Sharp dressed van

BY Harry Pegg. Apr 01 04:00 am

NEWPORT BEACH, CA. — Road trip! Two words that can strike dread in the hearts of adults when kids are involved — unless you have the space and amenities to keep the young’uns entertained. Kids don’t fret about cost or payments. Their priorities are comfort and entertainment.

That’s evident after two days of touring the Newport Beach/San Diego area with my wife, Pat, and two grandkids, Riley and Kayley Clark, who escaped a New Brunswick snowstorm to join us on the launch of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica.

What better way to test a new minivan than from a family point of view?

The kids win with what the folks from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles call the “reinvention of the minivan.” That’s not to say adults lose in the replacement for the Town & Country; we win in terms of comfort, convenience, storage and solitude.

What do kids like? The 10-inch Uconnect touchscreens on the rear of the front seats, especially the pre-loaded games, and Kayley thinks the ability to operate the sliding doors at the touch of a button is “awesome.” The tri-pane panoramic sunroof also gets high marks. Riley says he likes the heated seats (in California?) and “I can make the (second row) seat disappear (the Stow ’n Go) by myself.” Independence is a big deal when you’re nine years old. Kayley, 12, a budding theatre set designer who pays attention to such things, says the interior is “pretty cool. I like the big windows. And it’s quiet.”

What about the adults? We were able to evaluate a Pacifica Limited and Touring-L Plus and, frankly, I’d be happy to have either one in my driveway. There’s plenty of room for just about anything. The second row captain’s chairs disappear into the Stow ’n Go wells to leave a flat floor while third row seats fold under the cargo floor at the touch of a button, leaving enough room to haul the 4 x 8 sheet of plywood that pickup truck builders brag about. There’s 915 litres of space behind the third row, 2,478 L behind the second row and 3,979 L with the second and third rows stored. The hidden storage wells behind the front seats are huge and the well behind the third row will hold all the groceries you need to pack.

L Plus is full of features, including heated leather seating (front and second row), heated steering wheel, Stow ’n Go assist front passenger seat, Uconnect 8.4 multimedia centre, navigation, 13-speaker audio system and a 7-inch display in the instrument cluster. It’s also got blind-spot monitor with rear cross-path detection, Park-Sense rear park assist system and power folding and stowing third-row seat. MSRP starts at $46,995. Limited upgrades the leather and includes power folding rear seats, HID headlights and LED fog lamps, touring suspension, tri-pane panoramic sunroof and even a vacuum cleaner. MSRP starts at $52,995. We did not try the base Touring-L which starts at $43,995 ($1,200 less than the Town & Country) with more than $2,600 in added content).

Pat hasn’t found anything to dislike and a lot to like about the Pacifica. Sometimes it’s the little things that attract her, such as an armrest for the multi-adjustable passenger seat. “I’m impressed with the ride and the quiet upscale interior,” she said as we piled on the miles.

I expected Pacifica to drive well and it does. Steering response is good and the ride is smooth and exceptionally quiet. From the driver’s seat, instruments are easy to read and access, and my view to the outside is expansive. My seat (just like the other positions) is supportive and comfortable with lots of leg room. Step on the gas and the re-designed 3.6 L Pentastar V-6 engine (287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque) shows an eagerness to get going — while the segment’s first nine-speed automatic transmission works seamlessly through its shift points. Fuel consumption is rated at 12.9 L/100 km city, 8.4 city. Those numbers were pretty much bang-on in California freeway traffic— until we encountered the inevitable traffic jam which takes its toll on fuel economy. It’s interesting to note, however, that I’m content enough in the Pacifica I remained calm and cool despite the congestion.

Sliding doors make this a van rather than a crossover, I’ll take the sliders with door tracks neatly hidden under the rear quarter glass. The new Pacifica is a fine minivan and I wouldn’t feel the slightest stigma about owning one — being a grandpa will do that to a guy.

Harry Pegg is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.

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