Chrysler Pacifica

Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus.

Photo: Cliff Leppke

If NASA were to revive the space shuttle, it should benchmark Chrysler’s Pacifica; it has the right stuff. This new minivan (not so mini anymore) dignifies the maligned “mommy mobile.” It will awe you with classy confines, versatile cargo or passenger space, oodles of amenities, competent power delivery — and decent road manners.

The body utilizes high-strength steel, the hood is aluminum and the rear lid is flight weight, too. Thus, it’s both rigid and relatively svelte.

Chrysler’s Pentastar 287-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 engine launches this ride. It mates to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Engine rpm at 60 mph is sleepy at 1250, and noise-canceling technology (using the sound system) further hushes this coach. Gear shifting is usually imperceptible; the transmission sometimes pauses when picking gears. There’s plenty of go, even when saddled with cargo.

It’s a cavernous U-Haul rival. Inside, the front chairs are comfortable and amply sized. In back, it’s not a game of remove-and-store thrones. That’s because the optional Stow ‘n Go seats fold into the floor or slide behind the front chairs, providing access to under-floor storage bins. Plus, the third-row bench also stows under the floor. One hitch: no spare tire.

Convenience and safety are manifest. Ape the Pack’s Mason Crosby by kicking your foot and either side door or the rear liftgate will open for you. I checked whether the sliding side doors could guillotine a child. Not likely. Each door reversed direction when confronting a piece of foam.

Mid-row passengers can play games on airline-style touchscreens with USB inputs and wireless headsets mounted behind the front seats. One recalcitrant screen, however, didn’t accept finger swipes. Front-and-rear automatic climate controls offer three comfort zones. Drivers get a heated steering wheel.

Instruments helpful and not

Chrysler reduces dash clutter via its Uconnect infotainment touch screen, which requires much tapping. For example, the front seat heaters are controlled via that screen’s sub-menu. Distracting. Otherwise, the infotainment system is easy to use.

A rotary transmission-mode control is adjacent to other round knobs, which could lead one to inadvertently twist the wrong item. The transmission, however, won’t go berserk if you mistake its dial for, say, a volume knob. Plus, the van warns you to spin toward “P” and applies the electronic parking brakes if you should forget this step when exiting the vehicle.

The Pacifica’s cabin is a sea of grained plastics. Due to clever design, this petrochemical ocean is deftly disguised. Most interior bits fit well. Two lapses: the front passenger panels below the windshield were adrift and one side door surround also was out of sorts.

A thin-film, transistor-type instrument cluster lacks contrast in daylight. And its automatic panel illumination doesn’t correct for foggy days. There’s a manual override for that. The jewel-like tachometer and speedometer embellishments distract. You offset this by picking big digits for velocity shown on the between-the-gauges info panel. This info screen also presents colorful fuel-economy graphics that turn green (frugal) or red (guzzling). I netted 22 mpg overall. EPA numbers: 18 city, 28 highway, and 22 mpg overall.

Ride quality is good. Although there’s some tossing and bobbing, no Dramamine is required. Michelin Premiere A/S tires (235/60R18) roll smoothly.

The Pacific’s steering is active. It doesn’t isolate you to the point of boredom. Plus, the tiller properly self-centers. Piloting, therefore, is engaging.

The Pacifica posted a decent speed during a back-road romp. Wind sensitivity is low, so is wind noise. It’s highly maneuverable due to a tight turning radius. Parking sensors aid backing. Brakes are effective and easy to modulate.

Exterior styling evokes the Citroen Ami’s roofline. Black plastic pieces create a faux rear-window wrap.

Whether you’re riding or driving, the Pacifica delivers good goods. It’s a class above Chrysler’s previous minivans. It ingests people or cargo more easily than most SUVs, and provides more useable room. Handymen and women: 4 x 8 foot sheets of plywood or Sheetrock fit inside. Children or their grandparents will appreciate its low step-in height. For the best people hauling, select conventional, larger mid-row seats, which give you room for eight rather than seven.

The 2017 Pacifica Touring L Plus with upgraded suspension and other options lists for $41,770.

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