The Chrysler Pacifica Offers the Best Driving Dynamics in the Minivan Segment
Before getting into my on-road review of the new Chrysler Pacifica, let me clarify a few points about the driving dynamics of this new minivan from the company that invited the minivan.
In saying that the Pacifica offers the best driving dynamics among the minivan segment, I am not trying to suggest that the new Chrysler minivan is your next weekend racing project. After all, this is still a minivan built with family function in mind, so if fun-to-drive-factor is your key concern when shopping for a new vehicle – you shouldn’t be shopping for a minivan. On the other hand, if you are shopping for a minivan and you want the one which offers the most fun-to-drive-factor, the Chrysler Pacifica is your best bet.
Also, I understand fully that many minivan buyers don’t care at all about driving dynamics. For those people who rank driving dynamics at the bottom of their list of new vehicle priorities, the Chrysler Pacifica will have loads of appeal with the premium UConnect Theater infotainment system along with the huge cabin featuring the versatile Stow-N-Go seating system - offering room for 7 adults and more cargo space than the competition. For some people, a minivan is simply a tool to get the kids to and from karate or soccer practice and in that regard, it is one of the best options in the segment, but for buyers who care how their vehicle feels on the road – the Pacifica is a winner.
The Old Minivans
When Chrysler invited the minivan back in the 1980s, it was a high-riding vehicle with a high center of gravity, lots of body roll and fairly lackluster cornering capabilities – but it didn’t matter, because the people who buy “people movers” typically haven’t cared about how the vehicle handled, so long as it offered the smoothest ride possible. That was the case with minivans for some 20+ years and really, that was the case among many roomy, affordable vehicles. It didn’t matter that the Caravan handled poorly because the K-cars on which they were based didn’t handle well either.
As time went on, the American auto industry has seen more and more attention paid to driving dynamics among every vehicle class. Sedans became roomier and more comfortable while also offering better driving dynamics and SUVs offered similar ride quality, more versatility and – in some cases – better driving dynamics than the minivans on the market through the 90s and early 2000s. As a result, the minivan began to lose popularity and that led to less minivans on the US market.
The Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country began to receive some driving dynamics improvements as they carried on as the only American minivans, battling the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna, but with the new Chrysler Pacifica, FCA has created the best driving minivan on sale today.
Driving the Chrysler Pacifica
The new Chrysler Pacifica is only offered with the 3.6L Pentastar V6 mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. This drivetrain delivers 287 horsepower and 262lb-ft of torque, which isn’t the most powerful package in the minivan segment, but thanks to the gearing of the 9-speed gearbox, the Pacifica feels surprisingly quick in any normal driving situation. Whether you are hurrying away from a stop light in an effort to get over before your land ends or putting the hammer down to blow around slow-moving highway traffic – the Pacifica’s Pentastar engine makes this minivan very quick. The 9-speed transmission shifts almost seamlessly under normal driving around town, but when you are pushing the Pacifica hard, the transmission delivers quick, firm shifts. Again, I am not talking about blistering quarter mile or 0-100 times, but as minivans go, the new Pacifica packs plenty of power for any normal driving situation.
However, in talking about driving dynamics, I’m really not talking about power and acceleration abilities, as the previous generation Chrysler (and Dodge) minivans with the Pentastar engine offered similar power. Where the Pacifica shines over the competition comes when you begin carving your way along a twisty country road, as this new minivan will take the turns better than anything in the past.
While I was driving the new Chrysler Pacifica, a friend with a previous generation Dodge Grand Caravan asked how the new van handled. I thought about it for a second and explained that when I was behind the wheel, the Pacifica feels far more like a midsized sedan than any other minivan I had driven. The Pacifica does have a slightly higher seating position for the driver than you will find in most sedans, but it doesn’t present the high-riding feel that you get with older minivans old small SUVs/crossovers – so from the driver’s seat, it feels more like a midsized sedan than a 7-passenger van when you are sitting still.