Being the first out of the gate doesn’t always guarantee success. After all, history is littered with companies that brazenly sat back and let someone else take the risk of entering a new market, potentially saving untold millions – and saving face – if the whole idea goes horribly pear-shaped.
Unless, of course, you’re part of the minivan team in Auburn Hills.
Ever since Chrysler introduced the notion of a minivan way back in 1984, it has been holding master classes in space efficiency and smart design. For the 2022 AutoTrader Awards, our panel of over 20 judges from across Canada have once again voted for the Chrysler Pacifica/Grand Caravan as the Best Minivan for the sixth year in a row. Turns out, it’s not just children that get taken to school in a Chrysler minivan – the competition does as well.
While the Grand Caravan used to be a Dodge, it now proudly wears a Chrysler badge and offers Canadian drivers a locally-built minivan that’s a bit more budget-focused than the Pacifica, which can be loaded up with the fanciest of amenities. The minivans share a platform and most components, which is why they’ve been considered as part of the same model lineup. We will be referring mostly to the Pacifica in this article.
Chrysler starts up front with a proven powertrain, deploying the 3.6L V6 engine that has found a home under the hood of just about everything the company builds. Mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission that silently goes about its business like a dutiful butler, it makes for one less thing that busy families need to worry about. All-wheel drive is available on all models of the Pacifica, except the plug-in hybrid version. Grand Caravans drive only the front wheels.
And while styling isn’t necessarily a top priority when shopping for a box on wheels that will be used to cart around large numbers of noisy kids and all their friends, it doesn’t hurt that the Pacifica actually looks like something you’d want to park in one’s own driveway instead of hiding it in the backyard behind that hedge that needs trimming. The front grille and fascia are deeply sculpted, bookended by LED headlamps and available with acres of brightwork or a blacked-out look if one is attempting a bit of stealth.
Of course, it’s the interior that receives the most attention in any minivan comparison, and our judges were impressed by the way Chrysler manages to pack in the type functionality that others in the segment seem to lack. Its exclusive Stow ‘n Go seating system permits all seats aft of the front row to vanish into the van’s floor – even when equipped with all-wheel drive – creating an enormous area that looks large enough to host a baseball game. In reality, there is 140.3 cubic feet of space, roughly the same as a jumbo Chevy Suburban but packed into a much more manageable (and maneuverable) vehicle size.
That third row of chairs fold in such a way that the reverse side of their seat bottoms, not the backs, are used as a load floor. This may sound like a minor distinction but permits the creation of a very flat and sturdy surface, one free of small crevasses into which life’s detritus can fall and never be seen again (at least until it’s found smushed into the van’s upholstery). It’s a great example of a practical detail Chrysler gets correct but many competitors can’t seem to nail. Even ideas Chrysler cribbed from other automakers such as the onboard vacuum cleaner have been massaged and improved; while other brands place the nozzle for this feature near the rear hatch, Chrysler puts it in the cabin, putting the handy tool within reach of every single dropped Cheerio and gummy bear.
With the advent of modern infotainment, the days of “are we there yet” have fallen into the rearview mirror. Amazon Fire TV is now available for the 2022 Chrysler Pacifica, allowing passengers to stream videos, play games, or listen to music while on the road. This is in addition to game-laden screens and USB ports for rear seat urchins, a FamCam that permits the driver to keep an eye on warring factions in the rear two rows, plus a 10.1-inch Uconnect touchscreen upfront through which navigation and infotainment can be controlled. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are part of the deal.
Audiophiles will enjoy an available Harman Kardon sound system that adds a 10-inch rear quarter trim subwoofer to accompany a 19-speaker system. Owners will be able to enjoy their tunes thanks to engineers who worked to improve the cabin with better door fitment and glass seals across the board. The company says these efforts have resulted in the quietest Chrysler minivan ever built; after lots of testing, our judges tend to concur.
Our jury of more than 20 automotive experts considered and evaluated every single new minivan available in this segment for Canadians to buy, basing their votes on a dozen different criteria ranging from safety and quality to efficiency and performance. These criteria are weighted with a critical eye to the segment’s intended purpose; for example, passenger space and clever storage was more important here than in the sports car category.
Practical, smart interior design, and an invisible powertrain – sounds like a class winner to us. Best of all? The Pacifica and Grand Caravan are assembled right here in Canada.