Playing the range game, I set out from San Francisco in the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid with a fully charged battery, the instrument panel noting 35 miles of electric range, headed for the coast. Pacifica minivan and Pacific ocean, makes enough sense for a car review.
Only 32 miles to Half Moon Bay, but due to a big hill on the route I expected the engine to kick in well before I sighted the blue Pacific. Turns out the freeway proved a more immediate challenge, as maintaining 65 to 70 mph over rolling hills drains range fast.
After covering only 25 miles in the Pacifica Hybrid, at the start of that big hill at 280 and Highway 92, I'm looking at 1 mile of electric range, so it's back to burning dinosaurs. Chrysler claims 33 miles of electric driving on a full charge, so it came up short by 6. City or suburban driving will yield better results. As the minivan goes from full electric drive to hybrid gasoline-electric, I complete my path to the coast.
But here's where your head should be reeling back: I'm driving electric, with zero emissions, for a significant amount of time in a minivan. Further, that minivan goes full hybrid when I use up its electric range.
Chrysler beat out the world in delivering the Pacifica Hybrid this year, the first hybrid minivan ever. And not just a hybrid, but a plug-in as well, giving it a reasonable chunk of electric range with the potential to greatly increase its gasoline fuel economy. That means you Prius and Volt owners can feel just as ecological taking the kids out in the family minivan.
The Pacifica Hybrid follows the standard, gasoline-only Pacifica launched last year, which reclaimed Chrysler's minivan crown. With the new Pacifica, Chrysler delivered a thoroughly modern-looking car, with smooth sides, advanced safety and connected electronics, along with all the conveniences I expect in a minivan, such as power sliding doors and a flexible interior for seating or cargo.
However, the Pacifica Hybrid loses one advantage compared to the standard Pacifica: The middle row seats can't fold flat into the floor due to the mid-mounted 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. Those middle seats do fold down, and the rear row rests below the floor when down, so cargo area is still ample, just not quite as convenient as with the standard Pacifica.
That battery pack powers two electric motors integrated into the driveline, complementing a 3.6-liter V6 engine to drive the front wheels. Chrysler estimates the total output for the hybrid system at 260 horsepower. While less than the gasoline version, I never felt a want of power, likely do to the instant-on torque from the electric motors.
The real benefit from this system comes in fuel economy, as the Pacifica Hybrid showed me averages better than 32 mpg for drives of 100 and 150 miles, where the engine was on for the majority of the drive time. Consider a series of daily, short suburban runs with a full charge each morning, and you might only use gasoline on longer weekend trips.
And despite getting 10 mpg or better fuel economy than the standard Pacifica, the Pacifica Hybrid weighs about 660 pounds more. Chrysler compensated for this extra weight well, as the minivan accelerated and braked smoothly, lacking the jerkiness that can come from heavy weight and high torque motors. The Pacifica Hybrid made parking garage maneuvering easier with its electric power steering, programmed for one-finger turning at low speeds. A surround view camera system let me see all the objects around the minivan, while its ultrasonic sensors sounded off as I got close to pillars and parked cars.
On the road, the Pacifica Hybrid felt pliant and smooth, the dampers handling the extra weight well for a family-friendly ride. The last thing I wanted to do with a heavy minivan was pilot it down a twisty mountain road, but the curvy and hilly highways around San Francisco proved a reasonable handling test, which it passed well. Again, the suspension kept the car from wallowing and that low-slung battery pack likely helped this minivan's curve appeal by lowering its center of gravity.
Instead of a clunky handle on the steering column, the Pacifica Hybrid uses a dial drive selector on the dashboard with Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive and Low settings. That dial may throw traditionalists, but I adapted to it easily, and it fit with the Pacifica Hybrid's modern aesthetic. Chrysler leaves out any Eco modes, as I guess the car is always in Eco mode. More helpful would be a means to specify using hybrid or electric modes, the former of which could save pure electric driving for when you really need it, such as a silent cruise into the driveway at night.
The Pacific Hybrid impressed me with its electric driving, especially how it effortlessly climbed San Francisco hills. Once the electric range ran out, the system seamlessly kicked over to hybrid operation, the engine starting up with no shudder. I only really noticed engine vibration under heavy acceleration.
As with most hybrids, I could watch a real-time animation of the drivetrain's power output, showing when the battery was gaining energy from regenerative braking and when the engine kicked in. That animation plays out on an 8.4-inch touchscreen in the center dashboard as an app in Chrysler's UConnect infotainment system. I've praised UConnect in the past for its integration of a dedicated data connection and useful third-party apps such as Yelp.
While those features, along with navigation, digital audio and a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, remain, UConnect is falling behind the competition. It still uses a 3G data connection, and lacks support for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. A better UConnect is on the horizon, as I saw in the new Jeep Compass, which updates the interface and supports iOS and Android phone mirroring.
Options in the navigation system let me set a preference for faster or more energy-efficient routes. That latter option would avoid hills where possible. Set to the fast option, I found UConnect's navigation guiding me to a freeway entrance that would've added a couple of miles to my route, compared to a closer entrance I happened to know about.
Given all the time I spent driving on freeways and highways in the Pacifica Hybrid, I was pleased that it came with Chrysler's adaptive cruise control, part of the Advanced SafetyTec package, which also brought in a blind spot monitor system and the aforementioned surround view camera. Chrysler's adaptive cruise control does something cool, automatically setting the drivetrain to accelerate when I hit the turn signal. This system, which automatically matches speeds with slower traffic ahead, also brings the Pacifica Hybrid to a complete stop when traffic stops. However, I felt it left too big of a gap ahead in slow traffic, inviting other cars to cut into my lane.
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid doesn't face a lot of direct competition as it's the only hybrid minivan on the market. That hybrid drivetrain means it blows other minivans away when it comes to fuel economy, posting low 30s when actually burning gasoline compared to the low 20 averages of gasoline-only minivans. However, crossovers can be an alternative to minivans as a family car with passenger and cargo capacity. In that regard, there are a number of hybrid crossovers to cross-shop, such as the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Acura MDX Sport Hybrid, and even the Infiniti QX60, but those tend to be five-passenger vehicles, giving the Pacifica Hybrid the advantage as a people carrier.
For the family that already uses a hybrid as a commuter car, the Pacifica Hybrid makes an excellent choice to extend that fuel efficiency to the second spot in the driveway. As with its standard Pacifica minivan, Chrysler doesn't miss a beat here, the hybrid system working smoothly and seamlessly, its plug-in capability delivering a huge bonus for daily errands.
As for buying options, Chrysler only offers two trim lines, Premium and Platinum, with base prices of $41,995 and $44,995 respectively. That's pricey for a minivan, but these come well equipped. At already over 40 grand, the Platinum trim makes the most sense as it adds cabin entertainment features and driver assistance features, the former keeping passengers happy and the latter easing driver stress. The only real option available is a panoramic sunroof. At $1,795 it's not necessary, but it is pretty impressive.