2017 Chrysler Pacifica: All-new ‘modern family’ minivan

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

An innovative family room on wheels that’s designed to change preconceived notions of minivans is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ aim with the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica.

The new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica rolls out Monday morning at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The Pacifica, a name the automaker used for a midsize crossover in the 2000s, replaces the well-established Chrysler Town & Country minivan, which has been a staple in the family-hauler segment since its introduction in 1989.

“When we say, ‘the 2017 Chrysler minivan,’ we need to retrain customers’ brains. We can’t afford to have them see the ’80s minivan with the wood paneling on the side,” said Tim Kuniskis, Fiat Chrysler-North America head of passenger car brands. “We need to retrain what they see in their brain when they hear ‘2017 Chrysler minivan.’ ”

The next-generation Chrysler minivan, including a plug-in hybrid version and 37 innovations new to the minivan segment, debuts Monday morning, the first official press day of the Detroit Auto Show.

Segment-firsts on the Pacifica include USB placement and LED interior lighting for all models, as well as hands-free power sliding doors, a foot-activated power liftgate and 10-inch, high-definition touchscreens in the second row.

Resurrecting the Pacifica name for the sixth-generation Chrysler minivan, Kuniskis said, was part of the company’s mission to change preconceptions of a Chrysler minivan.

“You’ve got 30 years of history,” Kuniskis said. “Sure, it’s absolutely risky to change the name, but that’s how confident we are that this really is a game-changer.”

The Pacifica is powered by an upgraded 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine mated to a segment-exclusive nine-speed automatic transmission. It is scheduled to arrive in dealerships by March, followed by the Pacifica Hybrid in the second half of 2016.

The company said the gasoline version will deliver “unsurpassed fuel economy” but did not provide specifics. Pricing for the 2017 Pacifica’s eight trim model levels, including two hybrids, will be announced closer to its arrival in dealerships, officials said.

It will come with more than 100 standard and available features. Available for the first time on a Chrysler minivan: a “Surround View” camera system, which uses four cameras positioned around the vehicle to provide 360-degree views, including a bird’s-eye perspective of the vehicle and its surroundings.

Other advanced available features include adaptive cruise control with braking capability, park-assist, forward collision alert and an all-new Uconnect Theater entertainment system that works with devices brought in to the vehicle as well as the Pacifica’s UConnect infotainment system.

“We’ve reinvented the minivan for today’s modern family,” said Bruce Velisek, director of Chrysler brand product marketing. “It is going to basically change the entire paradigm of what people know about minivans in the segment.”

‘Image problem’

The new Chrysler minivan will enter a segment that has changed quite a bit from when the company invented it more than 30 years ago.

Minivan sales have gone from a record of nearly 1.4 million in 2000 to fewer than 513,000 in 2015 due to an uncool “soccer mom” label and America’s increasing love affair with crossover utility vehicles.

“SUVS and crossovers are great at certain things, but they’re not the best tool for the family that needs to move people with stuff,” Kuniskis said.

“Despite compelling alternatives in the marketplace, the minivan has continued to innovate, evolve and carve out a very unique section of the industry.”

Ralph Gilles, head of Fiat Chrysler global design, said the minivan’s “image problem” was a major concern as the automaker reinvented the Town & Country as the Pacifica.

“It was loud and clear. People are embarrassed to drive these things,” he said. “I personally think function has never been more beautiful.”

The Pacifica has a sportier stance that resembles more of a crossover than the previous, boxy style.

Jessica LaFond, Chrysler Pacifica lead engineer, said the company focused on ride and handling as well as reduced noise, vibration and harshness

“Our goal was to make this vehicle fun to drive … and to make it quiet,” she said. “We wanted a family room on wheels, a quiet environment for the driver to have a serene moment themselves or an important conversation for the children.”

Chrysler promises the Pacifica – about 250 pounds lighter than the outgoing Town & Country – will deliver “ride and handling capabilities that not only exceed its primary competitors, but are on par with high-end premium sedans.”

An enhanced “Stow ’n’ Go” system, a hallmark of Chrysler minivans for more than 10 years, allows seats in the back to fold into the vehicle’s floor. A new assist feature also helps to further simplify the process: With the press of a button, the front seat moves forward to allow the second-row seat to be stowed.

“Spaciousness is really important on the interior,” said Winnie Cheung, Chrysler chief interior designer.

Attention to details

“We really pushed the limit on how we treat the details.”

Other interior features available in the Pacifica include integrated vacuum, an eighth-passenger seat insert and tri-pane panoramic sunroof.

The plug-in hybrid model features the same engine as well as an all-electric mode of 30 miles that delivers up to 80 miles per gallon equivalent in city driving, company officials said. The engines are mated to a segment-exclusive nine-speed automatic transmission.

The battery pack, stored in the second row bins used for Stow ’n’ Go, can be fully recharged in two hours using a 240-volt plug-in system, according to Fiat Chrysler.

“We’re going to tout it is as a hybrid technology and gives them 80 miles per gallon,” Kuniskis said.

“Really, all it does is add to what the normally gas-aspirated car does. There’s absolutely no compromise to getting the hybrid.”