Back in the day, it was easy to tell a minivan from an SUV.
The SUV was square and trucklike and most likely rear- or four-wheel-drive. The minivan had more curves and was almost always front-wheel-drive.
But as SUVs supplanted minivans as people movers, form followed function. Take a look at a Toyota Highlander or a Buick Enclave and you will see jellybean styling and more than a hint of a minivan.
Maybe it’s time to reconsider the minivan. The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica ably makes that argument.
Unlike many of the unibody, front-wheel-drive SUVs on the market, the Pacifica has a surprisingly pleasing and firm driving feel. During a recent 900-mile test in California, the van was surefooted in the rain and mountain passes. Chrysler engineers have done an excellent job of engineering the expected body roll out of a big vehicle.
It’s comfortable, especially in the upscale Pinnacle trim, which has a near-luxury interior highlighted by stunning quilted leather seating. The controls are simple to use and can be easily reached by all-size drivers.
Although the standard configuration is front-wheel-drive, Chrysler has an all-wheel-drive option, sure to be popular with families in regions with snow and ice during the winter. That’s the first time Chrysler has offered an all-wheel-drive minivan in nearly two decades.
Minivan drivers probably have purchased the vehicle to transport families and likely value safety features. The 2021 Pacifica comes with a comprehensive suite of standard automated safety systems, including forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking for autos and pedestrians. Other standard features included adaptive cruise control to match the pace of traffic, a lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic high beams that dim for approaching vehicles.
Although minivan drivers aren’t going to take their people mover off-pavement, the Pacifica doesn’t give up utility for most uses compared to an SUV. (Only a small percentage of seven-seat SUV drivers ever take their vehicles off-road too.) The Pacifica’s second row of seats folds flat into the floor of the vehicle. That creates a cargo deck similar to the typical SUV. And with the captain’s seat option, there’s plenty of room left over for a family of four. A bench seat second row offers the same comfort for five passengers. And like many of the big SUVs on the market, the Pacifica also has a unibody architecture, making it drive more like a car than a truck.
Buyers have their choice of two powertrains. The standard configuration is a V-6 gasoline engine mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. It produces up to 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque.
Chrysler also is offering the Pacifica as a plug-in hybrid. The vehicle will travel about 30 miles on electricity before the gas engine kicks in. It achieved 29 miles of electric range in the test drive. For many drivers shuttling the family to school, sports practices and music lessons, that will be about enough to get through the day without using gasoline. The hybrid takes about two hours to charge with a 220-volt home system.
The plug-in Pacifica has a starting price of $39,995 plus a $1,495 delivery fee. The standard gas version starts at $35,195 plus the fee.
Chrysler has given the Pacifica a more rugged look than the typical minivan, although there is no mistaking it for anything but a people mover. Still, it has a hint of an SUV, an indication once you are hauling seven or more people around, form still follows function.