Chrysler Pacifica: A Minivan Minus the Shame

Chrysler Pacifica: A Minivan Minus the Shame

The beleaguered minivan has long been associated with lame domesticity, but Chrysler’s redesigned Pacifica could change all that

After inventing the category three decades ago, Chrysler had more recently let its minivan products languish while new owner Fiat Chrysler Automobiles radically re-ordered global product design and production, the five-year plan. The 2017 Pacifica—the Town &Country name is retiring—debuts aboard FCA’s global large minivan architecture and represents a good share of about $2 billion in product development money. In many respects Pacifica jumps two generations of product design.

It is not an exaggeration to say that if, today, I had to choose one vehicle to drive for the rest of my natural life, it would be this 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited.

I wouldn’t be thrilled about it—I’ve got the fob of a Porsche this week—but there it is. #minivantruth.

Why? Because minivans rock, a priori. Easy midrow entry, two rows of flippy-foldy seats, flexible cargo space that can handle 4X8 plywood, and the blessed, Promethean gift of sliding side doors. Many minivans have dual-screen entertainment systems with headphones, which act on restless children just as the lightest touch of a rubber mallet. What’s not to love?

The Pacifica minivan, a crown-jewel segment for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, is coming off a $2 billion redesign that should keep it technically relevant for some time. It only has to outlast me.

You might ask if minivans are so great, why are they losing market share to crossovers and SUVs? Segment sales have fallen from about 1.4 million units in 2000 to about 500,000 last year. Ford and Chevy don’t offer minivans for the U.S. anymore. The remaining players include the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest and Kia Sedona. There’s a hint.

The whole category has been historically under-baked; and no product has been more gooey in the middle than Chrysler’s bailout-era Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan.

An interior view

I would have changed the name, too.

The institutional bet on the part of FCA is that a comely, well-proportioned minivan, properly executed, can claw back market share from SUVs and crossovers.

In order to do that, the reasoning went, Pacifica had to challenge the stigma of minivans as scarlet letters of domesticity.

I’ve always been uneasy about the predicate here. Minivan shaming, lightly laughed off, reflects the larger culture in which we regard family and commitment as lingering, fatal conditions to be first avoided.

God, people are shallow and insecure. I’m glad I’m not one of them.

This image helps illustrate one of the challenges of building a minivan. Such vehicles are rather like upside-down shoeboxes. Twist and the lid and the box distorts and want to separate. Cut holes in the box, for windows, and torsional rigidity is even worse. The Pacifica, debuting FCA’s global large minivan platform, deploys a dramatically stronger, lighter mixed-metal structure that exhibits 90% higher torsional rigidity than the retiring minivan. Chrysler even felt confident enough to cut another hole in the box: the Pacifica’s optional Tri-Pane Panoramic sunroof, seen here.

In any event, FCA spent a lot to make the Pacifica look great, in hopes that pride of ownership would help ease the shame of functioning ovaries, or whatever.

The Pacifica casts about the same size shadow as the retiring model, just a tick wider, with a deeper stance over wheel wells that fit 17-, 18- or 20-inch wheels. Its signature flourish is the gently bowed roof, a flyline with the bright metallic roof rails.

The Pacifica wants very much to be seen, with gussying bright work framing the windows, the upper and lower grille, and the lower light line. Please observe the way the two character lines—rising from scroll-like curves, fore and aft—come together under the A pillar, dashing together like fencing foils.

It’s got energy. Dignity. I like it. Mom will not have to put a bag over her head leaving the grocery store.

Pacifica advances the state of the art in Chrysler’s trademark Stow’n Go seating. The midrow seats will tilt and slide forward to allow access to the rear, even if a child safety seat is in place. Also new is push-button assist that draws the front and passenger seat forward to clear room for the folding seats, which disappear into tubs in the floor. One note: As part of the vehicle’s structural engineering, these boxes were integrated in the load-bearing structure, making it in effect a transverse beam, right where rigidity and crash strength is needed. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in the coming plug-in hybrid model, this space, and consequently the midrow Stow’n Go function, will be sacrificed to store the battery pack.

The other big deliverable for the Pacifica team: structure. Minivans bodies want to flex and twist just like a shoebox with five big holes cut into it, six if you count a sunroof.

Even a little wiggle has all kind of consequences, from ride and drivability to weather sealing.

This inherent character of minivan bodies can, of course, be quelled by the diligent application of money, and that is what FCA has done here, finally.

The upper body and lower frame are now bonded together as a proper modern unibody, much of it comprising high-strength steel, with aluminum and magnesium used in the body panels.

The resulting structure displays a whopping 90% higher torsional rigidity (resistance to twisting) than the tin can it replaces, while overall weight is down about 250 pounds, to 4,330 pounds.

The Pacifica can even be had with a nearly all-glass roof, the optional Tri-Pane Panoramic Sunroof.

Imagine sitting in an overturned glass-bottom boat.

Not to over-praise. Really, this is how FCA should have been building them all along: Full-perimeter front and rear suspension cradles of high-strength steel; forged aluminum chassis bits like knuckles and control arms; sophisticated suspension geometry; and lots of NVH countermeasures, including acoustic laminate windshield glass; sound-absorbing wheel well liners; and lots of hydraulic bushings, isolators and baffles.

This bill of materials really makes a difference, as does a million hours of aero simulation to chase down acoustic hotspots.

The Pacifica’s cabin tranquility makes the former seem like an open railcar. Chrysler reports noise levels at cruising speed at are a best-in-class 63 decibels, under the muffling blanket of an active noise cancellation.

This provides a proper backdrop for the optional UConnect Theater and Sound group ($2,795), combining 20 Harman Kardon speakers with a 760-watt amplifier and two seatback LCD screens the size of LP jackets.

Oh, you want conveniences? Our Pacifica Limited tester ($48,455) had a built-in vacuum cleaner with a 11.4-foot retractable hose; hands’ free sliding doors and liftgate. (you wave your foot under the car to activate); and the latest in Stow’n Go mechatronics. The front seats can be drawn forward.

The midrow seats slide and tilt forward to ease access to the back row, even if there is a child safety seat in place.

The third-row seats also fold flat and disappear under the cargo bed at the touch of a button. With both seat-rows flat, the interior looks huge, a carpeted hangar. FCA says the interior volume leads the class at 197.3 cubic feet. It’s all so… beautiful.

How’s it drive? Adequately, withal. At the moment the Pacifica is available with front-wheel drive, powered by naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6 (287 hp/262 lb-ft) and a nine-speed transmission. The gear selector is a rotary dial on the dash.

This engine-transmission package is strong and capable, but amid all the quietude the big V-6 could get buzzy and displayed moments of transient naughtiness. The transmission’s clutch-on-clutch architecture is abrupt and can make the vehicle lurch a bit at light throttle.

If I could push off the car-for-life choice for another 30-60 days, I might opt for the plug-in hybrid.

It will use a hybrid-tuned variant of the V-6 combined with a dual-motor EVT and a 16 kWh lithium battery.

Projected nominal are 260 horsepower, total system output, 30 miles of all-electric range; and fuel economy equivalent to of 80 mpg, according to the EPA.

I say, might. The battery pack will have to go into the floor tubs where the brilliant middle seats usually can hide flat. Stow’n Go seating or saving the planet?


Fun in the sun in Jeep ® Renegade

Phoenix Business Journal, July 19

Renegade may be made in Italy and is more cute than rugged with rounded edges and chunky panels, but it still deserves to wear the Jeep badge.

The signature seven-slot grille and round headlamps are all iconic Jeep. And it can be rigged for far tougher off-road adventures than competitors, including its cousin, Fiat 500X.

This is year two for the playful-looking Renegade with about 114,000 sold through June 2016. The numbers are on the rise, matching Jeep’s Compass and closing in on Patriot but still well behind the rugged Wrangler and larger Cherokee and Grand Cherokee.

The biggest change for the current model year is the availability of a Beats (a division of Apple) premium audio system. Rain-sensing windshield wipers also now are available.

Prices start at $18,990, same as last year. That gets you a front-wheel drive Sport model with a 1.4-liter, 160-horsepower 4-cylinder turbo engine. Add $1,280 to move into the 2.4-liter, 180-horse 4 with a 9-speed automatic.

The turbo does best on fuel economy rated at 27 miles per gallon in combined driving, but that’s using premium gas. The 2.4-liter is rated at 25 using regular.

Inside you get a nice mix of soft-touch materials, solid construction and chunky grips and such tying into Renegade’s exterior look.

Front buckets are comfortable with roomy surrounds, but the back is not very hospitable for anyone with long legs. The payload floor has a hidden compartment, or you can remove the top for a deeper storage well. Rear seats as well as the front passenger seat flip forward on all but the 2WD Sport.

You can find small crossovers that run a little less than the Renegade, but its price is fair. But there are a lot of tempting options to send that sticker soaring. Start with basic 4-wheel drive for about two grand or the Dawn of Justice (Batman v. Superman) special edition that starts just over 27K.

A cool feature on my bright yellow tester was the $1,495 My Sky roof system with two panels that either tilt up at the touch of a button or can be removed entirely.

Roadside and emergency help are available at the touch of a button, HD radio, voice texting and a large 7-inch screen are among Uconnect infotainment options.

Safety gear ranges from blind-spot monitoring to a parking aid and rear cross-traffic alert.

There are a ton of choices when it comes to small crossovers. Renegade’s ride and drive are more harsh than most and it’s not as powerful or fuel efficient as many rivals. But if you want to hit the trail, or just want a rig that’s youthful and fun in the sun – snow and mud too – then this little Jeep is a top choice.

Jeep Renegade

Compact sport utility

Base price:$18,990

MPG: 24/31 to 21/29

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: 4 of 5 stars for front impact; 5 for side; 3 for rollover resistance with 4-wheel drive, 4 with front-drive;

J.D. Power: 2 of 5 for overall quality, performance and design and predicted reliability;


Competitors: Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda Fit and HR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Wrangler and Cherokee, Kia Soul and Sportage, Mazda CX-3, Mini Cooper Countryman, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Juke, Subaru Crosstrek

Bottom line: A fun little crossover capable of off-road adventure

Newest Jeep Wrangler goes retro 75th year marked with single salute to WWII model

Newest Jeep Wrangler goes retro 75th year marked with single salute to WWII model

75-Year Salute: Jeep’s Anniversary Gift to Itself Is This Willys MB–Inspired Concept

July 15, 2016 at 3:16 pm by

75-Year Salute: Jeep’s Anniversary Gift to Itself Is This Willys MB–Inspired Concept

75-Year Salute: Jeep’s Anniversary Gift to Itself Is This Willys MB–Inspired Concept 

On July 15, 1941, Willys-Overland Motor Co. was awarded a contract by the U.S. government to build its versatile, go-anywhere Willys MB—soon to be known as the jeep—for military use. Seventy-five years later, the basic spirit of the Willys MB lives on in the modern Jeep Wrangler.

To celebrate the occasion, Jeep crafted the Wrangler 75th Salute concept. Based on the base Wrangler Sport with a six-speed manual transmission, the Wrangler 75th Salute concept is dipped in olive green military paint and features body-color fenders as well as 16-inch steel wheels mounted on 32-inch military tires. The look is classic Jeep and is somewhat reminiscent of the Shortcut concept from this year’s Easter Jeep Safari.

anniversary, retro, birthday, 75, years, 1941, willy, mb

To fully channel the look of the original Willys MB, though, Jeep also fitted the 75th Salute with exposed steel front and rear bumpers, canvas-covered seats sans headrests, and commemorative badging (it also ditched the modern vehicle’s integrated rollover bar). Jeep also notes that it added custom wood hood blocks and mirrors to the concept.

Sadly, the Wrangler 75th Salute is merely a concept, and given its low-back front seats, cut bumpers, and apparent lack of rollover bar, it doesn’t meet the modern safety requirements needed to reach production. The closest thing (sort of) that you can get from a dealer today is the Willys edition. So, consider the 75th Salute concept to be Jeep’s gift to itself—a really, really fantastic one.


2016 Dodge Durango SXT AWD Blacktop Review

2016 Dodge Durango SXT AWD Blacktop ReviewBlacktop package adds intimidating look to well-seasoned SUV

2016 Dodge Durango SXT AWD Blacktop Review

Photo: K.Tuggay
2016 Dodge Durango SXT AWD Blacktop By Trevor Hofmann , Monday, 04 July 2016

With nearly 20 years under its belt and almost six in its current, third generation, the Dodge Durango remains a rugged-looking contender amid today’s often minivan-like crossover SUV crowd. My recent SXT AWD Blacktop tester appeared even more masculine than the model’s usual chrome-clad design.

Unique black trim
Its grey Billet Metallic paint and body-coloured detailing along with its blacked-out grille, headlight and fog lamp bezels, mirror caps, wheels and badging made it look as intimidating as a highway patrol ghost car, although the constabulary doesn’t normally spend the money required for 20” rims on 265/50 rubber. Still, this Durango’s only a couple of blue and red strobes away from striking fear into the hearts of surrounding motorists.

Believe it or not, I’m describing a base 2016 Dodge Durango SXT with $195 in paint and $1,595 for the Blacktop package, which also adds cool LED daytime running lamps and a dual exhaust while subtracting the roof rails. This, combined with a complete lack of chrome as well as a rich leather and pseudo suede cabin, endows the vehicle with a decidedly upscale, urbanite attitude. My tester also included the $1,250 Popular Equipment Group encompassing heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, a back-up camera, and rear parking assist.

No shortage of features 
The standard features menu is equally impressive thanks to auto on/off headlamps, proximity access with push-button ignition, LED interior lighting, illuminated cup holders, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, power heated side mirrors, a leather-wrapped, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, a multi-information display, tri-zone automatic HVAC with rear controls, a Uconnect colour infotainment touchscreen, outstanding audio with satellite radio, a comfortable 8-way power driver’s seat and 4-way power front passenger’s seat (which also folds forward for extra convenience), a 60/40-split second row, a 50/50-split third row, and more.

Meanwhile, the 2016 Dodge Durango’s standard safety kit includes trailer sway control, hill start assist, active head restraints, and all the usual active and passive safety equipment.

All of this comes in a cabin that will make you completely forget any previous Durango interior thanks to soft-touch surfaces like the dash top and halfway down the instrument panel, and even the lower extremities of the centre stack. Stylish, satin-silver inlays highlight the dash and door panels, while the thickly padded leatherette armrests boast contrasting grey stitching to match the seats. Likewise, the leather-wrapped steering wheel is padded and nicely stitched for extra grip, while the switchgear on its spokes and elsewhere around the cabin is well damped and has a high-quality feel and tight fit.

Small screen shortcomings 
The premium-level 7” colour TFT gauge cluster behind said steering wheel in the 2016 Dodge Durango SXT AWD Blacktop immediately catches the eye, replete with a myriad of features and bright, clear legibility no matter the light outside. However, this advanced bit of electronic kit makes the entry-level Durango’s most glaring weakness all the more apparent ― a centre stack that comes across as more rudimentary than the majority of competitors due to an infotainment touchscreen that measures a mere 5” diagonal.

I’ve also tested the Durango with its available 8.4” touchscreen and let me tell you it’s a wholly different experience that I recommend if your budget allows (because you’ll need to move up in trims to get it).

The aforementioned rear-view camera incorporates active guidelines, while the audio system includes Bluetooth streaming and easy phone connectivity. A simple digital compass points the way instead of navigation, however. Unusual is a digital button that will automatically drop the third-row headrests for better rearward visibility.

No shortage in overall capacity 
Most should find the 2016 Dodge Durango quite spacious. It’s an SUV bordering on full-size dimensions, although not quite as big as a Chevy Tahoe or Ford Expedition, at least when it comes to width, but second-row passengers get plenty of legroom. That middle bench (bucket seats are available) folds out of the way for easy access to a third row that’s nicely finished and amply sized for normal adults.

Alternatively, the rearmost bench can be left folded into the floor for additional stowage room, expanding the reasonable 487L cargo hold (about the size of a large sedan’s trunk) to 1,351 litres behind the second row. When both rear rows are folded, the Durango is one of the most accommodating SUVs in its class with a massive 2,393 litres of cargo space.

While this Dodge Durango SXT doesn’t quite meet premium-level expectations inside, the hefty thunk its doors make when closing, its overall quietness at speed, and the impressive way it takes to the road will make you wonder why the company doesn’t go all the way with luxury refinements. It’s a unibody design, in case you weren’t aware, so the Durango is no longer riding atop a pickup truck frame like it used to (and some of its aforementioned full-size colleagues still do). That’s why its structural rigidity is so sound, overall feel so substantive, and handling so agile ― similar to pricier SUV players from upmarket brands.

Surprising performance 
The 2016 Dodge Durango’s fully independent suspension provides a wonderfully compliant ride and confidence-inspiring road holding, while its advanced 8-speed automatic transmission wows with a space-saving, rotating-dial gear selector. Fully engaging paddle shifters help make the most of the 3.6L Pentastar V6’s 295 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. These numbers aren’t class-leading, but takeoff feels more than strong enough.

Meanwhile, the big brute surprisingly achieves the best fuel economy in its AWD class at 12.8L/100km city and 9.5L/100km highway, this due in part to auto stop/start technology that comes into play when the engine would otherwise be idling. The V6 runs smoothly, too, although it makes a wonderfully gritty growl at full throttle. The autobox is similarly smooth, yet capable of quick, crisp shifts when pushed hard. Furthermore, the available Sport mode is actually quite aggressive, requiring the use of those paddles so as not to rev the engine too high and needlessly waste fuel.

Final verdict 
At the end of my test week, I only had one complaint that also has affected a number of other FCA vehicles equipped with proximity-sensing access ― a regular need to press the door handle-mounted button multiple times to gain entry. I found that shifting my body position sometimes helped, no doubt relative to which pocket held the key, but seeing that I haven’t needed to do likewise with the passive entry systems used by other automakers, it may be something FCA should look into.

This small irritant aside, the 2016 Dodge Durango is an impressive SUV that still measures up to more recently updated competitors in most respects. The larger infotainment display and rear-view camera should be standard, though, especially considering the base price of $43,395 plus freight and dealer fees. Dodge preferred to invest its money into one of the best drivetrains in the industry.

While as smooth and refined as anything in its class, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a tougher-looking SUV, which seems fitting considering it hails from a brand that also purveys the badass Charger and the even more alluring Challenger, not to mention the now-legendary Viper. Even with its pint-sized infotainment screen, I couldn’t help liking it, but if my money were on the line I’d upgrade to get the more advanced system. It’s your call, but either way you’ll be well served with a Dodge Durango.




Photos: K.Tuggay
2016 Dodge Durango SXT pictures


Minivan Review: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited


By Graeme Fletcher

A luxurious take on the ultimate people mover

Pros Flexibility, comfort, fuel economy

Cons Backward switch logic, no Stow ‘n Go middle-row for the Hybrid, cost

Value for money Fair

What would I change? Rethink the switch logic and add a more affordable base model to the line-up

Since the introduction of the original Dodge Caravan in 1984, Chrysler has ruled the minivan roost. The latest expression of the company’s take on the ultimate people mover is the new Pacifica. It started with a clean computer screen, so just about every facet is new or has been reworked for the better. The one thing that does not change, however, is the utility and flexibility engineered into the cabin.

Up front, the Pacifica features top-shelf materials and supportive Nappa leather-wrapped seats — a 1,000-kilometre trip did not produce the dreaded numb-bum. Then there’s the attention to detail, found in the likes of the French stitching on the instrument panel and, of all things, the mat that finishes the lower storage area; it has four generations of minivan neatly embossed into the liner. This Easter egg thing is rapidly becoming a Chrysler trait; look at the base of the Renegade’s windshield and there sits a pictogram of the original Jeep.

The Limited tester arrived as loaded as loaded gets, with everything from heated/cooled front seats and an oversized panoramic moonroof to all of the latest gizmos including Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system and its 8.4-inch touchscreen. This system remains the easiest of its ilk to use; for example, pairing a phone was so simple my 11-year-old daughter accomplished the feat in seconds and without having to refer to the owner’s manual.

So far it’s all eminently logical. That is, until you get to the buttons for the park assist, lane departure warning and stability control systems. When the light in the switch is illuminated, the system is turned off. That’s backwards — the A/C button illuminates when the system is keeping an oppressive summer day at bay, which is as it should be!

Move rearward and things are just as swanky. There’s seating for up to eight passengers, no fewer than 243 seating configurations (or so says Chrysler!) and a ton of space. With all the seats in place, there’s 915 litres behind the third row – enough for five golfers and their clubs with room to spare. Power the third row down and the capacity jumps to 2,478 litres; drop the middle Stow ’n Go row seats and there’s a cavernous 3,979 litres. The plus is the seats are always ready to go when needed. In many cases, one or more of a typical minivan’s seats is gathering dust in the garage and not available for use after schlepping half a house’s worth of stuff to university. This is the one area where Chrysler’s minivans have no peer.

One of the cool features proved to be the middle-row entertainment system with touch-sensitive screens. The system not only plays movies, it includes some built-in games and the “Are We There Yet?” app; when the driver punches a destination into the navigation system, the app shows the distance to go and estimated time of arrival, which dispenses with that age-old question.

The Pacifica arrives with Chrysler’s 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, putting out 287 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque, which delivers sprightly performance — it canters to 100 km/h in eight seconds and can tow 1,633 kilograms when properly equipped. The power is fed through the front wheels via a nine-speed automatic that shifts smoothly and, unlike some, manages to find the right gear at the right time. The unspoken plus proved to be fuel economy. Over that 1,000-km test, the Pacifica returned an average of 10.8 L/100 km, which given the size and capability came as a complete and very pleasant surprise.

Now if you are really into fuel economy, the Hybrid model uses the same engine, an electric motor and a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery to improve that number even more — it offers up to 48 km of electric-only driving.

Equally impressive was the manner in which the Pacifica balanced the need for comfort with the desire for handling. No, it is not a sports car by any means, but the suspension is quick to take a set in a corner and the steering delivers better-than-average feel and feedback. Likewise, understeer is moot for the most part thanks to the optional P245/50R20 tires; they deliver a ton of grip, although the perky nature of the engine does see them chirp on a fast take-off. Hit the highway, and the kilometres waft away in a very comfortable fashion. It’s a nicely balanced set-up given the fact it has to deal with just the driver much of the time, but with the capacity to transport a van-load of sumo wrestlers.

The new Chrysler Pacifica is well conceived and equally well executed, with a ton of flexibility, even more amenities, as well as plenty of power and surprising fuel efficiency. The hitch is found in the pricing. It starts at $43,995, but the Pacifica we tested had a sticker of $60,545. That’s a heck of a lot more than the buyers of the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country are used to paying