One small step for Chrysler, one giant leap for minivan-kind

With a more direct connection between accelerator and wheels, electric propulsion in a car feels uniquely different than a combustion engine. And while I've driven many electric cars, getting behind the wheel of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid was the first time I experienced electric drive in a minivan.

Most impressively, Chrysler engineers said the Pacifica Hybrid's 16 kilowatt-hour battery pack would get it a respectable 30 miles of pure electric range. During a Chrysler-sponsored event in Los Angeles, the Pacifica Hybrid outperformed that number, making it 35 miles with the air conditioning on.

Chrysler launched the Pacifica minivan, replacing its Town and Country model, at the last Detroit auto show. Roadshow editor Chris Paukert previously reviewed the gasoline-powered Pacifica, which shares most of the Pacifica Hybrid's amenities, from adaptive cruise control that can bring the minivan to complete stop, to a surround view camera giving a top-down, four-camera view.

Chrysler fits its Pacifica minivan with a gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain, giving it 30 miles of pure electric range.

FCA

The Pacifica Hybrid uses a modified version of the standard model's 3.6-liter V6 engine, adding an electric drive system capable of propelling the vehicle on its own. The name Pacifica Hybrid doesn't tell the whole story, as this minivan has plug-in capability. That means you can charge the 16 kilowatt-hour battery pack from a charging station, getting its stated 30 miles of electric range. Chrysler says that, with a full charge and full tank of gas, the Pacifica Hybrid can go 530 miles.

Chrysler gives a miles-per-gallon equivalent (MPGe) figure of 80 in the city, an EPA fuel economy calculation designed to take into account combined gasoline and electricity usage. Of course, as with any plug-in hybrid, mileage varies considerably depending on how often you plug in. Charge it every night and drive it less than 30 miles each day, and you will rarely burn any gasoline. Acknowledging this scenario, the Pacifica Hybrid senses the age of its gasoline, and will run its engine while you drive it when it needs to burn off old gasoline.

Through the winding and occasionally hilly streets of Los Angeles, the Pacifica Hybrid performed admirably under electric power, with plenty of acceleration and a comfortable driving character. Despite some extra weight over the standard Pacifica due to the battery pack, the Pacifica Hybrid handled more like a car than any minivan I've driven. Steering felt reasonably responsive and the suspension kept sway to a minimum. I had to remind myself of the minivan's bulk trailing along behind me.

After I drove far enough to burn off the electric range, the Pacifica Hybrid quietly kicked in the gas engine to complement the power from the electric motor to the front wheels. Chrysler says the combined output of engine and motor comes to 260 horsepower, somewhat less than the 287 horsepower of the gasoline-only version, but I didn't notice the deficiency. The torque output, a specification not given by Chrysler, must be ample enough.

Under moderate to heavy acceleration, I heard the low thrumming of the engine, but the power delivery remained smooth as the electric drive and nine speed automatic transmission filled in the gaps from changing engine speeds.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Chrysler gives drivers an efficiency coach on the instrument cluster to help with braking and acceleration.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

To help you understand the electric drivetrain, Chrysler replaces the tachometer with a power gauge on the instrument cluster, and adds an efficiency coach, which shows your optimum braking and acceleration. The 8.4-inch LCD in the center dashboard, which shows Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system, adds a power-flow animation screen, so you can see if it's just the electric motor or both motor and engine driving the wheels. A scheduling screen lets you set when the vehicle charges its battery pack, so you can take advantage of the best utility rates.

Uconnect itself remains a very good combination of navigation, apps and stereo. Destination input is intuitive and easy, helped by a responsive touchscreen. A dedicated data connection in the car powers apps such as Yelp, making it easy to find local businesses and restaurants.

The most notable trade-off to gain hybrid drive capability in the Pacifica is the loss of Chrysler's middle-row Stow-n-Go seats, which fold down into the floor. The standard Pacifica gets Stow-n-Go for the middle and third rows, but with the battery pack taking up space in the floor, the Pacifica Hybrid only gets these seats in the third row. Chrysler makes the middle row removable, however, to maximize cargo hauling.

Charging on a 110-volt outlet takes a lengthy 14 hours to fill the battery, so you will want to invest in a 240-volt Level 2 charger, shortening the charge time to a mere two hours.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

As the first hybrid minivan, the Pacifica takes things one step further by adding plug-in capability and enough electric range to go 30 miles.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

For the time being, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid stands alone as the only hybrid minivan on the market, something Toyota might take as a shot over the bow. As with many hybrid versions of an existing model, it costs a bit more, but Chrysler also starts it off at a higher trim line than the standard Pacifica. The Pacifica Premium starts at $41,995, and includes the Uconnect infotainment system, blind spot monitor and rearview camera, among other features. The Pacific Platinum costs $3,000 more but comes with Chrysler's entire advance safety equipment, including adaptive cruise control, and the Uconnect rear seat entertainment package.

Chrysler points out that, because of the Pacifica Hybrid's electric drive capability, it is also eligible for up to $7,500 in Federal tax credits and whatever state incentives apply.

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