The Chrysler Pacifica minivan gets a number of updates for 2021, including a fancy new Pinnacle trim, upgraded technology and some styling tweaks. The Pacifica Hybrid returns, as well, and it's available across the van's lineup. If you're looking for minivan functionality with a major boost of efficiency, this is a seriously compelling option -- with one big caveat.
Plug-in hybrids are great because they offer real electric range in addition to the easy convenience of having a gas engine. Chrysler says the Pacifica Hybrid can travel 32 miles on battery power alone, which is enough for most people's commutes. The problem is, the Pacifica doesn't let you choose when to use the battery power. Most plug-ins will give the driver the option to select this themselves -- for example, you can use electric power in the city but the run the gas engine on the highway where it's most efficient. In the Pacifica, however, the 16-kilowatt-hour battery expends its juice right from the get-go, and when it's out, the van switches over to being a standard hybrid, adding small amounts of electric assist to the 3.6-liter V6.
Chrysler says its research indicates that customers don't want to worry about switching between modes and want the system to be really simple. So my question is: Why make it a plug-in? If I have to plug the van in to a Level 2 charger for two hours, I want the benefit of being able to use full EV power on my own terms.
Over a week of testing, I saw an average of 29.2 miles per gallon. I covered 67.7 miles electrically and 316.8 miles with the gas engine doing the heavy lifting. If I'd been able to choose when those battery miles were used, I probably could've done better than 29.2 overall. The EPA gives the 2021 Pacifica Hybrid a combined fuel economy rating of 82 miles per gallon equivalent, or 30 mpg when you're only relying on the gas engine. That's a pretty good increase over the 22-mpg combined rating of the gas-only Pacifica, but again, it could do better. For example, the hybrid-only Toyota Sienna doesn't use a plug-in setup, and it's rated at 36 mpg combined all the time.
Despite this plug-in frustration, the Pacifica Hybrid is pretty great to drive. The electric continuously variable transmission is incredibly smooth, and the added weight of the battery in the middle of the van's floor lowers the center of gravity, which helps with handling. Chrysler says the total combined output of the plug-in hybrid system is 260 horsepower, which is plenty, and it's only available with front-wheel drive. If you want a hybrid with all-wheel drive, check out the Toyota Sienna. Even so, during California's first big rainstorm of the year, the Pacifica Hybrid is surefooted and the rain-sensing wipers react immediately to changes in intensity.
Inside, my Pacifica Limited has the Red S appearance package with Rodeo Red leather seats in all three rows. I personally love the incongruous choice of sporty red leather in a minivan, but those with more traditional tastes might think it's a bit much. The second row captain's chairs are comfortable but I want the seat to be higher. Sitting here I feel like my knees are just a little too close to my ears. The pass-through to the third row is wide enough for me to maneuver my adult-sized butt back there, and the seats are surprisingly roomy. I'd sit back there on a road trip. For real.
The bummer here is that the Pacifica's super-cool Stow-N-Go seats, which fold completely flat into the floor, are not available with the plug-in powertrain. That's where the battery lives, so there is no way to stow the seats below. You also can't get the Pacifica Hybrid with the van's built-in vacuum cleaner, so be prepared to pick up those Cheerios by hand. The spare tire, heated second row seats and towing setup are a no-go, as well.
New for this year is the FamCam interior camera that helps drivers keep an eye on their little ones. Parents can even see their little darlings in rear-facing child seats and zoom in on a particular seat. Second-row kids get the available Uconnect Theatre entertainment system with all kinds of games to keep them busy on long drives -- everything from Sudoku to Back Seat Bingo is packed inside, and kids can stream content from their devices, too.
Charging options are plentiful on my Limited tester, with two USB-A and USB-C ports, as well as wireless charging up front, a center console with USB-A and USB-C outlets and a 12-volt outlet. Second row passengers each get a USB-A, HDMI and a headphone jack, and a 115-volt, 150-watt outlet. Third row kiddos each get a USB-A and USB-C port. Nobody's device should be at anything less than 100% at the end of a road trip.
The Pacifica gets Chrysler's new Uconnect 5 infotainment tech for 2021, and it's a big improvement over what is already an excellent system. The overall layout is still the same, but processing times are faster, the graphics are cleaned up and it comes on a standard 10-inch touchscreen. Further, the home screen can be personalized for up to six users, complete with favorite media, climate and seat settings. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are here per usual, but Amazon Alexa joins the party, as well. Alexa can do things like start the car while the driver is still inside the house and will also control media and check news, traffic and weather and access tons of other Alexa skills.
Driver-assistance technology gets a boost for 2021 with new automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and plenty of standard ADAS features that were once optional. Forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist are now standard this year.
I really like the adaptive cruise control system in the Pacifica. It's quick to accelerate around slower vehicles that move out of my lane and it applies the brakes smoothly when the car ahead slows down.
The Pacifica Hybrid starts at $41,490 including $1,495 for destination and extends to $52,340 for the new Pinnacle trim. Keep in mind that opting for a plug-in hybrid means you may be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit as well as state and local incentives. My Limited tester comes out to $50,825.
However, I'm not sure the Pacifica Hybrid would be my first choice for a minivan. Yes, it's much more efficient than the gas-only Pacifica, but not being in control of when my electrons are used is a bit of a drag. It might be more worthwhile to go with the Toyota Sienna, which isn't as stylish and the Entune system pales in comparison to Uconnect, but it gets 36 mpg combined without ever having to plug in. Plus, if you live where there is snow, the all-wheel drive will help.
Still, the Pacifica excels, with great tech and premium design. It's easy to drive and it has enough available entertainment to keep the little ones entertained for hours. Give me the option to choose my own EV driving and it might be the perfect van.