Pacifica Hybrid boosts minivan practicality to new heights

2017 Chrysler Pacifica (left) and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (right)-23082017-0001
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (right) advertises excellent minivan fuel economy, but does it measure up in Mr. Driver’s Seat testing?

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Platinum: Changing the minivan game again?

Price: $47,885 as tested; a panoramic sunroof added $1,795.

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “legit all-­electric range, normal driving experience, Uncle Sam’s mail-in rebate makes it a steal” but lists drawbacks as “no second-­row Stow ‘n Go, still looks like a minivan.”

Marketer’s pitch: “America’s first-ever hybrid minivan.”

Reality: As efficient as advertised, but is it the total package?

Bringing efficiency to the masses: Now that everyone from Volvo to BMW is looking to hybrid power – a gasoline engine coupled with an electric motor and plenty of battery backup, plus the ability to charge from a wall socket – it was only a matter of time before someone realized the minivan was ideal for this setup.

Minivan buyers are, by definition, looking to get the most people/kids/animals/stuff/nerdiness from Point A to Point B most efficiently, coolness be damned. (Note: Mr. Driver’s Seat owns a Toyota Sienna, so I know from nerdiness.)

That Chrysler brought this to us first – something that had been designed into the Pacifica even before its initial introduction as a gasoline-only model late last year – shows the kind of thinking that was evident when the company initiated the front-wheel-drive, mainstream minivan in the mid-1980s. Kudos.

A long test: We had wanted to see Maine for years now, to try to pick a different location for a summer family vacation. Unfortunately, Sturgis Kids 2.0 and 3.0 both had work commitments that wouldn’t let them join us, but four of us in two cars traversed 500 miles to Boothbay to get us some lobstah and salty air, a perfect test for the Pacifica Hybrid.

Double power: The 3.6-liter V-6 eHybrid engine is coupled to a setup unusual in the hybrid world, the eFlite electrically variable transmission. Total output is estimated at 260 horsepower.

According to the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles website, “the device features two electric motors – both of which are capable of driving the vehicle’s wheels.” Usually, hybrids have one motor designed as a generator, and another that powers the wheels.

Shiftless: As noted, the transmission is unlike most others. It’s also operated by a dial, which some have panned but which I’ve grown to like over the years.

So, how far? How does the Pacifica Hybrid do in squeezing the most out of a gallon of gas?

Pretty darn well. The minivan came to me with a trip computer recording more than 1,500 miles. The minivan had run the gasoline engine for about half those miles; it had used only the electric motor and battery power for the other. The average? 33.5 mpg.

In our case, we didn’t get to plug in nearly as often, and used the engine in a 2-1 ratio over the motor. We averaged 30 mpg over 1,250 miles, and I ran the Hybrid pretty darn hard for most of the trip, as I usually do.

During an initial 80-mile trip using only the engine and whatever power from the regenerative brake system, I averaged almost 28 mpg. So Chrysler has definitely moved the needle on efficiency despite the hybrid power.

Camera icon FiatChrysler
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid does away with second-row Stow and Go seats to hold the batteries. But the captain’s chairs are a comfortable consolation prize.

Friends and stuff: On the bright side, the second row gets comfortable captain’s chairs. On the not-so-bright side, the batteries replace the Stow ‘n Go seats in that row. They’re still standard in the third row.

Legroom is great all around. Headroom as well.

Cargo room is 140 cubic feet, about 10 percent less than the Sienna, the granddaddy of all minivans. But we managed to get one tandem bike and two mountain bikes inside and still have room for three people and a week’s worth of luggage.

On the road: The Pacifica Hybrid sports the same non-sporty steering as the gasoline version. Moving around a driveway or a parking lot feels like playing a poorly designed video game.

But handling on the road is fine, if not exciting. Using one hand to steer can be tricky if you’re not paying attention, though. Be careful when changing the station.

Play some tunes: The standard Pacifica stereo system offers excellent sound and is fairly user-friendly for something that’s almost all inside the touchscreen. (Dials control volume and station.) And the backup camera is excellent.

Where it’s built: Windsor, Ontario.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports gives the Pacifica 2 out of 5 for a predicted reliability rating, with no separate rating for the Hybrid.

A recall for the battery diode has sidelined some Pacifica Hybrids and had stopped production, but a representative says they’re shipping to dealers, and everything is a go for 2018 models.

In the end: I may regret this, but in spite of the previous two paragraphs, I’d still like to get a Pacifica Hybrid.