First Drive Review: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica stuns in new Pinnacle trim level
Minivans are usually relegated to mommy duty. They get used and abused by children of all ages, and they can take the beating. In the U.S. there are no luxury minivans. The segment is dominated by comfortable but rather utilitarian vehicles that deliver exactly what the average customer is expecting - and there's nothing wrong with that.
But then someone (maybe two someones, or three) at Chrysler had an idea. What if they pushed the Pacifica further into premium territory, offering a near-luxury version of a minivan? Would people buy it? The answer, after one solid day behind the wheel is, "they should."
The Pacifica received a new front end for 2021.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC
The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica is a facelifted version of the van that debuted for the 2017 model year. It continues to be an attractive model, as far as minivans go. This version of the Pacifica has a more muscular aesthetic, shying away from the elegance of the previous three years. The sides and back are great but I honestly can't decide if I like the front or not, but it does remind me more of the Chrysler 300 than the previous iteration did.
New for 2021, all-wheel drive (AWD) is offered, bringing the Pacifica to the table that's been occupied solely by the Toyota Sienna for a long while. It's the first AWD minivan Chrysler has sold since 2004 and something buyers have been asking for since the Pacifica debuted, according to company insiders.
The Chrysler Pacifica itself is already in a position to go luxury. It's certainly already gained premium model status based solely on the Voyager-Pacifica split which saw Pacifica's lower cost grades become Voyager models, which were then modified for fleet and commercial use. The Voyager also effectively replaced the Dodge Grand Caravan in FCA's lineup as a cost-effective minivan solution.
This left room for the Pacifica Pinnacle, a new top-tier trim level that really shows up for the premium buyer. Not only is the Pacifica Pinnacle's design just as practical as the other models in the lineup, it goes the extra mile with comfort, soft-touch materials, and classy finishes.
Pacifica Pinnacle models are the top of the heap for minivans buyers.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC
Like the revised 2022 Kia Sedona, the Pacifica has a flat dashboard. In the Pacifica, it's anchored by a largest-in-class 10.1-inch touchscreen (the same size as the screens in the rear entertainment system but higher resolution). The lower half of the center stack is tilted toward the console and houses the shifter and climate controls. As tested in the Pinnacle trim, there was an abundance of Piano Black plastic trim with wood accents and real metal surrounds that easily make it the poshest new minivan on sale right now. Quilted leather seats, sueded center row pillows, and Beber floor mats complete the upscale look.
Unlike others in its class, the Pacifica doesn't appear lightweighted for efficiency to the point of cheapness. The doors have a well-weighted feel and close with a commanding thud. The thuds of road travel, surrounding vehicles' music choices, and engine noise are kept at bay thanks to new windows, seals, and insulation.
The minivans seats are comfortable and spacious. Unlike in other minivans, the center console and surrounding storage does not make the front row seats feel isolated from each other.
As tested, the Pacifica Pinnacle was powered by Chrysler's 3.6-liter V6 engine, that is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission and delivers 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It was equipped with AWD, which is standard for the trim level, unless you opt for the hybrid.
The new infotainment system in the Pacifica Pinnacle runs smoothly and is a pleasure to use.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC
As it does with other vehicle's the Pacifica's AWD automatically acts when a set of conditions are met. With the Pacifica this means it works when it senses a temperature slip, when the electronic stability control is activated, while driving on a rough road, when a grade is steep, if conditions are slippery, when the steering wheel movement sways back and forth, or when there's a full throttle request on the powertrain.
If the AWD system senses that you're driving on a highway, or in conditions that don't require its use, it will deactivate automatically to improve the vehicle's fuel efficiency. This activation and deactivation process is so smooth you probably won't even notice it happening. However, you can feel the wheels engage and demonstrate the system's engineering when the conditions require it.
Having the AWD system doesn't mean that you have to forego Chrysler's Stow 'n Go storage system. Power-sliding rear doors, three-zone climate control (which still blows to circulate air even in the off setting), power first- and second-row windows, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, Stow 'n Go bucket seats with in-floor storage bins, driver's side Stow 'n Assist, and a Stow 'n Go third-row bench seat are all standard equipment. The Pacifica's seats don't have the extensive forward and aft travel the Toyota Sienna does, but the Stow 'n Go seats tumble into the floor to allow for flat loading. The Pacifica Pinnacle offers best-in-class total storage of 227.6 liters.
FCA's new Uconnect 5 infotainment operating system runs in the background of the Pacifica's screens. The system is graphically appealing, is quickly responsive, and features clean design. Though the system could stand to have a head-up display paired with it (Chrysler does not offer one in the Pacifica), the navigation is easy to use and read on the fly, and reroutes rapidly, even in urban settings with tall buildings surrounding the van.
The Pacifica Pinnacle's seats are finely upholstered and come with two pillows.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC
Chrysler has given its Pinnacle model FamCam, an interior monitoring camera similar to what is in the Honda Odyssey, that takes in-cabin camera tech a step further offering the segment-exclusive rear-facing child seat view split-view display, and zoom-to-seat feature, among traditional camera functionality.
The Chrysler Pacifica comes standard with 97 safety features, and in the Pinnacle trim level that number swells to 100.
At over $53,000, the Pacifica Pinnacle is well into premium territory on price tag alone. However, it tops out in similar territory to its rivals, but is far more luxurious. Plus, it has AWD.
Look, it's not an SUV, but if you get around the "I'm not a minivan mom" mindset, the reality you might find is that the Pacifica Pinnacle is just as nice as a luxury three-row SUV, but with more and better functionality for everyday family life. Plus, it drives just as well.