Chrysler Pacific: Not your typical minivan

Just how significant is the new Pacifica minivan? Important enough to obliterate the Town &Country name, because, quite frankly, Chrysler doesn’t want you thinking about it. At all. Ever. The Pacifica is mind bleach. Your memory wipe.

Is there anyone who doesn’t know this story? That Dodge and Chrysler have dominated the minivan ever since Lee Iacocca, chairman of the former Chrysler Corporation, introduced the family box to North Americans more than 30 years ago? It is perhaps fitting, then, that the automaker is breaking new ground with the Pacifica.

It’s perched at the premium end of the minivan scale to replace the aging Town &Country with a daring new design and a new plan. The T &C’s close-cousin Dodge Grand Caravan lingers on for the 2016 model year as the price leader.

You might wonder at the wisdom of throwing away three decades of branding and implementing a new-ish name, but it really is time for a change. Because times have changed. The sanctimonious soccer mom putdowns have become tiresome cliches and a new generation of buyers is discovering that minivans are more practical and comfortable than sport utility vehicles and so-called crossovers, and are often less expensive.

You’ll recognize the Pacifica name from a rather underwhelming wagon that Chrysler tried peddling about 10 year ago. Things will be different this time around because, for one, the new model is not a mutt.

The Pacifica begins with a new weight-saving platform that’s wrapped in one of the most smartly tailored shapes in all of minivan-dom. The sleek look really pops, especially at the front end, which is inspired by the Chrysler 200 sedan. The slanted rear roof pillar also avoids the boxiness displayed by the competitions’ people movers.

Compared to the T &C, the Pacifica is about the same size, inside and out. Where there’s a significant difference is the 250-pound reduction in curb weight. That’s principally due to lighter-weight materials in the basic body structure combined with aluminum suspension components and sliding door panels.

The interior still has plenty of space for up to eight people and is a more livable and modern environment. Dashboard styling and ornamentation are first-rate and the twist-knob shifter makes it easier to access the control panel.

Returning as standard equipment is “Stow and Go” (the second- and third-row seats fold beneath the floor and turn the Pacifica into a movable storage locker). Also returning in modestly updated form is Chrysler’s ubiquitous 3.6-liter V-6 that puts out 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. The T &C made 283/260.

Heidi Fernandez, a saleswoman at Chapman Las Vegas Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram, said the dealership has a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica available to test drive.

“When I got into the van, it didn’t feel like your typical minivan,” she said. “This one has leather seats and is very comfortable. It has all the bells and whistles of a high-end car.”

Fernandez said minivan enthusiasts will gravitate toward the Chrysler Pacifica.

“I think buyers will be really excited about it,” she said. “If I was looking into buying a van this one would be the top one.”

For 2017, Chrysler has installed a nine-speed automatic transmission in place of the traditional six-speed. The new shifter helps the Pacifica achieve a rating of 18 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway, compared with 17/25 for the T &C.

Arriving later is an all-wheel-drive option as well as a plug-in Pacifica Hybrid. The latter will use a version of the 3.6 plus an electric motor for a total net output of 248 horsepower. The liquid-cooled battery pack sits in the area where the second-row Stow and Go seats would normally go.

Chrysler claims the system will operate in electric-only mode for up to 30 miles (within the average daily commute) and at speeds up to 120 mph.

Hybrid pricing isn’t available yet, but $29,600 (including destination charges) will get you behind the wheel of a base gasoline-powered Pacifica with the usual basics plus a power-adjustable driver’s seat, backup camera and 17-inch wheels.

From that point you can consider the Touring-L, Touring-L Plus and top-end Limited trims. The Limited adds $12,000 to the base price, but along with a wealth of luxury and safety extras, it tops out with power-folding third-row seats, tri-pane panoramic sunroof, 3-D navigation and a handy built-in vacuum to put the kids to good use.

The Pacifica’s diversified lineup of models and drivetrains will likely upset the status quo, but with Chrysler’s history of leading the way in the minivan class, is anyone actually surprised?

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