Pop artist Claes Oldenburg made a career out of transforming utilitarian objects into monumental works of art, reminding us that true artistry can be found in ordinary objects, ones that seem like Clark Kent, but are, in reality, Superman.
And so it is with the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica minivan, a true workhorse that gets some notable upgrades that brand it as captivating, not commonplace.
Overview: In an effort to distinguish it from the entry-level $27,235 Chrysler Voyager minivan, the $35,045 Chrysler Pacifica gets a host of updates for 2021, including a refreshed appearance, while the Voyager soldiers on with last year’s styling. Trim levels for 2021 include Touring, Touring L, Limited and Pinnacle.
(FCA adds AWD to the Special Edition 2020 Pacifica minivan.)
Aside from the updated wardrobe, the Pacifica is now offered in a new $53,390 Pinnacle model that’s truly extravagant given its plebian mission. After all, how many modern-day vehicles come with second row-throw pillows? The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle does, and they’re matched to diamond-quilted leather seating. There’s also a fully automatic all-wheel-drive system, yours for an extra $2,995 on all gas models, as well as the only plug-in hybrid minivan on the market. The Pacifica’s tech also gets upgraded.
See? Isn’t it starting to look better?
Exterior: Sporting a significantly revamped proboscis, LED lighting, and rear end, designers tried to lend the Pacifica a more modern look.
“On the front end you know we wanted to give it a more muscular feel, almost a more SUV-like appearance,” said Chris Benjamin, the Pacifica’s chief designer, during its unveiling earlier this month. “It really brings it into a newer, more modern space.” Certainly the new style will make it less objectionable to the minivan averse. It’s quite fetching.
Interior: “We also made some enhancements to the interior,” Benjamin said. “We wanted to make sure that we created more than just a tool. We wanted to create something that was special, something that was unique.”
Certainly, Benjamin and his crew succeeded. Yes, Chrysler’s much-loved standard Stow ‘n Go seats return on gas models, although Hybrid models don’t have them in the second row as the space is used for the battery pack.
But there’s a new center console, and Chrysler says the revised interior has eight cubic feet of storage in its many cubbies, cupholders and crevices. USB ports are plentiful, and the optional rear entertainment system now offers new standard games, including chess and backgammon.
Front seats are roomy, comfortable and can be heated and cooled. Second-row seats provide adequate legroom and slide back and forth for cargo/people carrying flexibility. However, the seating is low and better suited for children than adults, although headroom is impressive. And given the lack of children during the test drive, the cabin proved to be impressively quiet thanks to insulated side glass.
“… True artistry can be found in ordinary objects, ones that seem like Clark Kent, but are, in reality, Superman. And so it is with the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica minivan …”
And, for those parents who tire of constantly finding wayward cereal, popcorn or pretzels in the interior, a built-in vacuum cleaner is optional, but you’ll surrender the optional mini-spare tire to get it.
(Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle aims to take minivans to a new peak.)
Powertrain: Being the world’s only manufacturer of a plug-in hybrid minivan is notable, but most buyers will opt for the standard driveline, powered by the corporate 3.6-liter V-6 that generates 287 horsepower through a 9-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is a $2,995 option.
The all-wheel-drive system works invisibly, triggering if the electronic stability control activates, if the vehicle is at or near freezing cold weather, on a rough road, on a steep grade, if the windshield wipers come on, if the driver is doing an evasive maneuver or has a heavy throttle foot.
That same V-6 engine is used for hybrid duties, but only with front-wheel drive. It works in concert with two electric motors to deliver 260 hp through an electrically variable transmission developed by Chrysler. A 16-kWh battery pack comprised of 96 lithium-ion cells provide the power, recharging in two hours on a 240-volt circuit or in approximately 14 hours using a 120-volt outlet.
That supplies enough juice to run 33 miles purely on electric power, returning the equivalent of 82 mpg, according to the EPA. Once that point is reached, it becomes a conventional hybrid, with the electric motor working in tandem with the gas engine to deliver 30 mpg in combined city/highway driving, 10 mpg more than the standard Pacifica, and enough to save $800 annually in fuel costs according to the EPA.
Technology and Safety: Driver assistance gear includes standard blind-spot monitoring with rear-crosspath detection, and optional forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, parking assist and a surround-view camera.
Although NHTSA hasn’t crash tested the Pacifica Hybrid, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates it a Top Safety Pick Plus, its top ranking.
While that’s welcome in a family vehicle, more important is the all-new Uconnect 5 system on a new larger 10.1-inch touchscreen. While wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a welcome update, the presence of standard in-vehicle Amazon Alexa capability elevates the vehicle’s capabilities. So if you have Alexa-enabled devices in your home, you can actually start the vehicle as well as lock and unlock the doors. And those Alexa tasks that you can do in your home, you can now do in the van.
Thoughtfully, the home screen can be customized for six different drivers. As you’d expect, there’s Bluetooth, but it now allows two phones to connect simultaneously. There are up to 12 USB Type A and Type C ports, and a new “FamCam” interior camera that gives the driver a high-definition view of rear-facing child seats in the second and third rows, and it can zoom in for a closer view.
Driving impressions: The smooth, responsive driveline obediently supplies a smooth surge of power, never feeling overtaxed, even with a hefty amount of luggage and seats filled with family members. The steering is light and lacking in feel, but accurate.
Body lean is moderate, and body motions are well controlled, furnishing a compliant, comfortable ride. It’s an easy vehicle to drive smoothly. Fuel economy came in at 28 mpg, but those lacking a heavy throttle foot will get better mileage.
(Chrysler Airflow concept could hint at future direction of minivans.)
Wrap Up: If you think the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica isn’t more than just some tarted-up mobile cubicle, recognize that it’s quiet and comfortable, powerful yet fuel efficient, and far more practical than any sport-utility vehicle.
Isn’t it a beautiful thing?