By Nauman Farooq
Often times, a vehicle that has won an award, leaves me wondering what the committee who handed out the accolade was actually thinking!
The Chrysler Pacifica has racked up over 80 awards since its introduction, and a large portion of the awards were handed to its “Plug-In Hybrid” model.
I has tested the non-hybrid Pacifica model about two years ago, and was quite impressed by it. But, I was curious regarding the new hybrid variant, which seems to be picking up an award or two every month!
So, I needed to drive one to see what the fuss was all about!
Styling: Visually, the Pacifica Hybrid doesn’t look much different from the regular Pacifica model, although, a keen spotter would notice what looks like an extra fuel door by the driver-side front fender; that is where you can plug it in and charge this vehicle – more of that later!
So, from an aesthetics point of view, the Pacifica is easily one of the most appealing minivans on the market, and the hybrid model is no different.
Interior: If you like the way the Pacifica Hybrid looks, you’ll love the interior! This is no drab, utilitarian device, the Pacifica Hybrid has an interior that can shame most luxury cars. First of all, the fit and finish is very good, couple that with clever storage boxes and holes for you to stick things into, and things are already looking up. But wait, there’s more! It is also very well equipped, with the top of the line “Limited” model coming with LCD screens for the rear seats, and an 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system up front. All of this is wrapped up in a very pleasing interior design – it looks like something “The Jetsons” would drive. I spent a week with the Pacifica Hybrid, and found nothing regarding its interior that I didn’t like – even the seats are wonderful.
Powertrain: However, while the exterior and interior of the Pacifica Hybrid is very similar to the non-hybrid version, what really set the two apart is the drivetrain. The combustion engine is almost the same between the two versions, meaning, it has a 3.6L Pentatstar V6 which is found is lots of FCA products – although the motor in the Pacifica Hybrid features new pistons, camshafts, valves, plus with an improved compression ratio. Along with that gas engine, you get two electric motors which run on a 16.0 kWh lithium-ion battery pack -which sits under the middle-row of seats, meaning you lose out on Stow-N-Go seats- and you get a CVT gearbox, which Chrysler refers to as an eFlite Electrically Variable Transmission (EVT), instead of the nine-speed automatic found in the regular Pacifica. Max power is rated at 261 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque.
Driving Dynamics: For what reads like a very complicated powertrain, the Pacifica Hybrid is quite normal to drive. Only on very rare occasions you’ll get the typical whine from the CVT/EVT unit, otherwise, it is smooth and responsive. While the Pacifica Hybrid is a little down on power when compared to the non-hybrid model (26 hp, and 26 lb-ft down, to be exact), it actually feels quicker, thanks to the instant shove from the electric motors. On a drag strip, the non-hybrid would win, but in regular traffic, the Hybrid feels sportier – that is impressive!
Also impressive, is that despite the Hybrid model weighing about 250 kg more than the non-hybrid version, that extra weight does not seem to affect the ride and handling, which is easily among the best in its category. Couple that with good steering feel, and you get a minivan that is enjoyable to drive – never thought I’d ever say that! When you factor in its lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control, plus all its luxury features, the Pacifica Hybrid would make a great alternative to owning a luxury car!
Fuel Economy: Now, on to the main reason anyone buys a hybrid vehicle of any sort, fuel efficiency. Here’s how it works, when the battery is fully charged (which takes about 2.5 hours from a level-two charger), the vehicle will tell you it has 57 km of all-electric range! In my testing, the best I got was 48 km, but real world numbers are always different from claimed numbers, because it can depend on your driving style and the sort of roads you travel on. The first 100 km I covered, which included range on a full charge, I saw 6.2 L/100 km. On my test cycle (300 km total driving, which includes 170 km of highway, and 130 km of city driving) I averaged 8.3 L/100 km, and it included 2.5 battery charge-ups. That is quite good, but its worth noting that the non-hybrid version, on my test cycle, had averaged 9.9 L/100 km, so not a huge difference!
The thing is, if you do mostly city driving, and you get into the habit of charging it on a regular basis, your results will be far better than mine with the plug-in hybrid model.
Most plug-in hybrids allow you to choose between drive modes, so you can save the battery for when you need to use it – the Pacifica Hybrid doesn’t do that. Chrysler’s thinking is, that the vehicle should be run on electric whenever it has any po wer in it, and that can work for it, or against it, depending on your driving. I would have loved to have been able to switch it out of electric drive on the highway, and save the battery for city stop-and-go traffic, but it doesn’t give you that option. However, its on-board computer is very clever, and makes use of any battery power gained through coasting or braking. As a result, in the first 385 km I drove, just over 50 percent of that was covered in electric drive – that’s very impressive!
Pricing: Base price of the Pacifica Hybrid starts from about $53,000. The loaded “Limited” model is yours from about $58,556.
However, thanks to its EV powertrain, and the number of people it can hold (seven), the Pacifica Hybrid gets a $14,000 rebate from the Ontario government, which means, the hybrid is about the same price as the non-hybrid version. With that in mind, I’d spring for the plug-in hybrid version.
Verdict: The Pacifica Hybrid is the first ever plug-in hybrid minivan in our market (possibly anywhere on the planet), and it not only makes sense, the execution is really impressive (I think I’ve used that word more times in this article, than ever before). I’m sure, Toyota and Honda will be looking at this vehicle and asking themselves; Why didn’t we think of that?
Well done, Chrysler, the Pacifica Hybrid surely is worthy of all the awards it has received – now, how about a plug-in hybrid muscle car next?