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Chrysler Pacifica Makes a Strong Case for Returning to the OG Family Hauler

It’s easy to see why more car buyers prefer crossovers and SUVs to pretty much every other body style out there. Crossovers can have plenty of space for families and cargo, give off an impression of improved safety, have a practical hatchback, and are typically available with all-wheel drive to tackle tough road conditions. Chrysler says it has all of this and more in a package that’s not an SUV or crossover. Instead, it says the minivan is back as the ultimate utility vehicle, and it’s one that’s tough to ignore.

Revealed at the 2020 Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto, the new 2021 Chrysler Pacifica features a fancy high-end interior trim option and can be equipped with all-wheel drive.

“It will capture new customers with a new interior and with AWD,” says Mary Ann Capo, Senior Manager of the Chrysler Brand. “People have gone from minivans to UVs (utility vehicles) likely due to AWD, and now that we have AWD and a higher-end interior, people can come back.”

Making a return to your minivan isn’t like crawling back to an ex. Since the introduction of the Caravan back in 1984, many customers in the market today probably have fond memories of growing up in the back of a minivan.

“I think someone who had a minivan in the past knows the wonder of the family room on wheels,” says Capo. “There’s nothing else like it that gives you the flexibility to carry things and people with such ease.” She points out that no crossover has a feature that’s even close to the Pacifica’s magical “Stow-n-Go” seats that fold flat into the floor for extra storage. “You don’t get that in UVs, so now that you have that understanding, why wouldn’t you come back?”

Cooler Cabin than a Crossover

Capo is realistic, understanding that market trends haven’t shown much love for the minivan in the past few years. When the new Pacifica launched in 2017, very few other automakers even bothered trying to compete with it. Since 2017, the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna have gone without any significant updates, but the brands have both significantly refreshed or introduced new crossovers during that time. Simply put, crossovers were the hot new thing for families and automakers could load them with new features and charge a premium for high-end interiors.

Capo says that since the Pacifica first launched, they have an even better “understanding of the market,” and have a feel for where the industry is going. “We were seeing the shift from cars to UVs and wondered, ‘Where does the minivan fall into that?’ ”

This is why the 2021 Pacifica also gets a new Pinnacle trim level to sit atop the model’s lineup. Since it seems that shoppers don’t seem to mind spending more for large vehicles with luxury appointments, offering the Pacifica with a range-topping Pinnacle trim made a lot of sense. This model features beautifully stitched leather upholstery, and even throw pillows for the second-row captain’s chairs.

“Utility vehicles have plenty of range in terms of price,” says Capo. “We saw there was a chance for a top-end minivan.”

While pricing isn’t available yet for the new Pinnacle models, Capo reassures buyers that AWD isn’t reserved for the top-trim models. “There will be AWD available on the Touring models,” she says. Touring is currently pegged as a low-to-mid level trim for the 2020 Pacifica.

Safety- and Family-oriented

A minivan will almost always beat a crossover when it comes to space, but family-oriented vehicles have to be safe, too. Many crossovers have scored high marks in crash tests, but safety institutions are going beyond just testing the crashworthiness of a vehicle. The Insurance Institute for Highway Standards (IIHS) also tests the effectiveness of a vehicle’s lights, driver’s assistance features, and crash prevention systems.

The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica seems to be improving in all of those areas. For starters, the headlights, fog lights, and taillights have been redesigned to use LEDs, which are brighter and easier to see at night. This is important because the 2020 Pacifica has a few mediocre marks on its IIHS report card for its headlights, so FCA is hoping the new LEDs will help boost its score. In addition to this, the vehicle gets standard pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking. Capo says that the van is one of the first in the FCA lineup to get this feature as standard equipment.

And because the Pacifica is considered a family-oriented vehicle, it also has a few new features to keep parents reassured. For example, Capo points out a new camera system that will display a video feed of the cabin on the infotainment screen and allow front-seat occupants to see their child, even if they’re in a rear-facing child seat. Capo points out that the usual practice is to have a bunch of mirrors in the car for parents to keep an eye on their kids, but that’s no longer necessary. “You actually have a zoom ability, which will help provide peace of mind, to let you know what’s happening if a baby is crying and what’s bothering them.”

Crossovers are always billed as being the ultimate family vehicle because they’re marketed as being safe, capable, and spacious. With an updated interior to go along with all-wheel drive and other safety improvements, the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica is looking to even the score.