The minivan segment has lost a good deal of momentum over these last few years, to the point that several manufacturers – including Ford and GM – have thrown in the towel, preferring instead to invest in the SUVs. In spite of it all, FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) and their Dodge Grand Caravan continues to dominate this market year after year, having sold countless units in Canada.
Sure, it may not be the best product on the market, but the manufacturer has always distinguished itself by offering excellent value and an attractive price at a time when the competition was gambling on luxury and, consequently, a higher price.
- Also: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica: When Luxury Meets Family
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Some may not like the minivan's soccer-mom image, but there’s no denying that for family practicality, they have no equal. While rumour has it that the end is near for the Dodge Grand Caravan, the Chrysler Town & Country is officially calling it a career, but with the caveat that it is being replaced by a brand new model, the 2017 Pacifica. By the way, this vehicle has nothing to do with the crossover of the same name that we knew in the mid-2000s.
New name, new platform
Why change the name of the model? Mainly to try to get people to forget past generations of the vehicle and start fresh. The proof is in the brand-new platform and lighter structure, made possible thanks in large part to a more widespread use of aluminum in the doors and the liftgate. It goes without saying that this reduction in weight leads to better fuel economy and improved vehicle rigidity.
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica will have the task of competing with the more posh models in the segment, but its $43,999 base price makes it costlier than the rest. The new Pacifica sure ain’t cheap, that’s for sure! Especially considering that its Korean and Japanese rivals have models that sell for a little over $30,000.
It’s a strange decision not to offer more affordable versions, like the manufacturer is doing in the United States. Is that so as not to hurt sales of the Grand Caravan here? Time will tell.
For 2017, there are three available trim levels: the Pacifica Touring-L ($43,995), the Touring-L Plus ($46,995) and the Limited ($52,995). A plug-in hybrid version will arrive sometime this year, but it will be the subject of a more in-depth analysis in due course. In the meantime, word is that its range in all-electric mode will be nearly 50 km, and it will be the first PHEV minivan on our market.
More dynamic styling
Style-wise, the designers did a heck of a job modernizing its lines and softening the “minivan effect” of the past. We’ve come a long way from the days of the high-riding, square box on wheels. It was with this in mind that they lowered the roofline ever so slightly. In front, it’s tough not to see a resemblance with the Chrysler 200, especially in the grille.
The back end is also nicely done with its taillights encircled with a strip of LEDs, but the most notable improvement is the sliding door runner under the length of the rear window. It’s very well hidden, and the effect of the sliding doors has been almost entirely eliminated. Overall, the Pacifica’s style is terrific; it actually looks more like an SUV than a van.
We like what the designers did in the cabin. The reworked dashboard gives it more curves. With a slightly lower driving position, it feels more like piloting an SUV than a van.
In the base trim, you get the sense that you’re not getting much for your money. Certain elements are missing, notably the 8.4-inch touchscreen, which is replaced by a much less interesting system. You can add it from the options list or turn to the more attractive Touring-L Plus version. It has a more noticeable level of luxury, which is what you look for in a vehicle for this price.
Otherwise, there are several practical storage spaces and a number of 12-volt and USB jacks to plug in all your electronic gadgets. Handy Stow ’n Go seats are back. They can be completely folded into the floor to create an impressive cargo area.
You’ll even be able to equip your vehicle with a Stow ’n Vac vacuum in the side panel of the second row. With a long hose to reach all the nooks and crannies, you can say goodbye to ever-present popcorn and crumbs dropped on the floor. Your children will also like the two optional 10-inch infotainment screens that create a veritable entertainment centre.
The valiant Pentastar engine
The 2017 Pacifica features very few changes under the hood. Back is the 3.6-litre V6 Pentastar, but with a few added horses bringing the total power to 287 and torque to 262 lb.-ft. There’s not much to complain about here, as the engine is well known and has proven its chops. It also makes the Pacifica more powerful than all its rivals.
To improve fuel economy, they’ve included the very same nine-speed automatic gearbox that caused the manufacturer problems in the past in other vehicles. Let’s hope that it won’t be the case this time. There’s no AWD, even though the new structure would allow it. Are they saving AWD for a future vehicle?
We had the chance to see the 2017 Pacifica at its family-friendly launch. What better way to get a feel for the model than with a little ride with the family? As you can guess, it’s the conveniences that stand out. The power sliding doors with their very large opening facilitate getting in, especially if you have toddlers and have to deal with child seats and all the gear that goes with hauling a young family around.
On the road, the Pacifica has a surprisingly comfortable and quiet ride, the latter a result of the factory-standard Active Noise Cancellation system. You hardly hear the engine or the ambient noise at all – it feels like being in a Lexus!
The vehicle sure is powerful, and although some of my colleagues found the nine-speed automatic gearbox hesitant, that was not the case during our ride. We were able to circulate easily and even stay ahead of the flow of traffic. As for fuel consumption, the manufacturer is promising a reasonable 8.4 litres per 100 km, which will have to be verified during a more thorough test drive.
There’s definitely room for luxury minivans in this segment
Other manufacturers prove it, like Infiniti with its QX60, which is Nissan’s best-selling luxury model. However, Chrysler doesn’t enjoy the same prestige, and that’s often what people want when spending big bucks on a vehicle. This is the area where FCA will have to make significant inroads.