Minivans are where it’s at, man
THE GOOD
  • Quick acceleration
  • Useful electric-only range
  • Luxurious interior
  • Made in Canada
THE BAD
  • Some infotainment stumbles
  • Third-row seats heavy to fold
  • Hybrid models lose second-row storage

Minivans are enthusiast vehicles.

Not only are they great for 90 per cent of the type of daily driving that most families do, they are really good fun. You can buy anything you want at a big-box store and it’ll fit. Your kids will think the captain’s chairs are cool. Everyone else is in a boring crossover. You’re in a van. That’s awesome.

Well maybe not “awesome,” but a good van can be a genuinely enjoyable machine to own. Vans offer the most efficient use of space for their road footprint, are often extremely comfortable, and some of the options on offer are really quite interesting.

This one, the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, adds a hassle-free green tinge to your usual school run. To the untutored eye, it’s just a minivan. To those in the know, there’s plenty to get excited about here.

Power: 8/10

One point must be deducted for the Pacifica’s somewhat loud V6 engine. When full power is requested, it comes on suddenly with a bit of a roar, which seems at odds with the rest of the driving experience.

In all other aspects, this plug-in hybrid (PHEV) minivan is smooth and quick off the line under electric power. There was plenty of charge to spare for the twice-daily 10-km school run, and general errand-running was also accomplished on electrons only. Most of the Pacifica’s 236 lb-ft of torque is available immediately, making it an ideal around-town vehicle.

The other point lost here is for the lack of a button to conserve charge. On a longer excursion, the Pacifica burned through its charge on the highway, returning to regular hybrid operation just in time to encounter some stop-and-go traffic when exiting the highway – precisely the time that juice would do its best work. It’d be nice to be able to save the 15-kWh battery’s power for these situations, especially as minivans often get used as road trip vehicles.

Driving Feel: 9/10

No, the Pacifica doesn’t handle like a sports car. Not even like a slightly sporty crossover. However, it is a wonderfully comfortable and smooth-riding machine. Complaints about steering feedback do not apply here: it’s got plenty of over-assistance, and is the better for it. This thing is as smooth and airy as the foot-high mound of whipped cream your five-year-old put on her French toast this morning because she wanted to, quote, “Do it all by myself this time.”

With electric power providing a rapid response, and a cabin that’s quieter than the new hybrid-only Toyota Sienna‘s, the Pacifica’s whole experience verges on luxury. Actually, never mind “verges on,” it just is. Luxury minivans should be a thing. What parent doesn’t need a moment’s peace?

Fuel Economy: 8/10

How good the Pacifica Hybrid is to your wallet depends on where you live. If you’re in Vancouver, like me, with some of the highest fuel prices in the country, and largely short-range driving needs for daily life, then it’s a lifesaver. Previous to the Pacifica, I had a tiny Nissan Versa booked for a week, and it ended up using twice as much fuel as the big comfy Chrysler.

However, if you walk your kids to school most days, and rely on your minivan for regular weekend road trips to the cottage, the Pacifica Hybrid’s 8.0 L/100 km combined consumption is certainly not bad, but not quite as tempting.

Throw in a $5,000 federal rebate (and another $1,500 in British Columbia and the hybrid version of the Pacifica looks like it makes a lot of sense for certain consumers. Further, this version is allowed to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

Value: 7/10

Leaving the rebates out of it, it’s hard to justify this Pinnacle trim’s $60,000-plus price tag. A similarly equipped Sienna hybrid offers all-wheel drive for slightly less; the hybrid Pacifica, meanwhile, is front-drive only.

But front-wheel drive is fine, given seasonally appropriate tires, and the Pacifica is otherwise so well-equipped it beggars belief. It really is just a luxurious driving experience. And, since it does, in fact, qualify for rebates the price point will make sense to more consumers.

Practicality: 8/10

A minivan is practicality personified, unless you need to tow a boat or something. The Pacifica is no exception with its huge, powered doors, acres of space, and deep trunk. It’s nearly without complaint.

Nearly. The rear seat is a little heavy when folding – there are more elegant applications in the world of minivans. Further, opting for the hybrid eliminates the clever stow-and-go option for the middle row, as found in the standard V6 Pacifica.

User Friendliness: 9/10

Rotary shifter controls like that found on the Pacifica’s dashboard can take some getting used to, but after a few days it was a natural motion. However, it never got un-weird to be reaching for the volume knob on the stereo and having to make sure I didn’t twist the transmission instead.

Beyond that, the brand’s infotainment system is a simple and easy one. Because there’s a lot of dashboard area, you also get lots of buttons for quick access to features like the parking cameras.

Add in buckets of storage and decent sightlines, and it’s hard to find fault with how welcoming the Pacifica feels. The only flaw was a single failure of the infotainment system to boot immediately; it was a blank screen for about five minutes after starting, and this is a quibble that owners have sometimes remarked on.

Features: 10/10

I’m tempted to hand out a demerit here as the hybrid version doesn’t have the onboard vacuum cleaner, but come on: this van has literally every function you could want short of automated massaging seats.

If you’re a rear-seat passenger, it gets even better with individual entertainment screens. The kids are basically flying first-class here. And there’s a button for the driver that pops up multiple interior cameras so you can check on them. “This is your captain speaking. Stop picking your nose.”

Safety: 9/10

If you’re looking for a safe vehicle to haul your family around in, this is it. It has earned the Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for several years now, and the hybrid scores as well as the standard van. It’s not totally perfect – there are a few four-out-of-five star ratings, including overall front impact – but it’s more a solid A- than a B+.

In terms of active safety, all the expected driver assists are here. Of particular note is the excellent cross-traffic assist, which can “see” bicycles. This is not a Chrysler claim, this is just me living on a cycle-path street and having to back the van out every morning with a little extra care. The system never failed to warn of an approaching cyclist.

Comfort: 10/10

Things that are less comfortable than the Chrysler Pacifica include overstuffed easy chairs and the womb. It is softer than something like a Sienna, and the comfort level is possibly even more of a reason to buy one than the extreme level of practicality.

Styling: 8/10

Finding a minivan beautiful is like being physically attracted to a cardboard box; you might want to see a specialist about that. However, the Pinnacle-level Pacifica does do a pretty good job of disguising its bulk, and the brilliant red paint was a real highlight. Plus, with nearly every crossover on the road looking like a Phillishave with rabies, the Pacifica might actually even be a bit handsome? (OK, I’ll go see that specialist.)

The Verdict

Many people see minivans as giving up. Not so. In the case of the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, you’re actually opting in. You’re getting a vehicle with maximum practicality, immense comfort, flexibility for any of life’s unexpected moments, and low-stress driving. Depending on where you live, the PHEV variant improves on these minivan-specific attributes with smooth and quiet electric short-range driving.

The only thing you are giving up by buying a minivan is caring about what other people might think. And honestly, do you really feel cooler while driving something like a Honda Pilot? Give your head a shake. Minivans are where it’s at, man. They’re cool again.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.6L   Model Tested 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Pinnacle
Engine Cylinders V6   Base Price $59,995
Peak Horsepower 260 net hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque N/A   Destination Fee $1,895
Fuel Economy 8.0 / 7.9 / 8.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb gas–electric hybrid; 2.9 Le/100 km (25.8 kWh/100 km) electric motor only   Price as Tested $62,090
Cargo Space 915 / 2,478 / 3,979 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row  
Optional Equipment
$100 – Pearl Paint, $100