Pacifica is a game-changer, and actually fun to drive.
Progress in the minivan segment normally moves slowly. Innovations such as the onboard vacuum and foldaway seats shake up the segment every now and again, but the status quo has not been seriously challenged in many years. That changes with the introduction of the Chrysler Pacifica, which takes a giant leap for minivan-kind.
One common complaint about minivans is the lackluster driving experience. Minivans are usually floaty, flexy things that flop over in turns, but the Pacifica actually isn’t bad in the twisties. At our Car of the Year program, associate editor Scott Evans said the Pacifica “handles quite well on the winding road.” Not only did he find it excellent for a minivan, but he also thought was better than some of the cars there. He went on to say the chassis was well-controlled and confident and that the van goes around corners surprisingly well. That’s a common theme as you flip through the notes from Car of the Year; many editors were surprised by the Pacifica’s handling performance.
We’ve liked the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 in other Fiat Chrysler products, and with its 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, the engine is a good match for the Pacifica.
The Pentastar is now backed by the automaker’s nine-speed automatic, and although that gearbox has had issues in the past, it’s much better here despite not being perfect. The transmission is constantly shifting and will occasionally shunt as it hustles through its many gears. The jolts are quick and not very jarring, however, and the payoff is acceleration that’s reasonably quick for such a heavy vehicle. Our Pacifica Touring scooted to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, which is nearly 1 second quicker than the last loaded 2017 Pacifica Limited we tested, and that one weighed 239 pounds more. Curiously, the Touring wasn’t as quick around the figure eight, taking 27.5 seconds to complete the course compared to the Limited’s 27.3 seconds.
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That’s still quicker than the rest of the class. It handily beats the Toyota Sienna SE (28.8 seconds), Honda Odyssey Elite (28.7 seconds), Nissan Quest LE (28.9 seconds), and the Kia Sedona SXL (28.0 seconds).
The biggest praise I can give the Pacifica is that I actually looked forward to driving it all five days it was in my possession. It was fun tossing a minivan through on-ramps and getting less body roll than expected. Instead, I was met with a low-feeling center of gravity and relatively good turn-in. I’m sure the novelty of a fun minivan would wear off eventually, but just imagine driving something like this every day instead of the flimsy compromises on wheels we’ve come to know. Detroit editor Alisa Priddle summed up the Pacifica nicely: “Overall, it’s a pleasure, not a punishment, to drive.”
Being one trim above the base LX, this Pacifica doesn’t feel as posh as the Limited we tested earlier this year. It features the same spacious cockpit design and handsome dash constructed from soft-touch materials, but there are a few giveaways that you’re in lower trim level.
“I can tell I’m in the budget version of this thing because the screen is smaller than my iPhone,” senior features editor Jonny Lieberman said.
That touchscreen measures 5.0 inches and looks tiny placed in the Pacifica’s large center stack. The screen is easy to use and has many of the same functions as the available 8.4-inch system, but it serves as a constant reminder that you didn’t spring for the larger screen.
Although it’s not the rich-feeling leather upholstery we loved in the Pacifica Limited, the cloth on the Touring model’s standard seats features stitching that makes them look no less upscale (or feel no less comfortable). The door handle surrounds and dash trim are color-coordinated in a bronzelike finish, which looks better than you’d expect colored plastic to look.
The rotary knob gear selector takes some getting used to, but the absence of a traditional shifter makes the cabin look tidy.
There are many large storage cubbies throughout the interior, and all of them came in handy at some point during my drive.
Second- and third-row Stow ’n Go seats come standard on the Touring. Even though they’re a little stiff, they’re much improved from the units in the previous Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan. Our tester had a second-row bench instead of captain’s chairs to accommodate eight passengers.
Just like in previous iterations, the Stow ’n Go system is easy to operate. With both rows folded into the floor, the Pacifica’s interior is cavernous.
But even if all the seats are up, there’s still ample storage space thanks to the deep well the third-row bench folds into.
The Pacifica Touring isn’t the seven-passenger luxury car that the Limited was, but it also costs nearly $15,000 less than the last Limited we tested at a much more reasonable $33,475.
At that price, the Pacifica is a great value with its balance of interior packaging and quality, superior driving dynamics, and high safety ratings.
It should be noted, however, that Fiat Chrysler made improvements to the vehicle’s structure midway through 2016 to score higher on crash tests, so the Pacifica’s IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating doesn’t apply to earlier builds.
Chrysler hasn’t reinvented the minivan, but it has set a stratospherically high bar for Toyota and Honda.
We eagerly await those automakers’ next-gen offerings to find out if the minivan can get any better than this.