silver alloy wheels.
The Touring Plus ($42,995) also gets you a floor console with cup holders, LED taillights and upgraded fog lights with chrome accents, as well as proximity entry on all doors and, up top, the Stow ‘n Place roof rack system.
That leads up to the Limited version ($53,995), which goes pretty far to making you feel like you’re in a luxury vehicle – it better, given the big price jump between it and the Touring Plus. Soft-touch surface for the instrument panel, ventilated front seats, Nappa leather-faced seating with perforated inserts, a power-adjustable front passenger seat and a stowaway vacuum system are some of the highlights, but the most impressive is the huge available three-pane panoramic sunroof (included in the 7-occupant configuration, but not when opting for the 8-Passenger Seating & 20-inch Wheel package).
You also get a remote starter and auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, and the roof rack system is chrome instead of black. USB ports can be found in all three rows, and the back gets nifty ambient lighting. The third-row seat in this version becomes power-folding.
The S package I mentioned adds another $995 to the bill, it should be noted.
Note as well that next year Chrysler is introducing the Voyager minivan, which will in effect replace the entry-level version of the Pacifica, in the U.S., and Canada will likely follow in 2021.
All versions of the 2019 Pacifica run on the same 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine as before, wedded to a 9-speed automatic transmission. Output is 287 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque (on the hybrid version, net output is 260 hp).
As it happened, our minivan trek had extra resonance given the recent passing of Lee Iacocca, the legendary auto executive who unleashed the format on the world back in 1984 as part of his rescue of then-floundering automaker Chrysler. Confounding the expectations of many, the Plymouth Voyager minivan was a quick success, in fact buyers of those early models often had to wait 6-7 months to take delivery. To date FCA has sold 14.6 million minivans worldwide, the majority of them built in Windsor, Ontario.
Most recently, the Pacifica has racked up decent sales and collected several awards since its introduction in 2016, and the Dodge Grand Caravan, while scheduled to be discontinued at some point in the near-future, continues to perform fairly well, particularly in the U.S.
On the road
We had little doubt we would be comfortable and even feel coddled by the range-topping, S-packaged Pacifica Limited, and so it was. The teens occupying the second row had all sorts of ways to configure the two back rows the way they wanted so they could sit, recline and even lay down flat to suit their every mood, and of course there’s the second-row Uconnect infotainment system accessed via the screens on the back of the first-row seats.
Back in front, I was plenty comfortable as well, the seats being firm but not overly so. My bigger concern going in was what the drive would be like. I think every joke that could possibly have been dreamed up regarding the soporific driving dynamics of minivans has been, many times over, but here was a chance to see what a thoroughly modern minivan delivers.
While there’s no pretense to any kind of sportiness here, the accents of the S package notwithstanding, I was surprised how connected I felt to the road. I’ve driven mid-size SUVs that made me feel much more distant from the asphalt than the Pacifica. Steering is fairly crisp, and the powertrain delivers sufficient power to make accelerating and highway passing manoeuvres painless. I found the braking distance a little long, but given the weight of the vehicle and the four people and their gear aboard it was nothing too dramatic.
Sound insulation could have been an issue as well, but the ride was pleasingly quiet. Even from the large number of storage bins with covers and other gadgets with moving parts, I discerned little to no rattling anywhere, which indicates strong quality of construction and good choice of materials.
The Uconnect multimedia system is rightly considered to be one of the best in the business, and I found no reason to contradict that here. The system has a lot of features but manages to be easy to access and find your way around in, and I had no complaints regarding reaction times.
Regarding the second-row entertainment screens, the question to ask in 2019 is, is it worth the extra $2,595 cost of the Uconnect Theatre Group option in an age when occupants often bring their smartphones and tablets aboard? Our two back-row occupants never ended up using the system, save for a brief spell playing solitaire, and that was more to say they’d tried the thing than anything else.
You might argue that if you’re going to splurge and pay well north of $50,000 for a deluxe minivan, you might as well go all in. But keep in mind that this Limited with S package comes in at a whopping $64,940, as optioned like our tester. For a vehicle that delivers little-to-no real driving excitement, remember.
This hefty price tag includes $1,995 for the Advanced SafetyTec package, $995 for the premium 20-speaker harmon/kardon audio system with 760-watt amp, $895 for the Mopar Interior Protection Package, and $800 for the Trailer Tow package and few other incidentals, in addition to the aforementioned $995 for the S package and $2,595 for the Uconnect Theatre package.
That Advanced SatefyTec suite brings with it stuff like advanced brake assist, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, forward collision warning with active braking, adaptive cruise with stop-and-go- functionality, a 360-degree camera, etc. This seems to me a pretty essential safety-enhancing option for a vehicle that is meant to drive families around. But for the rest, you’ll have to think hard where to draw the line with bling-y options, because, well, 65 grand is a lot of dough for a minivan that’s kind-of-sort-of luxurious but not really when you come down to it.
We didn’t have to worry about any of that on our short, two-province road adventure, of course. We only have to take in the many ways this minivan is designed to meet the needs of families day in, day out. The qualities that made Lee Iacocca’s pet project so appealing back 35 years ago are still apparent today.
Great long-distance highway cruiser
Drives better than some bulky SUVs
Practical, roomy interior
We like less
Still not that exciting to drive
Braking distance a little disconcerting at first
High price point for the all-dressed top-end version