Modern families might be crazy about their high-riding SUVs, but for a long time the minivan ruled supreme in the world of practical family hauling. Chrysler is hoping its new Pacifica is able to kickstart a retro revolution, where practicality and family-first features trump the schoolyard kudos carried by the four-wheel drive monsters that currently rule the road.
Chrysler might be hailing the Pacifica as the first cool minivan, but there's no hiding the fact this is a car for people who have procreated in big numbers. Thanks to active noise cancellation and a brand-new platform designed to cut down on harsh noise and vibrations, the Pacifica should offer up a far more refined experience than classic minivan owners are familiar with.
It should also handle better than your average family bus. The new car's platform means it's 68 kg (150 lb) lighter than Chrysler's last minivan, and engineers are claiming it's almost twice as stiff. As well as making things more interesting from behind the wheel, that makes a huge difference in an accident – and with up to seven kids on board, that's something Pacifica buyers are likely to be happy with.
Of course, there's no way Chrysler is going to tempt people out of SUVs if the Pacifica looks like a box on wheels. While there's no hiding its van-roofline, we think the new car looks pretty good. The front end has been designed to mimic that of the 200 sedan, while the back is sculpted to be more interesting than your average box.
It also sits low to the ground, which gives it a more car-like silhouette.
It's not just in styling that Chrysler has tried to modernise the minivan. Although the base powertrain is FCA's 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 hooked up to a nine-speed automatic gearbox, the Pacifica is also available as a hybrid with a 48 km (30 mi) electric range.
The electric motor is powered by a 16-kWh battery pack hidden under the second row of seats, and can be charged in two hours using a 240-volt wall plug. As is the case with most electric cars, the battery also refills itself through regenerative braking when you step off the gas.
This battery is combined with a V6 for a total system output of 194 kW (260 hp), slightly less than the non-hybrid's 214 kW (287 hp). Where the hybrid shines, as you'd imagine, is in the combined cycle economy test, where it returns 80 MPGe (2.9 l/100km equiv). Chrysler is adamant this figure is achievable on the road, as most minivans are used for short trips where the car's electric-only ability comes into its own.
Because it's designed as a family-hauler, the Pacifica's interior has been kitted out with all sorts of time and effort saving touches. The seats fold into the floor if you need to use the car as a load-lugging van, and owners worried about crumbs ruining the carpet can spec a vacuum on the inside of the car. We've never been so sure a previously-untested feature will suck.
There's also keyless entry, and optional rear-mounted tablets that include a game which tells kids how far it is until they're at their destination. While it's not guaranteed to stop backseat drivers getting under the driver's skin, it's certainly a start.
The Pacifica will be on sale in 2017, where we hope to see this handsome minivan lining the streets around schools all over America.
Stay tuned for all the latest from the Detroit Auto Show, where Gizmag is on the ground covering all the action.