2019 Chrysler Pacifica Review

“This minivan … it’s going to make automotive history. I feel that in my gut and I’m going to say it out loud even if it means going out on a limb.”

These words were not said recently. They’re more than three decades old, delivered at the formal introduction of the Plymouth Voyager on November 2, 1983.

The man who said them? Lee Iacocca. Minivans became one of the key tools he used to bring Chrysler back from the brink. He passed away on July 2 of this year at the age of 94, which adds a new layer of poignancy to an occasion that FCA is otherwise treating as a celebration: the Chrysler minivan’s 35th anniversary.

In that same speech, Iacocca himself explained what minivans offered then – and what they still offer today – that no other vehicle body style can: they’re “family wagons that also can be used for a limitless number of other jobs.” They can haul seven people comfortably one day and a few sheets of plywood the next, and these days you don’t even need to pull the second-row seats out and store them in the garage to do it like my dad did when he owned a Caravan back in the late 1980s.

In fact, the most heinous crime the minivan ever committed was being so ubiquitous among families of that time period that an entire generation of children came to associate them with their boring suburban parents. They sat there with their teased hair and leg warmers, chewing gum incessantly and looking down on the entire scene with derision. “I don’t want to be like my parents, and my parents drive a minivan, so I’ll never be caught dead in one.”

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Then, those kids grew up and started their own families. A great number of them still battle this bias today by buying SUVs, which are far more fashionable but far, far less practical. No on-board vacuum for picking up stray Cheerios? No dual sliding doors to prevent dings in the Walmart parking lot? Please. Sacrificing function for form is such an ‘80s thing to do.

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That’s why I jumped at the chance to take a Chrysler Pacifica for an extended spin in honor of the anniversary. Sure, in some ways a huge vehicle like this one is big-time overkill for my little family of two. But we certainly had no problem jamming in all our gear, and we still enjoyed its many benefits.

Because the Pacifica is built at FCA’s assembly plant in Windsor, Ontario, Canada – the company “gutted everything to the walls” and retooled it from scratch in 16 weeks to dedicate Windsor to minivans for the launch. Therefore, the 35th-anniversary celebration took place in Canada as well. The drive into rural Eastern Ontario passes through freeways and winding back roads, offering plenty of opportunities to put any vehicle through its paces.

A 35th Anniversary Edition of each of Chrysler’s vans will start production very shortly, which will incorporate an all-black interior with cranberry wine accent stitching, unique badging, and packaging upgrades that will result in discounts of a few hundred dollars.

Those weren’t quite ready to go in time for this drive though, so instead, we headed out in a 2019 Pacifica Limited S in a color called Dark Cordovan Pearl, which is either black, brown, or purple depending on which way the light is hitting it. This model is loaded to the nines – including the $795 S Appearance Package with its black-on-black-on-black interior and 18-inch dark aluminum wheels, although this one is upgraded $995 further to get to 20 inches – and has the sticker price to match at an MSRP of $50,970 with a $1,495 destination charge.

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With that, unless you’re willing to consider the hybrid, there’s a single powertrain choice: Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. Rumors abound that an all-wheel-drive version is coming, but the official line on this as of now is that nothing has formally been announced.

Its 287 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque are on the higher end for the segment – the Toyota Sienna’s 296 hp and 263 lb-ft from a same-sized engine is marginally better. The Pacifica’s transmission tends to hold gears and resist downshifts, but power and delivery are otherwise just about right for what most people will want and expect in a minivan. It returned home with a fuel economy reading of 24 MPG, which is not bad at all, bearing in mind that we didn’t exactly have it fully loaded.

What’s perhaps more surprising is how well it handles. The roads in Eastern Ontario can be pretty entertaining in comparison with the rest of the province given that they have bends in them from time to time. In the Pacifica I actually caught myself – gasp! –almost having a bit of fun with them. That’s not to say that it’s as compliant as an SUV,  the Pacifica handles a little bit like a plank on wheels, but all minivans do, or that I wasn’t envious of the people who whipped past in $100,000 sports cars. But when you point the Pacifica into a corner, it tends to stay where you put it and tolerates being urged along quite well. Given everything else this vehicle is and does, this trade-off seems more than reasonable.

And how comfortable is it? I spent a six-hour driving day in it with zero complaints, but mine is far from being the most glowing review. I pulled over in a small village briefly to make a phone call, and my daughter unbuckled herself, threw her seat back, curled up, and promptly fell asleep. It was almost an hour before we were underway again. If you’re a parent, I don’t need to tell you how priceless this is.

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The infotainment system is also a huge hit: I like it because it’s well laid out and easy to use and incorporates Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and my daughter likes it because she doesn’t normally get away with fiddling with screens on road trips. I’m a big fan of making kids have conversations and look out the window, so she loves reminding me that I have to let her play the games because “it’s for work.” On the other hand, I spent 30 seconds teaching her how to play solitaire before we left and it kept her busy for hours on end, so I’m not really sure what I’m complaining about exactly.

The Verdict: 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Review

Basically, if you need to move a lot of people around, you can resist all you like, but for out-and-out functionality, you still can’t do better than a minivan. And if you’ve got a budget or a desire for higher-end features – and you live in a location where all-wheel-drive isn’t essential, at least until it becomes available someday – then the Chrysler Pacifica remains one of the most well-rounded products you’ll find on the market.