Chrysler's Pacifica follows forms and functions born 35 years ago, but a few minutes in the driver's seat will allow one to see past this book's cover and learn just how smart, safe, and serene a modern car should be.
The only seven-seat plug-in hybrid on the planet, the 2023 Pacifica Hybrid can motor around town without using a drop of gas but can go anywhere there is gasoline. It is eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500.
Out on the highway, it will keep itself a safe distance from the vehicle ahead, stopping if need be, staying in its lane, and keeping an eye on your blind spots, all while keeping the crumb crunchers astern happy playing games, watching videos or listening to headphones.
Add in a comely interior and available goodies like perforated leather seats, wi-fi, and a tri-pane, panoramic moonroof, and it is quite possible for a large family, or two coaches and five infielders, to motor down the road with everyone busy on devices or looking out the window.
True story. Beautiful Blonde Bride and I were once shuttled to an airport in a Pacifica. After noting the ample size and comfort of the middle-row captain's chairs, we discovered the entertainment system had games. The bride selected Jeopardy and promptly smoked me.
Stop for a potty break and a 360-degree surround-view camera system and a plethora of sensors guide the vehicle dead-center into a parking spot (Take that, all you cock-eyed pickups.
We're not sure we agree with other reviewers who rave about Pacifica's quiet interior and composed ride. Both are very good, but not perfect.
Around town, all the soft buzzes, clicks whirrs of the electric system create a futuristic feel. On asphalt highways, the Pacifica is quiet enough to delight a librarian, but on concrete and chip-sealed tarmac the minivan's hollowness seems to magnify road noise in the rear and impinge on the quality of our tester's 20-speaker, Harmon-Kardon sound system.
Still, Chrysler's active noise cancellation system, modern platform, and best-in-class aerodynamics make for a pretty quiet ride.
Handling is good for a minivan, though we wonder if a stiffer anti-sway bar might put a finer edge on things.
The EPA gives the Pacifica Hybrid its best-possible rating of 10. Over its lifetime, it will save emissions equal to 14 commercial airline flights from Detroit to Chicago. That ought to be important. Compassion causes us to consider the reasonableness of our withdrawals of natural resources, especially since their rightful owners are yet to be born.
Confusion reigns over the electrification of the world's transportation fleets, so let's take a moment to review the three modalities available in auto showrooms today.
Electric Vehicles, EVs, generally must be charged up on a 220-watt circuit – a Level 2 charger – every night. On a road trip, owners must find commercial charging stations with high-speed, Level 3, chargers. These are easy to find in metropolitan areas but not so much in rural ones. Not only are charging stations sometimes problematic to locate but also at this early stage, they are often unreliable.
Two types of electrified vehicles still offer the convenience and reliability of petroleum power, hybrids, HEVs, and plug-in hybrids, PHEVs.
A hybrid vehicle requires no active intervention. When appropriate, like under initial acceleration, an electric motor does most of the work. When that is not enough, the gas engine automatically cuts in. The change is imperceptible to occupants.
Because electric motors, like the ones in ceiling fans, have few moving parts and almost no friction, they last much longer, as does the gas engine, which does not work nearly as hard. According to Consumers Reports, seven of the 10 best 2023 models have a hybrid component. An eighth, a Tesla Model 3, is all-electric.
Plug-in electrics, PHEVs, have a small battery that allows a vehicle to operate on electricity alone for 30 or 40 miles. When that is depleted, the vehicle runs like any other hybrid. A PHEV charges in 4-5 hours on a Level 1, 110-V charger, or in about two hours on a Level 2.
The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is a PHEV, or at least it is supposed to be. When our tester arrived, we were told the small battery was not working and not to bother with it. Without the 30 or so free miles every day, our tester averaged close to 26 mpg, which isn't bad for a seven-seater, but nowhere near the 84 mpg the EPA estimates we would get if the plug-in portion was working.
It also falls far short of the 36 mpg we got on a road trip last summer in a Toyota Sienna, which is only available as an HEV.
Reliability a big issue
This leads us to an issue that, in the end, motivated Blonde Beauty and me to select a different new vehicle for our garage: reliability.
Since its introduction in 2017, the Pacifica Hybrid has been beset by mechanical and electrical issues; indeed, despite the best road test scores in class, the Pacifica Hybrid is ranked dead last by the magazine's readers because it keeps breaking.
To Chrysler's credit, CR readers say dealers stand behind the vehicles and fix things, but a vehicle selling from $49,000 to $59,000 isn't supposed to spend its time hanging around in the garage. Just three weeks ago, Chrysler recalled the Pacifica because an electrical short could cause the engine to shut off without warning while the vehicle is in motion.
That's one of the hundreds of owner complaints on file with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Another common one is that the vehicle precipitously tells drivers to pull over and put it in park, something our tester did on the first day we had it.
We're not big fans of extended warranties, but especially for those buying a used Pacifica, that may be money well spent. By the way, if shopping for one of these, be sure to check out websites like CarEdge.com, which sells them for much less than dealerships.
Like everything else in showrooms these past years, Pacifica Hybrids have seen dramatic price increases, so dramatic that one must question the minivan's value proposition.
Non-hybrid Pacificas start at $37,020, but three hybrid models cost much more: $49,626 for the touring L, $55,267 for the Limited, and $59,017 for the Pinnacle. The lower trims are nicely equipped, but adding the rear theater package to the Touring L adds $3,895, and $2,395 for the Limited.
A key economic question is always opportunity cost, what might one have had instead? To be sure, most seven-seater vehicles on the market cost as much or more, and the Pacifica is, technically speaking, safer because its unibody construction is designed to collapse in a frontal collision, not transmit energy into the cabin.
On the other hand, a 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQB 300 is priced between $54,500 and $60,350. It's an EV, but with all-wheel drive and Mercedes on the hood, one suspects it will in time prove to be the better buy.
On the other hand, the Merc is built in Hungary and, thus, is not eligible for U.S. federal tax credits. Neither, for that matter, are the Sienna and Honda Odyssey.
So there's that.