by Frank A. Aukofer

Three decades ago, Chrysler invented the minivan and triggered the doom of the big American family station wagon. Now they’re back with the all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, which won’t visit Armageddon on anything but should chip away at the establishment.

The design places it in the vanguard, epitomizing the state of the art. It’s short of a revolution because it’s still a minivan, a vehicle that has diminished in popularity but captivates a stalwart band of customers, though overall it is not discovering any new frontiers.

Still, the Pacifica boasts three dozen “firsts” for minivans, which arguably are the most useful passenger automobiles on the planet. A few of the “firsts” are a bit duplicative of other vehicles (like a heated steering wheel) but many do not invite argument.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica HybridAmong them: First minivan with hands-free power sliding side doors. Very cool. Simply touch a button on the outside door handle and the door slides open. Touch it again and the door closes. No jerking of handles. By the way, the side doors are made of aluminum, also used in other body areas for reduced weight and better fuel economy.

Another: First minivan with second-row Stow ‘n’ Go seats that tilt for access to the third row without the need to remove a child seat. (Some crossover SUVs also have seats like this but they’re not stow-able).

This deserves a mention. Chrysler minivans are the only ones on the market with Stow ‘n’ Go second row seats that fold easily under the floor. It’s a difficult engineering feat but in the new Pacifica the engineers actually designed the tub into which the seats fold in a way that strengthens the entire body structure, contributing to rigidity and improved handling.

A cute first is the “Are we there yet?” navigation app, obviously for the kids. It operates like those screens on airliners that show you exactly where you are, and how many miles and how much time is left on your trip. It likely won’t shut up the sprouts, who will find another way to annoy the adults.

Other minor minivan “firsts,” some standard, others optional: electric parking brake, nine-speed automatic transmission, 20-inch alloy wheels, rotary shift knob (eliminates shift levers), 10-inch touch screens for second row passengers, wireless connectivity for devices, and dual-pane panoramic sunroof with fixed glass for the third row.

You could also describe the tested Pacifica Limited as a convertible. Almost anyone can quickly stow the two second-row seats, power fold the third row and the seven-passenger minivan becomes a panel truck with a flat floor and 141 cubic feet for cargo.

The Pacifica replaces the Town & Country in the scant Chrysler lineup, which includes the 200 and 300 sedans. It’s likely to get lonesome for awhile because of reports that Sergio Marchionne, the Fiat Chrysler chief, plans to bag at least the 200 in favor of new crossover SUVs, currently the hottest vehicles on the market. The Dodge Grand Caravan minivan, which is being carried over unchanged, also is a candidate for extinction.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica
2017 Chrysler Pacifica

One question involves the name, which Chrysler used from 2004 to 2008 years on a wagon-like vehicle similar to the Mercedes-Benz R-Class. That was when Chrysler was married to Mercedes, before the divorce that eventually led to the assignation with Fiat. Though that Pacifica was summarily dropped, the Chrysler folks said the name was familiar to potential buyers and carried little negative baggage.

It’s coming just in time. Sales of the Town & Country and its sibling, the Grand Caravan, dropped precipitously between 2014 and 2015 while the establishment leaders—the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey—saw decent increases.

The Pacifica delivers handsome new styling both inside and out, more resembling a luxury crossover than a traditional minivan. Interiors, especially on the tested top-line Limited model, which featured mocha leather seats and dashboard trim, would not be out of place on luxury cars with six-figure price tags.

There are five Pacifica models, starting with the $29,590 LX and topping out at $43,490 for the top-of-the-line Limited, the subject here. With options, it had a bottom line sticker of $47,150.

For its intended use as a family traveler, the Pacifica displays solid road manners. On the highway, the interior is serene and quiet with minimal intrusion of wind, mechanical or road noise. The ride is supple without being cushy, and the Pacifica tracks cleanly on the highway without inducing driver fatigue.

The competition is formidable. But the Pacifica displays all the right stuff.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica HybridSpecifications

  • Model: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited four-door minivan.
  • Engine:6-liter V6, 287 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 17 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 165/32 cubic feet (88, 141).
  • Weight: 4,330 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/28/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,490.
  • Price as tested: $47,150.

Read Jason’s take on the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. 

Photos (c) FCA North America