Payne review: Versatile Chrysler Pacifica minivan gets a new face and AWD

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Good looks. Stow ’n’ go seats. Vacuum cleaner. Sliding cabinet drawers. Under-floor storage. Three-row comfort. Kick-open sliding doors. Plug-in hybrid. The Chrysler Pacifica minivan almost had it all.

“Where’s the all-wheel drive?” asked customers.

Jeez, some people just can’t be satisfied. So rejoice, minivan fans. For 2021, the significantly refreshed Pacifica offers AWD just like its SUV cousins. The nod to SUVs comes at a sacrifice to the Pacifica’s pretty face that echoed the classy but discontinued Chrysler 200 sedan. Its thin grille and elegant bow-tie lower grille were automotive art.

As a fan of the original design, I’ll need time to get used to the plastic surgery, though the fascia now shares the mesh grille of the Chrysler 300. It's bolder. More masculine. More ute-like. The rest of the Pacifica’s attractive swept lines are intact. Only the Kia Sedona can hold a candle to it in class.

But consistent with Pacifica’s “you can have it all” theme, the old look is still available. It’s now badged Voyager.

You can kick open the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica hatch with your foot.

With the Dodge Grand Caravan kaput (a minivan just didn’t fit in a Dodge lineup consisting of fire-breathing Hellcats), Chrysler has taken the opportunity to fill the void left by the affordable Caravan with the affordable Voyager. Starting at $28,495 (the Grand Caravan started at $29,025), the front-wheel-drive-only Voyager is the entry-level minivan to the $36,540 Pacifica’s premium play.

Premium has never been so practical. It is an automotive Swiss Army knife, with an interior configuration to suit every family or need.

1. Need pickup capability? Stuff both rows of seats in the floor, open the hatch and roll in bicycles, boards, TVs, you name it. At 80 inches tall, you could put a table and four chairs inside for a card game on a rainy day, for goodness sake.

2. Need a basement? Open the stow 'n’ go storage bins under the second row and fill them up. A bin easily swallowed my fat briefcase during my North Carolina test drive. A colleague used the space like a suitcase to store travel clothes.

The comfortable interior in the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica also has simple, elegant, uncluttered design.

3. Need a work chair? Fold over a second-row seat into an ottoman, then slide into the third row with your feet up and get to work on the road.

When done, an available vacuum cleaner can clean the place up.

The center console offers three variations as you climb the trims. The base Touring trim offers an “island” between the front seats with two drawers, cupholders and bin storage space. The island grows into a full console in the Limited trim with sub-storage for your purse. The top Pinnacle trim grows the center console so big it eliminates the stow 'n’ go option for the second row.

With quilted seats and panoramic roof and a FamCam lens (for watching the kiddies in the back seats), Pinnacle is a rolling living room. But you don’t have to buy the top trim to get essentials. Indeed, Pacifica claims most standard safety features in the segment, including musts like adaptive cruise-control, blind-spot assist and automatic emergency-braking.

Honestly, the Touring is all you need — throw in 3-grand for AWD and $1,300 for the cool, blacked-out S appearance package (all the cool minivan parents got it) and you’re out the door for just over $40,000. Somehow, Chrysler’s elves managed to get a prop shaft through all that basement storage for the all-wheel-drive system.

My hip wife is allergic to the term “minivan,” but mention that it’s AWD and she’d have been hard-pressed to ignore this vehicle when we had rug rats in the house. I nailed the throttle over Charlotte’s twisties and all four hooves coordinated nicely. No fuss, no wheelspin from the front tires.

The throaty Pentastar V-6 reminded me how much I miss 6-bangers in a world where mpg nannies have all but mandated turbo-4s.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne stuffed the second row seat in the floor, then worked from the third row.

From its rotary console shifter to its obsessively organized control buttons, the Pacifica’s dash is a delicious buffet. Just mix in the latest digital googaws — wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and UConnect 5. The latter now comes with a quick, spacious 10.5-inch screen with intuitive menus throughout.

As Pacifica proves, you really can have it all in a minivan. Though I did find one thing lacking ....

Dear, Chrysler: FCA’s stable of large family vehicles — Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango, Dodge Charger all have performance badges boasting the 700-plus horsepower, supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 hammer.

Isn’t it time for a Pacifica SRT Hellcat?

The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica adds AWD, a new front fascia and updated UConnect 5 infotainment to remain the king of minivans.

2021 Chrysler Pacifica

Vehicle type: Front- or all-wheel-drive, four-door, seven-passenger minivan

Price: $36,540, including $1,495 destination charge ($52,140 Limited AWD with S appearance package as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter V-6

Power: 287 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque (with 93-octane fuel)

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.9 seconds (Car and Driver); towing, 3,600 pounds

Weight: 4,883 pounds (AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 17 mpg city/25 highway/20 combined 

Report card

Highs: New AWD for Michigan winters; Swiss Army knife dexterity

Lows: Gets pricey — but there’s always the more affordable, entry-level Voyager van

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.