It’s crunch time for the crumb-cruncher carriers
Among the many important decisions you might make during that first pregnancy is the second most expensive purchase for most of us: the family car. Judging from the semifinal results, you now know it’s time to trade in your old sedan that got you through college (though maybe grab the toga from the back seat for future spills).
Based on our final twosome, your heart might say, “I’m still in my 20s and I’m definitely still cool, even with a baby, so I should get that sporty, sharp-looking Chevrolet Blazer.” Your head says, “I have a business degree and know how to do a cost-benefit analysis, and the Chrysler Pacifica is specifically designed for people with my needs.” Which do you trust?
Gut instinct tells you not to buy more vehicle than you need. You only have the one kid on the way, after all. You read the semifinals and you know a two-row crossover like the Blazer seats five and drives like a sport sedan with twice the cargo capacity. Maybe when you have that second or third kid (or when you find out you’re having triplets) you’ll opt for the minivan.
MotorTrend’s March Mayhem is here! As part of our quest to find the best family car, we invited eight vehicles to compete in a winner-take-all bracket. After winning their conference championship against a similar vehicle in the first round and a fraternal rival in the second, the 2019 Chevrolet Blazer RS two-row crossover and the 2019 Chrysler Pacifica S Limited minivan face off in the finals for family-vehicle supremacy.
Hang on, though. Most people have their second kid within a few years of their first but keep their vehicle for a decade. You’re going to need those extra seats sooner than you think. Even if you just want to take the spouse, the one kid, and the dog to the park, you’re going to start running out of room quickly. Kids require car seats, diaper bags, strollers, and other accessories, which all take up space. Oh, and maybe the grandparents are in town? You’re going to need room for them and all their stuff. Soon enough, the kid will have friends and sports equipment or instruments, and then what? Even with one kid, it’s not hard to imagine maxing out the two-row crossover.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The first baby isn’t even born yet. Is there anything a minivan like the Pacifica really does that much better besides haul cubic yards of athletic gear and potting soil? Yes, and you might remember it from the semifinals; the same disadvantages of a three-row crossover apply to a two-row.
Start with the obvious: doors. There isn’t a crossover on the market with doors that open more than 90 degrees, nor is there one with a door opening the size of a minivan’s sliding door. Whether it’s you loading the car seat or the kid, the kids loading themselves, or your aging parents getting in the back, the minivan’s bigger opening is invaluable. That’s especially important in parking lots or garages, where you might not be able to swing that door open 90 degrees. You might even wish the door didn’t swing open so far, lest your mini-me, still learning the concept of cause and effect, dings the car next to you (perhaps in your own garage).
There’s also the matter of operating said doors. Nearly every van and crossover offers a power tailgate, but no crossover under six figures offers power side doors. Whether your hands are full with baby, or your toddler wants to do it themselves, being able to push a button on the door, the pillar next to the door, the dash or map light console, or the key fob, or just making a kicking motion underneath it, means neither you nor the kid ever has to muscle the door open or closed.
So the minivan hauls stuff better and is easier to get in and out of, but isn’t it a penalty box? Doesn’t it hurt your soul just sliding behind the wheel of one? In the past, perhaps, but not anymore. To be certain, we took the finalists off the proving ground and out into the real world. Our trusty Car of the Year and SUV of the Year finalist loop in nearby Tehachapi provides 35 miles (56 km) of city streets, country roads, freeways, twisting canyons, and mutilated pavement. Surely the Blazer, looking and driving like the Camaro of crossovers, would show off its quick first step and assert its dominance.
Or would it? Before we left, we subjected both the Pacifica and the Blazer to the same 55-mph (88-km/h) emergency lane change test as in the semifinals. Each had proven itself substantially more stable and controlled than its similarly sized opponent. But if you were expecting the smaller, lighter, sportier Blazer to drive circles around the Pacifica, you’re in for a surprise. The two performed almost identically, with the sport-tuned Blazer RS handling the maneuver just slightly better.
Real streets only reinforced the test results. The Pacifica rides as well as the Blazer, handles nearly as well, charges onto the freeway as well, carries equivalent driver assistance and safety systems, is just as quiet inside, and is easier to see out of. In the past, owning a minivan was a capitulatory purchase, a choice made under duress because you had kids and this is what you do. Automakers like Chrysler were smart to recognize this and have designed vans that look and drive like the vehicles you wanted to buy while offering more practicality and convenience than any other segment.
Speaking of, it’s worth mentioning that no mainstream two-row crossover offers a rear-seat entertainment system.
But when starting a college fund for young Cierra or Michael, a family must consider the dollars and cents. Two-row crossovers come in multiple sizes, and the smaller you get, the less expensive and more fuel efficient they become. A large two-row, though, comes in at about the same price and fuel efficiency as a minivan—and the minivan delivers more for your money in terms of features. If saving gas and/or the planet is your top concern, there’s the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (and if you feel like you need all-wheel drive, the Toyota Sienna AWD).
A final factor in our championship battle is the experience of our peers. Among us we have friends also in their 20s and 30s—some on them on their first kid, some on their fourth—most of whom tried to make a go of it with two- and three-row crossovers but were finally tempted by the practicality of the minivan. Not a single defector regrets their decision; in fact, they wish they’d chosen a minivan from the start.
It’s not impossible to make a two-row crossover a family vehicle, as many families (and automotive product planners) will attest. They’re designed to be family friendly as best as the form factor allows.
Minivans, however, require no compromises or optional equipment or packaging tweaks because they’re designed from the ground up for this specific purpose. What’s more, the minivan is virtually future-proof; as your family grows, you’ll rest easy knowing your kids (and their stuff) will fit. The minivan will bring the baby home from the hospital, and 18 years later that van will deliver your offspring to college just as easily. It’s a choice between making it work and having it work, and that’s not much of a choice at all. The Pacifica got game.
|2019 Chrysler Pacifica S Limited||2019 Chevrolet Blazer AWD RS|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$52,605||$48,270|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 7-pass, 4-door van||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.6L/287-hp/262-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6||3.6L/308-hp/270-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|TRANSMISSION||9-speed automatic||9-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,609 lb (56/44%)||4,274 lb (59/41%)|
|WHEELBASE||121.6 in||112.7 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||203.8 x 79.6 x 69.9 in||191.4 x 76.7 x 67.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.6 sec||6.1 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.9 sec @ 89.9 mph||14.7 sec @ 95.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||124 ft||126 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.78 g (avg)||0.83 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.2 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)||27.1 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||19/28/22 mpg||18/25/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||177/120 kW-hrs/100 miles||187/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.87 lb/mile||0.94 lb/mile|