Chrysler Pacifica Minivan Throws Down the Gauntlet

The all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica arrives this spring.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica.

If you thought the minivan segment was in its death throes, you are not alone. Last year, segment sales fell by 8 percent in a market where overall sales climbed by more than 5 percent.

However, much of that drop can be attributed to a shutdown at the Fiat Chrysler (FCA) plant in Ontario, Canada early in 2015 explains That cessation allowed FCA to retool the plant to prepare for an all-new model, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, now in production.

The minivan market is certainly a narrow one, with just over 500,000 units sold in recent years. In 2000 and just before the crossover SUV craze took hold, manufacturers sold a record 1.37 million units according to Bloomberg. In 2009, that number plummeted to just 415,000 models sold, due in part to an overall collapse in vehicle sales.

Chrysler Dominates the Minivan Segment

Fiat Chrysler is bullish on minivans, a segment it essentially created when it released a pair of twins in 1983 — the Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager. The majority of its competitors jumped into the segment years later, but by then Chrysler largely controlled the market, easily outselling all its competitors combined.

Indeed, the segment has been such a tough nut to crack, that both GM and Ford threw in the towel, while Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Kia have been forced to redo their products in an effort to compete. Today, the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey are the two top-selling models, although the FCA twins combine to sell far more models.

For 2017, Fiat Chrysler is advancing an unusual strategy to win over new customers. Its Dodge Grand Caravan model returns largely unchanged, but will be priced to appeal to entry-level shoppers. Eventually, the Dodge will be replaced by a crossover based on the Pacifica’s platform. That’s a strategy used by Nissan as its Quest (minivan) and Pathfinder (crossover SUV) share the same architecture.

At the same time, its Chrysler Town & Country model has been retired, and will soon be replaced by the Pacifica, an all-new vehicle targeting premium shoppers and also one highly likely to give Toyota and Honda the greatest headache.

In effect, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica serves notice to all that FCA is in it to win it. The company is gambling that young families will find the model appealing and select it over competing crossovers, including the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, and the Toyota Highlander, to name a few.

Automotive experts seem bullish about the new model with the The Car Connection describing it as a “paradigm shift” for minivans. That’s no exaggeration as a hybrid model will be added later, the first-ever PHEV of its kind in this segment.

High-Priced Product Investment

To achieve its goals for the new model, FCA invested a whopping $2.6 billion in its Windsor, Ontario, factory or nearly twice the amount usually committed to build an all-new model from the ground up. That cost doesn’t include the engine and transmission, powertrain components already in use elsewhere.

FCA’s high-profit models are its Jeep and Ram products. Minivans are lucrative too, especially when sold in greater numbers, hence the investment master plan.

The overarching strategy for CEO Sergio Marchionne is to make his company more appealing to partners. Marchionne has made it clear that his company’s future, indeed its ability to survive for the long haul, lies in the arms of a well-heeled suitor.

New 9-Speed Automatic Transmission

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica does have something in common with the outgoing Town & Country: both models are powered by a 3.6-liter, V-6 engine. This engine makes 287 horsepower with an output of 262 foot-pounds of torque.

Notably, the transmission has been changed with the Pacifica getting Chrysler’s new 9-speed automatic, replacing the previous 6-speed. That improvement alone will result in a boost in fuel economy to 18 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway; up from the previous 17/25 mpg city/highway.

Chrysler prices the Pacifica from $28,595 for the base LX model. Four other trim levels are available: Touring ($30,495), Touring L ($34,495), Touring L Plus ($37,895), and Limited ($42,495). Add in various packages, including trailer tow group $995), tire and wheel group ($995), an advanced safety technology package ($1,995), and a UConnect Theater and Sound Group ($2,795), and your final price could top $50,000.

Exterior and Interior Highlights

The most striking exterior change made for the new minivan is its front fascia — the design language common to the current generation Chrysler 200 introduced in 2015 has been ported. It offers a more contemporary and sleek expression on the Pacifica.

Beyond that, you have a traditional boxy layout, but a more aerodynamic style at that. Available hands-free sliding doors and liftgate are sure to please. Profile sculpting, stylish wraparound rear combination lamps, and chrome trim add to this model’s premium look.

Inside, much about the Pacifica will seem familiar, but there are some noteworthy changes on hand as well. This model seats seven or eight if you choose a center bench seat instead of the two captain’s chairs. Stow ’n Go seating and storage is back and is now joined by the available Stow ’n Vac integrated vacuum system courtesy of RIDGID.

All models feature keyless entry, remote start, power accessories, heated and ventilated seats, and UConnect infotainment.

The UConnect feature includes an available 8.4-inch touch screen with integrated voice command and navigation. A standard 6-speaker audio system can be upgraded to either a 13-speaker Alpine or a 20-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound system. Top-of-the-line features include a touring suspension, leather seats, and aluminum polished wheels.

An review notes that the Chrysler Pacifica provides “a smooth and quiet ride.” They were also impressed by how quiet it sounds on the highway with “minimal amounts of wind, road and engine noise.”

Safety features available include a Surround View camera, which utilizes four cameras positioned around the vehicle to provide 360-degree views as well as a bird’s eye perspective of the vehicle. Park assist, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with brake assist, and lane departure warning are also available.

PHEV Variant Arrives Later

There is something else the Pacifica offers not found in the Town & Country or in any other minivan model: a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) equivalent. That PHEV arrives later in the year and will be powered by the same V-6 paired with an electrically variable transmission with dual-motor EV drive capability. We’ll explore this model further closer to its release date.

Meanwhile, the standard Chrysler Pacifica will arrive in showrooms within the next few weeks. And in fairly short order we should learn if FCA’s new product gamble pays off, one of the boldest moves this automaker has undertaken since the two companies merged a few years back.

 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

  • Sticker price from $28,595
  • Maximum base price: $42,495 (Limited)
  • Seats 7 or 8 occupants
  • 3.6-liter gasoline engine
  • 287 horsepower @ 6,400 RPM
  • 262 foot-pounds of torque @ 4,000 RPM
  • 3.78 inches bore by 3.27 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 11.3-to-1
  • 9-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 121.6 inches
  • Length: 203.6 inches
  • Width: 79.6 inches
  • Height: 69.9 inches
  • Passenger volume: 165 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 32.3/87.5/140.5 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 3,600 pounds
  • EPA: 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 19 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 4,330 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Not Yet Rated
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 3 years/unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Windsor, Ontario Canada

See AlsoChrysler 200C: The Last Hurrah?

2017 Chrysler Pacifica photo copyright Auto Trends Magazine.

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