Ah, minivans. Is there any category of vehicle that has such a love-hate relationship with drivers? My story begins many years ago when my oldest was a newborn. I was driving a light blue targa-top 1992 Toyota Supra (similar to the photo on the right) and loved it. Hitting the beach, driving through the Northern California redwoods, even just cruising downtown San Francisco, it was terrific. 1992 was also the last year that the Supra was a muscle car (the so-called “third generation” design) before the huge success of the affordable Mazda Miata influenced all car design and everything became a jellybean. 🙂
The problem was that while the Supra had a second row of seats, they really were more for “insurance” purposes (4-seater is cheaper to insure than a 2-seater) and had zero legroom and were a pain to get into and out of. So trying to get a car seat in? Well nigh impossible. And so it came to pass that I had to sell my beloved Supra and replace it with a sensible family vehicle: A minivan. We opted for a Chrysler Town & Country and I had to admit, the extra room, the sliding middle doors, the three rows of seats, the interior space, were all great. But oh, what had happened to my little sports car?
Zoom forward many years (okay, decades) and I was quite interested at the chance to test drive the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Plug-In Hybrid (yup, that’s it in the photo above). A few years ago Chrysler rebranded – and redesigned – the Town & Country to become the Pacifica, so it really is the grandkid of my original T&C van from the 80’s. But it’s soooooo much nicer. the interior design is great, with a smart utilization of the additional headroom, legroom and space between the captain’s seats, but it’s really the tech that sells this particular vehicle. The plug-in hybrid is really terrific. When left to charge overnight on our 110v outlet, it gave me 30-35 miles/day of zero-gas travel, which turns out to be more than I need and meant that in a week of driving I used maybe a gallon of gas. One gallon.
The plug itself is just another small cover on the exterior of the vehicle above the front driver’s wheel. Here’s a closeup:
Alright, then, but how much did the electricity cost you? A fair question, and one that’s not super easy to figure out. I asked my friend and fellow car enthusiast Darren Lister and he offered this: “The Pacifica has a 16kWh battery pack. The simplest way to calculate the cost is to multiply 16 x the price per kWH with Xcel Energy.” Xcel is my local energy provider and when I check my online bill, I’m paying a remarkably low $0.12/kWh, so that means that a full charge from zero costs me $1.92. Even if we factor in 50% power loss due to inefficiencies in the system, that’s still under $3.00 for 30 miles, or about $0.10/mi. Interestingly, that $0.10/mi is identical to the 28mi/gal highway rating for the vehicle with $2.99/gal gas. Get lower (more realistic) fuel efficiency and watch gas prices creep up, though, and that hybrid could be half the price of running the gas engine.
A few days into my test drive, here’s how it stood with daily charge and electrical vs gas:
As you can see, I drove 141.7 miles on electric vs 63.1 miles on gasoline. The battery is also at 92% which means I have another 30 miles range (approximately). Seems a bit nerdy but I just find all of this fantastically cool and can’t wait for all this tech to continue to migrate into other vehicle models. And as battery tech improves, that 33mi range becomes 50, then 100, then we have electric cars with a small gas assist battery and finally can truly clean up our air…
Anyway, back to the Chrysler. Because it’s a mini-van it’s big. I mean, really big inside:
Seating for seven and it’s comfortable for all. Notice the separate screens for the second row passengers too. Amazingly, you can actually play two different Blu-Ray movies simultaneously with controls from the front dash or you can let the passengers plug in their own favorite devices through the HDMI and USB jacks just below the screens. There are also some built-in games and such, but Chrysler clearly hasn’t put a huge amount of effort into that particular facet when tic-tac-toe is one of the featured titles.
Moving a bit closer to the front, the dash feature and function areas are well apportioned:
The vehicle entertainment system includes XM Radio (separate subscription) along with a nav system and Apple CarPlay / Android Auto. I’ll get back to the CarPlay feature because there’s another thing you should notice here: The gear shift is a rotary knob. It’s central on the dash and you can see P R N D L just above it. The parking brake on/off is just below, and below that is the Blu-Ray player for the rear passenger movies. There’s also a USB and AUX input front and center on the dash too, handy if you want to connect your smartphone for music or audio books (the latter being my usual listening, thanks to Audible.com).
If you’ve never used Android Auto or CarPlay, it’s a nice treat when you plug in your smartphone. Suddenly most of your favorite apps are on the screen and ready to use:
This means that, yes, there are redundant maps: one part of the built-in Chrysler navigation and entertainment system and the other that’s part of your smartphone. They do not communicate, so if you’re seeking a destination from your phone, you won’t be able to automatically just use the built-in nav to get there. Still, very nice and while not critical, something you’ll miss once you get used to having it in a vehicle.
The steering wheel controls are a bit simpler than most modern vehicles too, which is good because it means it’s quick to learn:
What you can’t see in the above photo, however, is that behind the steering wheel there are two toggle switches: one for channel up/down and one for volume up/down. Chrysler is the only company that has the channel up/down be by number, not by favorite, however, so I find it quite frustrating when I want to jump from Channel 18 to Channel 27 on XM and have to push the button 9 times to get there, even though they’re favorites #2 and #3. Perhaps this is a user configurable behavior and there’s a setting that changes it to move up and down favorites. If so, please let me know in the comments, and if not, well, Chrysler, implement it, please!
And, at the end of the day, it’s a minivan with the styling of, well, a minivan.
Still, if you want the capacity and have the need for this much flexibility with cargo, or just like having lots of space, there really is a lot to love about the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited plug-in vehicle. It’s expensive, but if you’re in the market for a minivan, this is the vehicle to beat, hands-down one of the best vehicles in its class. And it’s really fun to drive: Like every other hybrid, it has tons of torque so it’s fast off the stop, very responsive at any speed and zippy around corners. It’s not my beloved Supra, but hey, I have three kids now too…
Also note that as of this writing, the vehicle qualifies for a $7500 Federal Tax Credit which definitely helps offset the pricetag.
AS DRIVEN: 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited, in Dark Cordovan Pearl with Black/Alloy interior. 3.6L V6 eHybrid Engine, eFlite Si-EVT Transmission and optional Customer Preferred Package 2EC, Advanced SafetyTec Group, Tri-Pane Panoramic Sunroof, KeySense and 18-inch polished aluminum wheels. Base price: $44,995.00 and as driven: $48,580.
Disclosure: Chrysler loaned me this vehicle for a week in return for this review.