By Derek Price
Overall minivan sales dropped again last year to less than 3 percent of the market, according to a report in USA Today.
Experiencing the latest Chrysler Pacifica makes me wonder why more families don’t opt for them given just how appealing they are to drive and live with.
Minivans excel at all the left-brain attributes.
— Spaciousness: The Pacifica is the roomiest vehicle I’ve driven in the past year. Even the back row is big enough for adults, and the available volume in the cargo area is enormous.
— Usability: How can you beat two gigantic sliding doors and an electric lift gate in back? The entire van is designed around ease of use, from the locations of cup holders to the entertainment options and smorgasbord of USB and video plugs in the rear. And because it doesn’t ride high like most SUVs, getting in and out is a breeze.
— Fuel economy: This, more than anything else, is where minivans shine. This van in particular, the Pacifica Hybrid, makes me wonder why anyone would buy a full-size SUV given their fuel-burn numbers.
As a plug-in hybrid, this particular Pacifica has an electric range of 32 miles before it burns a drop of gasoline. Its miles-per-gallon equivalent from the federal government is 82, a mind-blowing number for a vehicle this big.
Even if you never use the electric capability, though, it’s still rated for a thrifty 30 mpg in combined city and highway driving. That’s a whopping 8 mpg better than my favorite new three-row SUVs, the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade.
If it were a luxury car exclusively for date nights or a sports car for the weekends, fuel economy might not matter. But for a vehicle designed for regular family trips and long stretches of highway driving, fuel economy makes a big difference for family budgets, even in an era of cheap gas.
The Pacifica even drives better than most SUVs. The ride is supple and silent, and its lower center of gravity makes it feel planted and stable in turns compared to high-riding crossovers.
The only downside is its image. Thanks in small part to their capability and in large part to their ingenious marketing, SUVs are seen as adventurous and exciting. SUVs are appealing to many image-conscious buyers — which covers most new-car buyers, if we’re honest — in a way that minivans just aren’t.
Initially I felt some sticker shock when I saw the price of my Pacifica tester, which came in just over $50,000 including its hefty $1,495 destination charge. Put in perspective, though, it doesn’t seem too unreasonable.
Luxury pickups easily top $70,000 these days, with a few topping $100,000. And my Pacifica tester was a top-of-the-line Limited version with a few options added, including $1,895 for a massive sunroof that allows natural light to shine on all three rows. It’s neat but hardly thrifty.
Most buyers will be shopping for something closer to the base level of the Pacifica, which starts at $34,045 for the gasoline version or $38,100 for the brilliantly engineered hybrid. All models, including the base trims, are well-equipped.
While the Pacifica is aimed at drivers who want a more upscale experience, with a near-luxury level of refinement and content, Chrysler also offers a Voyager minivan designed for value shoppers. It’s priced from $26,985.
Interestingly, Chrysler’s sibling brand, Dodge, continues to sell the previous-generation Grand Caravan priced from $27,530 as a 2020 model.
At A Glance
Wheelbase: 121.6 in.
Length: 203.8 in.
Width: 79.6 in.
Height: 69.9 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 hybrid (260 total system horsepower)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 82 MPGe, 30 gasoline only
Why buy it?
It’s refined, practical, logical and gets amazing fuel economy for the size. The hybrid version can go 32 miles on electric power, then gets 30 mpg in combined city and highway driving according to government ratings.