2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid review: Practical plug-in

The Chrysler Pacifica minivan will receive a number of updates for 2021, including a sleek new Pinnacle trim, updated technology and some styling changes. The Pacifica Hybrid also returns and is available across the van’s range. If you’re looking for the functionality of a minivan with a noticeable increase in efficiency, this is a really compelling option, with one big caveat.

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid review
2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid review

Like it

  • Great infotainment
  • Good driving manners
  • Plug-in hybrid efficiency

I do not like

  • It doesn’t behave like a real PHEV
  • All-wheel drive is not available

Plug-in hybrids are great because they offer real electric range plus the easy convenience of having a gas engine. Chrysler says the Pacifica Hybrid can travel 32 miles on battery alone, which is enough for most people’s commuters. The problem is that Pacifica doesn’t let you choose when to use the battery. Most plug-ins will give the driver the ability to select it for himself: for example, you can use electricity in the city but run the gas engine on the highway where it is most efficient. In the Pacifica, however, the 16-kilowatt-hour battery consumes its juice right from the start and when it’s out, the van switches to being a standard hybrid, adding small amounts of electric assistance to the 3.6-liter V6.

Chrysler says its research indicates that customers don’t want to worry about switching between modes and want the system to be really simple. So my question is: why make it a plug-in? If I have to connect the van to a level 2 charger for two hours, I want the benefit of being able to use the full power of the electric vehicles on my terms.

In one week of testing, I saw an average of 29.2 miles per gallon. I drove 67.7 miles electrically and 316.8 miles with the gas engine doing the heavy lifting. If I had been able to choose when to use those battery miles, I probably could have done better than 29.2 overall. The EPA gives the 2021 Pacifica Hybrid a combined fuel economy of 82 miles per gallon equivalent, or 30mpg when you rely on the gas engine alone. That’s a pretty good boost over the Pacifica’s combined 22 mpg rating on petrol only, but once again it could do better. For example, the hybrid-only Toyota Sienna does not use a plug-in configuration and is rated at 36 mpg combined all the time.

Despite this plug-in frustration, the Pacifica Hybrid is truly exceptional to drive. The continuously variable electric transmission is incredibly smooth and the added weight of the battery in the center of the van’s floor lowers the center of gravity, which helps with maneuverability. Chrysler says the total combined power of the plug-in hybrid system is 260 horsepower, which is plentiful, and is only available with front-wheel drive. If you want a hybrid with all-wheel drive, check out the Toyota Sienna. Even so, during the first big downpour of the year in California, the Pacifica Hybrid has a sure footing and the rain-sensitive wipers react immediately to changes in intensity.

The new Uconnect 5 technology is amazing.

Inside, my Pacifica Limited has the Red S appearance package with Rodeo Red leather seats in all three rows. Personally I love the incongruous choice of sporty red leather in a minivan, but those with more traditional tastes might think it’s a bit much. The second row captain’s chairs are comfortable but I want the seat to be higher. Sitting here I feel like my knees are a little too close to my ears. The third row passage is wide enough for me to maneuver my adult butt and the seats are surprisingly roomy. I used to sit there traveling. Really.

The problem here is that the Pacifica’s cool Stow-N-Go seats, which fold all the way to the floor, aren’t available with the plug-in powertrain. That’s where the battery lives, so there’s no way to stow the seats underneath. You also can’t get the Pacifica Hybrid with the van’s built-in vacuum cleaner, so be prepared to pick up those Cheerios by hand. The spare wheel, heated second row seats and towing configuration are also prohibited.

New this year is the FamCam indoor camera which helps drivers keep an eye on their little ones. Parents can even see their little ones in rear-facing child seats and zoom in on a particular seat. Second row kids get the Uconnect Theater entertainment system available with all kinds of games to keep them busy on long journeys – everything from Sudoku to Back Seat Bingo is packed inside and even kids can stream the content from their devices.

Rather sporty seats for a minivan.

Charging options are plentiful on my Limited tester, with dual USB-A and USB-C ports, plus wireless charging on the front, a center console with USB-A and USB-C sockets, and a 12-volt outlet. Second-row passengers each receive a USB-A, HDMI and headphone jack and a 115-volt, 150-watt socket. The third row kiddos each have a USB-A and USB-C port. Nobody’s device should be below 100% at the end of a trip.

The Pacifica gets Chrysler’s new Uconnect 5 infotainment technology for 2021, and it’s a big improvement over what is already an excellent system. The overall layout is still the same, but processing times are faster, the graphics are cleaned up, and it comes on a standard 10-inch touchscreen. Plus, the home screen can be customized for up to six users, complete with favorite multimedia, climate and seat settings. Apple CarPlay is Android Auto I’m here as usual, but Amazon Alexa joins the party too. Alexa can do things like start the car while the driver is still inside the house and will also check the media and check for news, traffic and weather and access tons of other Alexa skills.

Driver assistance technology gets a boost for 2021 with new automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and many standard ADAS features that were once optional. Front collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and lane keeping assistance are now standard this year.

I really like the Pacifica’s adaptive cruise control. He is quick to accelerate around slower vehicles moving out of my lane and applies the brakes smoothly when the car in front slows down.

Pacifica Hybrid is almost a perfect plug-in.

The Pacifica Hybrid starts at $ 41,490 including $ 1,495 per destination and extends to $ 52,340 for the new Pinnacle trim. Keep in mind that opting for a plug-in hybrid means you may be eligible for a $ 7,500 federal tax credit and state and local incentives. My Limited tester comes in at $ 50,825.

However, I’m not sure the Pacifica Hybrid would be my first choice for a minivan. Yes, it’s much more efficient than the gas-only Pacifica, but not being in control of when my electrons are used is a bit of a hassle. It might be more worthwhile to go with the Toyota Sienna, which isn’t quite as stylish and the Entune system pales in comparison to Uconnect, but gets 36 mpg combined without ever having to plug it in. Plus, if you live where it is now, all-wheel drive will help.

Nonetheless, Pacifica excels, with exceptional technology and premium design. It’s easy to drive and has enough entertainment available to keep the little ones entertained for hours. Give me the choice of my electric drive and it might be the perfect van.

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