Full Disclosure: Chrysler wanted me to drive the Pacifica so bad that they made it available for purchase to rental car companies so I could rent it for my company on a trip
Recently, I had to visit Houston, TX for a business trip. Part of the trip was relocating an office which required moving a significant amount of IT equipment to Oklahoma City. Tasked with the threat of driving a U-Haul van from Houston to OKC, I urged my boss to rent a Minivan instead. He agreed. The following is the result of a 6 hour drive in Chrysler’s latest offering.
I’ll be rating out of 5. 1 being hate it, 5 being love it. Total points are 30. I also didn’t take any photos, so all photos are stock from a dealer website.
Full disclosure, I love vans. I have a 1971 VW bus my parents bought for me that I will be restoring once I purchase a house next summer. I have always liked minivans in particular. So I am definitely biased towards the vans. I don’t believe that they are the terrible, soul sucking vehicles they are made out to be. Are minivans still relevant in 2016? Can the Pacifica reinvigorate the segment?
Model: 2016 Pacifica Touring L
Engine: 3.6L Pentastar V6
Transmission: 9 Speed Automatic with rotary shifter.
I actually like the way the van looks. It looks classy. It looks like a minivan, there’s no way around it. However, it looks decently sporty. It’s not overdone with chrome. Definitely inspired by the 200. I’m not a big fan of the 200, but it looks good.
I was pleasantly surprised. I was actually chirping the tires at multiple stoplights and kinda surprised by the pick up of this thing. The transmission shifts weren’t even felt, due to the 9 speeds. I have no idea how much it shifted, but it was always smooth. Passing on the highway didn’t feel like in my Tahoe where it drops a gear and screams, it was a slight RPM jump but a power surge. Braking felt good, not overly sensitive but it definitely felt like a bigger vehicle.
It got 30 MPG on our drive. That’s impressive for the size and the weight of this vehicle. Compared to other minivans, it’s the top of the class.
Safety Features: 5/5
I actually gave this full marks. I really don’t like nanny technologies. Blind spot detection, auto brakes, etc IMO take a lot of the personal responsibility out of driving. But, in this case, I liked it. We had a full van of stuff, and my visibility out the side windows was blocked significantly. The blind spot detection included in each mirror was very helpful in lane changes. I of course checked my mirrors multiple times, but it boosted my confidence.
Also while backing up, we got to test the crosspath detection. We stopped at a rest stop and put it in reverse, and in the corner of the display a Focus appeared. The system beeped until it was completely clear. The distance at which it picked it up was amazing. I have no idea how the system works, but i’m a fan. Our model did not have the surround view or the adaptive cruise control so I was not able to test it out. I can imagine that these features would come in handy for the typical minivan buyer with screaming kids distracting you.
Convenience Features: 4/5
Power everything! Power side doors/hatch controlled by remote and manual control was a blessing when loading up. The doors were opened with just a button press on the door handle. They were quite slow though, which when you have kids is probably a good idea, but when being used as a utility vehicle, it got old fast. The systems were very redundant too. Not only can you open the side doors/hatch with the keyfob, but also via a button on the inside of the door, AND a set of buttons above the center stack on the ceiling. Chrysler’s recent trend seems to be redundancy (more on that with the infotainment) and this is a prime example.
Also on that keyfob is remote start, which on a hot Houston day, is a godsend to keep the car comfortable before getting in.
My favorite part though was the Stow’n Go.
Both middle row and rear seats fold flat into the floor. My major complaint though, is that in order to fold the middle row down, the front seats have to be slid all the way forward. This isn’t a problem with the manual passenger seat, but the power drivers seat takes FOREVER to move all the way forward. Unless we’re idiots and there was another way to do it, this is kinda inconvenient. However, once you take 30 minutes out of your day to slide the front seat forward, the amount of space is cavernous. I can see this being super helpful if you only have two kids and need more storage in the back.
I’m familiar with the uConnect system. I had a 2016 Charger Rental earlier in the year. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.
Our model had the 8.4" uConnect system. This was slightly different in looks than the Charger system I had, but the same general layout. The radio interface isn’t bad. Does what it needs to do. Remember the redundancy? You can change the climate control from the screen or the knobs. Heated seats though can only be turned on via the touch screen. My biggest complaints though are the lack of a crucial feature, and the navigation system.
Phone control works well. I paired my phone to stream SiriusXM (forgot to buy the 2 day subscription with Alamo) and received a couple phone calls. Call quality was good and dialing numbers/using contacts was easy. There is also SMS support, but I have it disabled in my phone for annoyance purposes.
Chrysler dropped the ball. This is 2016. Why is there no Android Auto/Apple CarPlay? This car has two USB ports within reach. Why is there no Android Auto? Why can I only interface with my Droid through Bluetooth? Why did our $17k Jetta come with this feature, but a $35k van can’t? Even bigger slap in the face? Chrysler is developing AA/AC in uConnect 4.0 and 3.0 systems like in the Pacifica will not be upgraded. I would be furious if I bought this car and am stuck with this system.
The lack of Android Auto wouldn’t be a big deal, if the navigation system wasn’t terrible. Trying to type in an address is an exercise in frustration. If you start moving, you can’t enter an address in. Voice control is an option, and we didn’t try it, but if it’s anything like the keyboard search, it’s worthless. Navigating the navigation (yo dawg) is hard. Panning around the map takes ages. If you zoom in/out, it takes seconds to fully render. It’s not multitouch so zooming can only be done via the +/- buttons. We tried to use the nav just to get an ETA since the route was easy, but we gave up and used it on a 50 mile view for a “flight level” view. If Android Auto/CarPlay was an option, those voice control options as well as the ability to tie into your Google account for locations would be amazingly helpful. Instead, Chrysler gives the middle finger to current owners.
Kia has Android Auto in the Sedona. There’s no excuse for Chrysler to be this behind. Every other US automaker has already launched cars with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay.
Driving Experience/Comfort: 4/5
It’s a minivan. It’s comfortable. Once you find the right seating position for you, it’s very comfy. I tend to slouch, and so the tall seating position was amazingly comfy. I love large SUVs on roadtrips for this same reason. The ride is comfy, small bumps get absorbed but bridges and large bumps are still felt pretty good.
The shifter. I’m still not sure how I feel about this. It felt like I was opening a pop bottle everytime I used it. I didn’t like how long it took to go from Reverse to Drive. If I shifted over R—>D and then hit the gas, sometimes it would hesitate as the transmission has not shifted. I’m not used to this. Both my cars (Tahoe and Jetta) have mechanical linkages so i’ve got a rhythm. This just felt far too disconnected. My boss has a Ram with the same shifter, but the 8 speed, so I wonder if his experience is better.
Overall Score: 23/30 (C+)
Overall, I didn’t hate this van. In fact, I quite liked it. I’m excited for the Hybrid powertrain option, it’ll be the first of it’s kind. It’s unfortunate in other areas (mostly infotainment) that Chrysler isn’t as advanced. If I was looking for a minivan, this would be at the top of my list. It still feels like a minivan, while being sporty enough to keep things interesting and exciting. I like the looks over all the other vans on the market, and the Stow’N Go seating is a major advantage over the other vans. Should you buy a van over a Tahoe or large SUV? I would. For a lot less than the price of the Tahoe, you get the same people storage, with much better mileage, and a lot of safety/comfort features. The question remains, is the Pacifica new and different enough to reinvigorate the segment? Not yet. Not until the Hybrid is released. As it stands now, it’s just another (nice) van. The Plugin Hybird model is a gamechanger, and until Chrysler releases it, the Pacifica will be just another minivan.