by Frank A. Aukofer

Minivans are the most useful vehicles on the planet, all about moving families and cargo in comfort. But the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid takes a tack toward convenience and frugality.

This new entry – the first of its kind in the minivan category – is a bit less useful than its standard gasoline engine counterpart, owing mainly to the requirements of building a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).

That’s correct. The new Pacifica Hybrid is of the plug-in variety with a 16-kilowatt-hour battery that enables the nearly 5,000-pound minivan to travel up to 30 miles on pure electric power and recharge in as little as two hours.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica HybridThat’s with a 240-volt charger, which the owner would have buy separately, although the Pacifica has the built-in hardware to use it. Most standard 120-volt household outlets also work, but it takes 14 hours for a full charge from “empty.”

EPA fuel economy numbers will not be available until closer to the on-sale date, which is expected early in 2017. Chrysler estimates it will earn an 80-mpg equivalent in city driving.

To enhance the all-electric range, the Pacifica incorporates regenerative braking, which sends electric energy back into the battery pack.

Because it’s a plug-in hybrid, the new Pacifica eliminates range anxiety. On a trip, as soon as the battery is depleted, the system switches seamlessly to the gasoline engine. That results in an estimated 530-mile range. The operation is similar to that of the Chevrolet Volt, an extended range electric.

“It’s all about making your life simpler,” according to Matt McAlear, Chrysler’s senior product manager. He said that if family members kept their travel to less than 30 miles in a day, they never would have to stop at a service station to refuel. Simply plug it in overnight.

However, the engineers have thoughtfully included sensors that detect when gasoline in the tank is more than 90 days old, in which case the gasoline engine runs automatically to use up the possibly tainted fuel.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid cutawayThe 350-pound battery is stored under the second row of seats. It eliminates Chrysler’s famed stow ‘n’ go feature, which allows the second-row seats to be easily stashed under the floor.

To ease the loss, the Hybrid comes with plush captain’s chairs that have more padding than the thin stow ‘n’ go seats. But the downside is that they must be physically wrestled out of the minivan if there’s a need to maximize the cargo area. Also, the Hybrid is not available as an eight-passenger minivan with a second-row bench seat.

The Pacifica’s hybrid system uses a V6 gasoline engine in concert with two electric motors integrated into the gear-driven continuously variable automatic transmission. Some other hybrids use one electric motor as a generator while the other sends power to the wheels. On the Pacifica, a one-way clutch allows the second motor to also send power to the wheels as needed.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

The gasoline-electric system delivers a total of 260 horsepower. Chrysler officials were reticent on questions of how much torque the system delivers. Torque is a measure of twisting force that translates into a strong surge of power.

Because electric motors produce maximum torque instantly when the throttle is pressed, the Pacifica Hybrid has robust acceleration off the line. It feels a bit less after the gasoline engine kicks in.

Except for instrumentation needed to communicate what’s going on with the hybrid system, the new Pacifica Hybrid has all of the same features that made the original, introduced earlier this year, the new benchmark for minivans.

Among them: First minivan with hands-free power sliding side doors. Very convenient. 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. The side doors are made of aluminum, also used in the hood and tailgate for reduced weight and better fuel economy.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Other minivan “firsts” include an electric parking brake, unique 20-inch alloy wheels, rotary shift knob (eliminates shift levers), 10-inch touch screens for second row passengers, and wireless connectivity for devices.

The new Pacifica Hybrid doesn’t come cheap. But Chrysler emphasizes that it qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit. There are two models: Premium at $43,090 and Platinum at $46,090, including the destination charge. An optional three-pane panoramic sunroof costs $1,795.

Potential buyers will have to weigh that and the loss of the stow ‘n’ go seats against the Hybrid’s considerable advantages.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Platinum four-door minivan.
  • Engines:6-liter V6 with dual transmission-mounted electric drive motors; total system 260 hp. Torque rating not disclosed.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable gear-driven automatic.
  • Overall length: 17 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 165/32 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,943 pounds.
  • Estimated EPA fuel consumption: combined 80 mpg equivalent.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $46,090.
  • Price as tested: $47,885.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) FCA.