The Hypnotist: When you open your eyes, you’ll forget all minivan preconceptions
With 6 million of its 14.3 million minivans still roaming America’s roads, Chrysler—the inventor of the segment as we know it today—still owns the market. Sure, Honda can brag about selling the most “retail” units, but together, overall Grand Caravan and Town & Country sales have roughly doubled those of the Odyssey for a decade. That’s slipped a bit in 2015, the fifth-gen FCA van’s eighth model year, but its replacement is raring to redefine the segment once again after a surprisingly long (in today’s CAD/CAM, CAE, FEA, CFD, acronym-expedited world) five-year gestation period.
The company spent a fair amount of time polling its 6 million owners about what they liked and didn’t like about minivans in general. Most mentioned the segment’s “image problem,” characterizing themselves as “martyr drivers,” wearing their rides like scarlet letter A’s branding them sensible “adults.” So global design chief Ralph Gilles gave his team the ultimate mission impossible: style a beautiful minivan.
At least they had the luxury of starting from scratch with no legacy floor heights or windshield touchdown points to work around. They seized the opportunity tolower the floor and the occupants, rake the windshield, and incorporate 20-inch wheels, up from a max of 17 on today’s vans. The wheelbase and track widths are all increased, the grille and taillamp graphics are more horizontal to enhance the longer/lower/wider aesthetic, the windshield is laid back, the side glass curves inboard more at the top, and there’s a bunch more chrome. There is a strong family resemblance to the new 200, both in the face and in the side character lines that curve up over the front wheels and back down again past the rears. Seen in person, the design is striking.
Equal or greater emphasis was placed on classing up the inside; soft-touch materials that look hand-sewn, a greater selection of monochrome and two-tone interior color schemes, and more horizontal graphics suggest roomy width. And the roominess isn’t just visual—the new van boasts almost 197.3 cubic feet of passenger and cargo space, up 10 cubes from before for solid mid-pack roominess. Front-seat travel is also increased, and buttons in back move the front seats forward when folding the Stow ‘n Go seats.
Innovation is prized in minivans, and by the team’s accounting, Chrysler has rolled out 78 minivan firsts in its first five generations. This one reportedly introduces 37 more, the most jumbo of which is an 80-mpg (2.9 L/100km) plug-in hybrid variant (see Hybrid sidebar). Another is a redesign that allows the Stow ‘n Go center-row seats to be tipped forward with a child seat attached, so big sister can more easily crawl in behind belted-in baby brother. There are also a reported 100 mostly familiar safety features—more than in any other minivan—including next-generation side curtain airbags that extend farther down and remain inflated longer to prevent ejection in a barrel roll or a wreck with multiple strikes.
Other big news: A removable center seat (37 pounds (17 kg)) mounts between the Stow ‘n Go buckets, increasing the carpool tally to eight; an integrated Stow ‘n Vac vacuum powered by RIDGID reportedly produces greater suction than Honda’s; and the all-new architecture is package-protected for all-wheel drive, a feature offered in the second, third, and fourth generations before being displaced by Stow ‘n Go. Expect to see it added here soon.
Careful use of high-strength steels and some exotic materials, such as aluminum sliding doors (another minivan first) and magnesium used in the cross-car dash beam and the liftgate inner panel, help trim 200 pounds (91 kg) from the gas-only versions of this sixth-gen van. The Stow ‘n Go wells are better integrated into the frame rails, and the engine compartment crash box incorporates hydroformed load beams, all of which helps this larger new van measure 30 percent stiffer in torsion. This reportedly contributes substantially to the claimed best-in-class ride and handling.
Learn about the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid RIGHT HERE.
Under the hood, the trusty 3.6-liter Pentastar engine gets new two-step valve lift intake camshafts, cooled exhaust-gas recirculation, and friction reductions that combine to improve engine efficiency by 5 percent. It weighs 4 pounds (1.8 kg) less, producing 287 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque (little changed from today’s 283/260). Frontal area is up slightly, but the drag coefficient drops from 0.316 to an even 0.300 for a 3 percent reduction in overall drag. The new standard TorqueFlite nine-speed automatic, which we’re promised benefits from scores of programming improvements relative to the products currently using it, further boosts fuel economy, and use of active noise cancellation programmed through the stereo permits earlier torque-converter lockup. All together these upgrades are said to deliver best-in-class fuel economy.
Tim Kuniskis, FCA’s head of passenger car brands, claims this minivan is so completely new (and he implies, so much cooler than the ones it replaces) that it needed a new name. Hence they’re dusting off the Pacifica moniker formerly used on the stylish but packaging-challenged three-row tourer built from 2003-2007. Because this one new Chrysler model will replace all the Dodge and Chrysler minivans, the Pacifica will be offered in four badged trim levels—LX, Touring, Limited, and Limited Platinum, with the Touring grade offering a bunch of options including leather and rear entertainment.
So whadya think? Is it cool enough to pry you out of that high-floor, gas-thirsty, eight-passenger SUV you’ve never taken off-road? Check it out in dealerships this spring.
|2017 Chrysler Pacifica|
|BASE PRICE||$26,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 7-8-pass, 4-door van|
|ENGINES||3.6L/287-hp/262-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6; 3.6L/248-hp/230-lb-ft Atkinson-cycle DOHC 24-valve V-6 plus two front electric motors, 260 hp comb|
|TRANSMISSIONS||9-speed automatic, cont. variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,350-4,950 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||203.6 x 79.6 x 69.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.5-8.0 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||28 mpg highway (est, gas model); 80 mpg-e city (est, hybrid)|
|DRIVING RANGE||30 (est, hybrid EV); 530 (est, hybrid comb) miles|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Spring 2016 (gas model); third quarter 2016 (hybrid)|
80 mpg-e equals 560 people-mpg-e if you fill all the chairs!
Here’s what we know so far about the new Hybrid model, which will follow its gas sibling to market in the second half of 2016. It will incorporate a an Atkinson-cycle Pentastar V-6 running 12.5:1 compression down-rated to 248 hp and 230 lb-ft and an all-new, unique FCA-patented E-CVT designed in Auburn Hills, Michigan, by Chrysler. It features a planetary gear set capable of combining the inputs of the V-6 engine and two motor/generator units. Unlike other such e-CVTs, in pure EV mode, both motor/generators can be used to propel the vehicle. In hybrid mode, only one electric motor assists the V-6 in providing propulsion. But like the Toyota/Ford systems and unlike in Chevy‘s Volt, any call for full power will ignite the V-6 regardless of the battery state of charge. Peak combined horsepower is rated at 260 hp.
The16-kW-hr lithium-ion battery pack weighs 375 pounds and mounts beneath the middle row of seats, displacing the Stow ‘n Go stowage wells and precluding mechanical AWD. (Electric AWD is package-protected for, but it’s as yet unannounced.) In total, the Hybrid weighs about 600 pounds more than the gas version. Plugged in to a Level 2 charger using the onboard 6.6-kW charger, topping off an empty battery takes just 2 hours. Fully charged, the Pacifica Hybrid can reportedly travel about 30 miles.
Hybrid models will be offered in a unique silver-teal paint color and are further distinguished by their flatter, more aerodynamic wheel design, the charge port on the driver’s side front fender, and a grille texture of flowing horizontal bars in place of the mainstream model’s hex mesh. Inside, an “Alaska” design theme blends ice-blue accents with black- and “alloy”-colored upholstery. Two removable buckets are fitted in the second row. A unique dash display provides all the expected driver-coaching features to help squeeze every possible mile from each electron or hydrocarbon molecule. The dash top also features a series of battery-charge indicator lights to allow remote visual monitoring of the recharge process. If the memory of batteries in a ChryCo minivan is ringing a faint bell, you might recall the fully electric Caravan EPIC, powered by 28 12-volt NiMH batteries good for 80 miles of range. A few hundred were built and leased to fleet operators between 1999 and 2001. All but about 10 were crushed at the end of their lease. This electrified minivan’s prospects appear much brighter.