By Derek Price
Chrysler continues to raise the bar for what increasingly looks like the brand’s only relevant product: the Pacifica minivan.
While you can get a less expensive, decontented Chrysler van called the Voyager, along with the powerful but aging 300 sedan, the Pacifica seems to be the only place where meaningful development is happening under the venerable Chrysler name.
This year, it takes a two-pronged approach to reach new niches of minivan drivers.
One is the addition of an all-wheel drive version that finally gives the Toyota Sienna some competition. For years, the Sienna has been the only minivan to offer an AWD drivetrain, so minivan buyers in snowy or rainy climates effectively had one choice. Now their options have doubled.
The second is adding a luxury trim level to create the nicest van interior I’ve ever seen, called the Pinnacle. It slots above the previous top-end Limited and carries the eye-popping price of $53,390.
It creates an eye-popping cabin to justify it.
While I still associate minivans with crushed Cheerios and velour seats from my 1980s childhood, this latest Pacifica carries the air of a modern, sleek luxury car, at least from the inside.
Everything about it evokes the same feelings as a luxury hotel — clean design to please the eyes, soft materials that feel supple on your fingertips, and even the rich smell of the thick, Carmel-colored, quilted leather and suede headliner. It’s the kind of cabin for people who can afford any car they want, but they choose a minivan because they like the space and flexibility.
My favorite Pinnacle additions, though, are the wonderfully frivolous quilted leather pillows for the second-row seats. That’s the kind of thoughtful touch you typically see in hyper-expensive Mercedes-Benz or Rolls-Royce models.
The Pacifica continues to have one of the most family-friendly cabin designs the world has ever seen, including the nifty Stow-n-Go seats that fold flat into the floor.
While the Pinnacle model and AWD system are the headline updates for the heavily refreshed 2021 Pacifica, there are a whole lot of evolutionary changes that make it more appealing.
It’s subtly restyled with a new grille, headlights, fog lights and tail lights, which are all LED now. There are six new wheel designs, plus more standard safety features, including automatic braking for pedestrians.
Even lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability are now standard on every Pacifica, a combination that means it can virtually drive itself for short periods of time.
If you don’t want to pay for all those fancy features, you can still get a Voyager — which is basically last year’s lower-trim Pacifica —for less than $27,000. The Pacifica is becoming a mode upscale product with a starting price around $7,000 more than the Voyager.
Also noteworthy, the 2021 Pacifica is the first Chrysler product with the new-generation UConnect 5 system, including a huge, 10.1-inch touchscreen and the ability to use Amazon Alexa just like you do at home. If you set it up, you can even tell Alexa to start, lock or unlock the van from your home or office.
Pricing starts at $35,195 for the Touring model or $38,495 for the Touring L. You can get either of them with the optional all-wheel-drive system for an extra $2,995.
The upmarket Limited and Pinnacle, which both come equipped with standard all-wheel drive, are priced at $48,390 and $53,390.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle AWD ($53,390). Options: None. Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge): $54,885
Wheelbase: 121.6 in.
Length: 204.3 in.
Width: 79.6 in.
Height: 69.9 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 (287 horsepower, 262 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 17 city, 25 highway
Why buy it?
With a smooth, silent ride and family-friendly cabin, it’s a luxurious way to move people and things. The new Pinnacle trim has the nicest minivan cabin for sale today.