Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

2017 Chrysler Pacifica: A Rehabilitated Nameplate for a Reimagined Minivan

I'm not the kind of guy who breaks the rules; well, not, at least not all of them. So, I have been patiently sitting by my keyboard for the past week waiting for Chrysler's embargo to expire for the drive evaluations of its 2017 Pacifica that I was lucky enough to experience in California in mid March.

For the uninitiated, in the business of expounding upon cars, an embargo is a drop-dead date issued by a carmaker before which certain elements it shares with the media at a particular event can't be dispensed to the public. It's a gag order of sorts, and quite common. Of course, there are those in my business who believe embargoes are meant to be broken, but I don't count myself among them. At least I've never busted one intentionally. I won't mention the Corvette debacle in 2004 while I was acting editor in chief for Auto World Magazine. Although a victim of things beyond my control, I did not cover myself in glory.

In Pacifica's case the embargo was March 21. So, here I am on March 22, posting my thoughts on this fresh minivan like the good old soldier I am. Ha! Most of my ramblings here didn't really fall under the embargo, which only included driving impressions, but better safe than sorry, I say. 

What the heck is Pacifica? you might ask. It's the replacement for the outgoing Town & Country nameplate. In an effort to shift gears, FCA, the entity currently lording over Fiat and Chrysler brands, wanted to shock the minivan segment by raising the bar for features, technology and styling. To that end, it sent the Town & Country moniker to the ash heap, and will eventually completely discontinue the Dodge Caravan, as well. As part of this shift, FCA dusted off the Pacifica nameplate – used on Chrysler's version of the Mercedes-Benz R-Class back when Benz owned Chrysler – for Chrysler's minivan going forward. I wrote the story on the launch of the original Pacifica for Auto World Magazine in April of 2003; public enthusiasm for the vehicle was short lived. There are those of us who question the wisdom of reintroducing the Pacifica moniker, but I guess the proof will be in the sales. In the long run, the name probably doesn't matter: If it's a solid product – and I judge it to be – people will buy it no matter the name.

Some 30 years ago minivans were invented at Chrysler. Well, that's not entirely true. Actually the core planning, design and research for that first Chrysler minivan walked out the front door of Ford in Lee Iacocca's briefcase as he made his final exit in 1977. Hal Sperlich, the Ford project planner who spearheaded the minivan concept at Ford and was eventually booted over his nonstop lobbying for the project, found a home at Chrysler a year or so before Iacocca arrived with Ford's minivan plans. Like IBM handing Microsoft the keys to the software kingdom in 1980, Ford saw no value in the minivan and allowed Iacocca to haul away all the paperwork with its blessing. Within six years, the two Ford alumni had minivans in Chrysler showrooms. The rest, as they say, is history.

If the minivan didn't exactly save Chrysler, it certainly can be credited for a hefty portion of the carmaker's profits in the late 80s and well into the 90s. All of this is in the way of saying that the minivan is a serious cog in the Chrysler revenue machine. 

The great room in my suite.
Chrysler invited scores of media in several waves to the Pacifica launch at the Resort at Pelican Hill near Newport Beach, Calif. As it did with a redesigned-minivan launch a few years ago, Chrysler invited media to bring family and friends along for the ride. 

Long ago making the decision to die alone, I don't have children or even a wife to drag along on such outings. I do, however, have a lady friend in Illinois, who I keep in my back pocket for plus-one shindigs. We've each been the other's plus-one at weddings and so forth over the years. She accompanied me on a similar plus-one Subaru Legacy event a year or so ago, and was only too happy to accept Chrysler's largess for the Pacifica event.

One of the three stunning sunsets during our visit.
I am no stranger to Pelican Hill, having been there three other times with car companies. It's a gorgeous beachfront property with a wonderfully friendly, accommodating staff. For previous visits, I've stayed in the Bungalows. These are basically large, beautifully appointed rooms. This trip, though, Chrysler bunked us in The Villas. These are two- and three-bedroom suites. Mine was a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath condo-like residence with a full kitchen that must have sprawled over nearly 1,800 sq-ft. I was struck speechless upon entering it the first time.

Chrysler kept the organized portions of the trip to a minimum. Dinners on our first two nights, as well as the presentation, drive route and lunch on our second day summed up the planned activities. That essentially gave us a day and a half on our own. 

Lunch on our drive route was at the San Francisco Zoo Safari Park. Basically an open-range park mimicking an African habitat, it is teeming with elephants, rinos, giraffes and all manner of other creatures. Chrysler encouraged us to take any tours and participate in whatever activities the park offered. 

Oh, my, Oh my, Oh, my.....
That night, we were loaded on electric boats in groups of two and four for a 15-minute ferry to a restaurant for dinner. Snacks and beverages were provided for the cruise. The bay was windy with a bit of a chop on the water. What our pilot lacked in training, she more than made up for with her witty banter, such as, “Oh, my, oh, my, oh, my....” I almost spilled my glass of wine before we were 10 feet from the dock as we collided with another boat filled with our colleagues. I glanced around looking for the professor and Mary Ann. 

On my way to a bacon cheeseburger and caramel-sea-salt milk shake.
Our third day was a completely free day to do with as we pleased. A squeaky-clean Pacifica topped off with fuel was waiting for us in the driveway that morning. We zipped down to Laguna Beach for a late breakfast and a bit of sightseeing. Then we took the ferry to Balboa Island for lunch at a Ruby's Burgers joint at the end of the pier. I couldn't be in the San Diego area without the obligatory brewery stop. After all, I brought an empty suitcase on the trip to haul home some beer. I loaded up four 22-ounce Victory at Sea Porters from Ballast Point Brewery. 

Things were rocking at Ballast Point.
Pacifica was an ideal vehicle for this sort of laid-back sightseeing adventure. Roomy, quiet and finely appointed, it was a joy to drive. Chrysler really wanted to up the ante in what has become a battle among four carmakers for the hearts and minds of minvan owners. I think it has achieved just that. It's styling – particularly inside – is fresh, contemporary and inviting.

Product planners designed Pacifica around its Stow 'n Go seating with second- and third-row seats folding into the floor. Even the base grade comes standard with this unique feature. When these seats are snugly folded away, the cargo floor accommodates a full sheet of plywood and the rear hatch still closes.

Chrysler is releasing a hybrid version, but the Pacificas available to us at this event were all of the traditional gasoline variety. A 287-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 turns the front wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission. According to government estimates, this will be good for 18 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg in combined driving. 

Brimming with technology – both safety and connectivity – Pacifica is a people mover of the first order. Such features as 360-degree-view cameras, automatic parallel- and perpendicular-park assist, and adaptive cruise control with Stop and Hold are all available. An available Uconnect 8.4 theater entertainment system keeps rear-seat occupants entertained with two 10-inch touchscreens displaying movies, streaming video and games. Audio systems include the standard 6-speaker unit, a 13-speaker Alpine system and a 20-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system.

Pricing begins at $28,595 for the LX grade. At the top of the trim pile is Limited at $42,495.

“Beauty and brains” pretty well sums up the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. No question, it has recaptured the top spot among minivans.


  1. I had the Pacifica up at St. Louis when we were there for the NOPI event, if you recall. Even if you don't recall, I had it there. Took it down through Mississippi and really enjoyed it. Thought it was an underrated vehicle. But then, what do I know?
    (That's a rhetorical question you don't have time to answer.)

  2. I liked the original Pacifica as well. But it just didn't sell. I guess that's why we're not on the product planning committee of any of the carmakers.