‘Peak minivan’ may be well behind us, but to paraphrase Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) presence in the segment its Chrysler Corporation predecessor created in the early 1980s is kind of a big deal. It was far from insignificant, then, that FCA kicked off the 2016 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) media preview with the reveal of its sixth-generation minivan, which comes with a new name and adds a gas-electric powertrain that creates the first hybrid minivan in the segment’s history.
The irony of Chrysler’s reviving of the Pacifica nameplate is not lost on us: that badge was last used on Chrysler’s first crack at the mid-size, three-row crossover segment, which has been largely responsible for eroding the minivan’s popularity among family drivers. But perhaps that’s a reflection of the esthetic Chrysler design boss Ralph Gilles was going for: this new Pacifica tries hard to make us think it is in fact a crossover, even though FCA is not shy in admitting this is indeed a minivan.
Start at the front, where the fascia and headlights create a clear connection to the Chrysler 200 family sedan; follow the bodywork rearward to a tail that recalls the first-generation Mazda5 when viewed in profile, while from the rear the closest resemblance is a more recent minivan competitor, the Kia Sedona. It’s an appealing evolution of minivan design that nonetheless harkens back to the third generation of Chrysler vans, when the company still produced a trifecta of minis in the Grand Caravan, Town & Country, and Plymouth Voyager.
Technically, the plug-in hybrid option is the biggest bit of news. It pairs a gasoline engine with an “electrically variable transmission” that incorporates a pair of electric motors fed by a lithium-ion battery pack that lives under the floor (where the second-row stow ‘n go seats normally fold away) and promises up to 48 km of electric-only driving, and an electric energy consumption rating of 2.9 Le/100 km.
Gasoline models stick with more proven technology, relying on Chrysler’s second-generation 3.6L Pentastar V6, which cranks 287 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque through a nine-speed automatic transmission shared with the Chrysler 200 and Jeep Cherokee; those figures make the Pacifica the most power minivan on the market, and give it more gears than its competitors.
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The updated Pentastar sports a new variable valve timing system and higher compression ratio that Chrysler says boosts the torque available between 1,000 and 3,000 rpm by about 15 percent, while a redesigned intake contributes to a claimed six percent improvement in fuel economy. Interestingly, Chrysler hasn’t jumped on the direct fuel injection bandwagon with this revised motor, opting instead to retain the old engine’s port fuel injection.