Test Drive: 2018 Chrysler Pacifica

They say every high-performance athlete has an ultimate vision that helps drive them: scoring in overtime in the Stanley Cup finals, the game-winning swing in the World Series, a triumphant national anthem at the Olympics. It’s a vision that encapsulates years of tireless training, refinement, and planning for ultimate performance at exactly the right time.

The quality of materials, the design of the large 8.4-inch Uconnect screen and infotainment system, and even the feel of the leather on the seats and heated steering wheel exudes a sense of quality.

The ultimate vision for the engineers and designers of the Chrysler Pacifica seemed to very clearly be the extended family road trip – nearly every facet of our fully loaded 2018 Pacifica Limited tester seemed painstakingly planned to shine brightest on such relatively rare yet memory-making drives. And as it happened, our family trip up north for a week of cottage rest-and-relaxation afforded plenty of opportunity to note the Pacifica’s road-trip-friendly features: in every row, and even before stepping inside.

Convenience starts even before entering

Once the big day came, and it was time to load up the Pacifica, I headed out straight away with a large and loaded cooler, filled with a week’s worth of bulk purchases, plenty of ice, and drinks that seemed anything but Light or Zero. Every strategic packer knows the largest and least flexible items on a road trip go in first. The Pacifica’s foot-operated tailgate is super handy when you’re approaching it with your hands full, helping avoid the bending down and lifting up that’s the toughest on your back.

Unlike other minivans, waving your foot under either of the power sliding doors also magically opened them, just one of the many features that’s standard on this top-line Limited trim. Look closely at the Pacifica’s sides, and you’ll notice that Chrysler integrates the sliding door track almost invisibly into the window frame, a trick pioneered by FCA long ago and now copied by most other mainstream minivan makers. But of the current crop of minivans, there’s no doubt that the Pacifica is the most streamlined and stylish of the bunch.

We had already used the handy buttons in the rear cargo area to power the third row down into the large cargo well, though the slow process did remind us that manual pull-and-fold system on lower trim levels (of this and other minivans) could be quicker and less likely to break or jam down the road. At other times, that cargo well did a good job of keeping weekly groceries from toppling and rolling around the expansive cargo area. But with two adults and two growing and hungry boys onboard, as well as communal food for two other families joining us, we needed all the room we could get for covers, sleeping bags, sports equipment, pillows, luggage, and the odd pool inflatable.

All fit handily in the rear of the Pacifica, with nothing blocking any rearward visibility, besides both our sons’ massive earphones. We had done this trip before with five-seat SUVs loaded up to the rear roof, and gear separating our boys in the second row.

Front and rear seat comfort

Settling into the front seat, it’s evident much thought has been put into the ergonomics of the cockpit. The fold-down armrest on the inner position of the front seats are a minivan staple, also appearing on more and more SUVs these days. They can sometimes get in your way when you’re reaching for your coffee or the centre console, so you’ll likely keep it raised up for most commuting; but on a long trip, it’s a huge comfort to be able to rest that right elbow while keeping both hands on the wheel.

The quality of materials, the design of the large 8.4-inch Uconnect screen and infotainment system, and even the feel of the leather on the seats and heated steering wheel exudes a sense of quality missing from the much-less-expensive Dodge Grand Caravan’s utilitarian interior – a vehicle which may be well past its engineering best-before date, but is still by far the highest-selling minivan on the Canadian market.

The Pacifica’s modern rotary shifter up high on the dash frees up space between the seats for computer bags or purses – or drive-through bags during inevitable road trip food stops. Heated and cooled seats provide comfort day or night, Android Auto and CarPlay allow easy access to your phone, and multiple USBs up front mean there’s no arguing over a single power hub.

In the second row, though, is where much of the Pacifica’s magic happens. Both kids had their own captain’s chairs, complete with seat heaters, cupholders, centre armrests, and their own window shades. What makes the Pacifica unique in the second row is the optional theatre system, a pricy $3,495 option, but one that’s also clearly designed for the family that spends lots of time on the road. Not only can each of the two fold-up rear screens show its own media source, the two touchscreens can be connected for rear occupants to play games against each other, including tic-tac-toe and other apps.

Another of those apps is an animated “Are we there yet?” app, connected to the car’s navigation system, showing a precise countdown to arrival at the destination; “Check your app” became a common refrain on this trip.

Surprises and thoughtful touches

Not all the useful features are geared toward road-tripping, clearly. There are also a few unique features of the “surprise and delight” variety. Easily the most impressive of these is one shared with that much-less-expensive Grand Caravan: the Stow ’n’ Go seats. These second-row seats can be folded away into a well under the floor, when you really want to maximize cargo room.

On the Pacifica, there are even easily accessible buttons near the bottom of each front seat that allow you to power the driver or passenger seat forward to expose the big bins underneath the floor – easily accessible, that is, to adults adjusting seats from outside the door, not to mischievous kids occupying the second row. And when those second-row seats are not hidden away, which is most of the time, there are removable bins inside those wells that can be easily taken out, so that toys or other gear that have piled up can be quickly removed to make room for those second row seats to disappear.

In contrast, on the lowlier Grand Caravan, you have to physically move to where the front seat controls are to adjust them out of the way. And on other minivans, well, there are no floor wells, so the second-row seats fold down but don’t disappear as on the FCA models.

With all seven seats disappeared into the floorplan of the Pacifica, there’s a massive 3,979 of space available, a gaping maw of covered cargo room that will make full-size pickup truck owners envious. Then again, both the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey have larger or similar official cargo volumes (4,248 and 3,973 litres of total cargo room respectively); though the Pacifica triumphs over these two in flexibility, as to achieve those max figures, the Toyota and Honda’s 60-plus-pound captain’s chairs have to be removed. The Pacifica rules above the others in passenger space too, with a total of 4,672 L of stretch-out space.

Even such thoughtful touches as subtle grocery bag hooks on the back of the front seats make life just a little bit easier, allowing a couple grocery bags to go quickly in the back seat near the driver’s door, and not roll around.

And when your road trip is all done, there’s an integrated vacuum cleaner to hoover up all the wrappers, snacks, pet hair, or other messiness that always build up after a long road trip.

Great, but improvements possible

All this road trip prowess and daily practicality doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas that could be improved. The first is pricing: this is one expensive vehicle. Yes, this is a fully loaded Pacifica Limited that’s basically right at the very top end of what one could pay for a Pacifica, but an as-tested price of over $62,000 puts it in seven-seat all-wheel-drive luxury SUV territory. That said, as is traditional with FCA and its minivans, take that MSRP with a grain of salt, as noticeable discounts are starting to appear on the Pacifica, especially on the outgoing 2018 models.

Mind you, Pacifica buyers do receive a host of standard safety features, which on the Limited model includes welcome items such as blind-spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, side curtain airbags, and rear cross-path detection. The IIHS rates the Pacifica highly amongst 2018 minivans, awarding it as one of three minivan Top Safety Picks that year, ahead of the Kia Sedona and just behind the Honda Odyssey.

But sadly, even on this top Limited model, the most advanced safety equipment was mostly contained in a $1,995 option package, which added on systems such as advanced auto emergency braking; adaptive cruise with stop-and-go; a very useful 360-degree camera; lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist; and automatic high-beams, among others.

And now a word on how the Pacifica drives. While it’s clear that comfortable, quiet, and fuel-efficient motoring are the clear dynamic priorities of this minivan, body roll was controlled but noticeable on curvy cottage backroads. Its 287 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque felt nicely responsive when largely empty or just carrying passengers, but struggled somewhat when fully loaded and tackling short highway onramps, its lack of shift paddles underlining its dearth of much sporting intent or “fun to drive” considerations.

Yet efficiency-wise, the observed 11.1 L/100 km held up very well to its official overall average of 10.6, especially considering that much of its time over the week was hauling four passengers and a very full cargo area.

Some potential buyers will also look away quickly when they realize that the Pacifica doesn’t offer all-wheel drive, and move on to shopping the Sienna – the only minivan to offer AWD still – or on to various three-row SUVs, which are eating away more and more market share from minivans.

Conclusion

But in the end, people don’t buy minivans for their dynamic prowess, no matter how many axles drive them; they buy them for the practicality and usefulness they bring to daily family life. And the roomy and flexible Chrysler Pacifica shines in those – just not quite as brightly as it shines at the long-distance family road trip.

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Limited
Engine Displacement: 3.6L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 287 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Peak Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 12.4/8.4/10.6 L/100km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 915 / 2,478 / 3,979 L, behind 3rd/2nd/1st row
2018 Chrysler Pacifica Limited
Base Price $53,095
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,095
Price as Tested $62,395
Optional Equipment $8,105 – Uconnect rear entertainment $3,495; Advanced SafetyTec group $1,995; Trailer Tow package (3,600 lb) $700; 20-inch wheel/tire package $795; Mopar interior protection package $895; programmable key fob $175; Jazz pearl paint $50
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.1
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
10 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
8 Features
7 Value