Best hybrid minivan

Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid cutaway

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Let's get one thing straight: The Pacifica hybrid is a plug-in hybrid electric minivan, the first of its kind ever, Chrysler points out. The fact that no carmaker has ever put a hybrid drivetrain of any kind into a minivan, let alone a plug-in hybrid, is a little surprising. So is the name: Pacifica Hybrid. Chrysler execs found that if they added the words “Plug-In” that people in focus groups immediately got range anxiety, so it’s officially called the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid even though it’s a plug-in hybrid. Clearly we need more STEM classes in schools.

The battery in a plug-in is generally bigger than that found in a regular hybrid, the idea being that you can charge the battery at a wall socket then drive for an extended period of time on electricity alone. This battery is a whopping 16 kWh of lithium ion, as big as the battery in the Mitsubishi iMiEV all-electric car, and sits under the floorboards in the spaces previously occupied by the Stow ‘N’ Go seat storage. Chrysler says you will get 30 miles range on electricity but we think you could get a little more than that (the smaller, lighter 16-kWh iMiEV is rated at 62 miles range). The battery powers two electric motors that augment the Pentastar V6 Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine. The Atkinson cycle sacrifices low-end torque for greater efficiency at higher rpms, the low-end torque being supplied by the electric motors in a hybrid. That power goes through Chrysler’s eFlite electrically variable transmission to the front wheels.

How much power? Chrysler lists only total system horsepower, which is 260 hp. Torque figures will come out when SAE releases guidelines for torque in hybrid drivetrains, Chrysler says. (Supposedly they’ll release their tax returns after the audit and their e-mails after the election, too.) This powertrain is good for 80 MPGe, where the “e” stands for equivalent, a measure of efficiency meant to compare gasoline, hybrid and electric powertrains. So if you plug in your Pacifica Hybrid till it’s fully charged and the gas tank is full, you’ll get the equivalent of an 80-MPG car. Chrysler did not release what mileage you’d get on the gasoline engine alone, without the battery assist. There’s a handy performance readout available on the hybrid’s seven-inch full-color driver information display to show how well you’re doing.

That high-tech powertrain rides in the all-new, stronger, stiffer Global Large Vehicle Platform, first seen in the Pacifica minivan with standard gasoline engine. We have driven the gasoline-powered Pacifica already and liked its far-more responsive handling, responsive by minivan standards, at least. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Many buyers don’t care about all that beyond knowing they get better gas mileage with a hybrid. What many buyers want are features, and in this department the Chrysler doesn’t disappoint. Standard features on the Premium (which is, weirdly, the entry level model) include active noise cancellation, six-speaker audio satellite radio, ParkView rear backup camera and Chrysler’s UConnect 8.4 infotainment system. Step up to the Platinum model and you get Nappa leather, 13-speaker Alpine premium audio, hands-free sliding doors and liftgate and a suite of added safety features like forward collision warning-plus, auto high-beams, adaptive cruise control with stop and hold and more than we can type here.

The 16-kWh Li Ion battery rides under the floor where the Stow 'N' Go seats used to flip down.

What’s It Like To Drive?

As we said of the gasoline-powered Pacifica, it’s possibly the best-handling minivan thus far made. Granted, that may not be saying much, but the new Global Large Vehicle Platform is a stiffer place to attach the van’s front MacPherson struts and rear twist-blade suspension bits. You will notice that this large and practical minivan doesn’t necessarily plow its way through corners unless you really push it hard. Fore and aft motion is likewise nicely controlled compared to previous Chrysler minivans. You’re not going to autocross it but you at least won’t have to worry about it flopping over on its door handles in mildly spirited cornering.

For efficiency, without trying at all, and on a route that included many uphill sections, we got about 36 miles of range on electricity alone. Had we driven on a flat freeway in stop and go traffic we feel certain we could have topped 40 miles in EV mode. Electricity is still cheaper than gas by a good bit, so even if you’re not environmentally conscious you can appreciate the lower operating costs of an electric-drive-enabled car.

It’s also quiet inside, even with the gasoline engine running, whether sitting in the front seats, which are the quietest, or the second or third-row seats. There’s headroom throughout the inside and the kids in the second row seats can even play games on the UConnect-enabled screens. We watched two guys play checkers on one of our drives. We have enjoyed long multi-day drives in previous Chrysler minivans and think this one might be even more enjoyable. Negotiations with the kids for summer drives to Aunt Mabel’s house will go a lot smoother if you show them the UConnect Theater rear seat entertainment system in the Platinum trim level Pacifica before you start bargaining. Trust us on this.

The exterior of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid helps create a wind-cheating 0.3 coefficient of drag.

Do I Want One?

Chrysler does have something of an ace in the hole with the hybrid drivetrain - no one else in the minivan class offers it. The question is, will anyone want it? We have to think so, especially in this plug-in configuration. Chrysler says most minivan owners put in less than 30 miles a day anyway, well within the electric range of the Pacifica Hybrid. They are so confident of the van’s range that they even have a function that senses the age of the gasoline in the tank and, if it gets too old, automatically starts the gasoline engine to use up the old gas.

Is this rig better than a Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey or Kia Sedona? Dealers and deals can present all kinds of configurations to claim their ride is better-equipped than the other guy’s. Price of the Premium Pacifica Hybrid starts at a lofty $43, 090, including destination, though it’s pretty well loaded. But because the 16 kWh battery meets the government requirement for the full Federal rebate offered to electric cars, you can knock $7500 off that price for a sticker of $35, 590. In California and some other states you can knock another $2500 off even that for a low, low sticker of $33, 090. Gasoline-powered minivans, including the Pacifica, start lower than that, but don’t necessarily have as many features as the Pacifica Hybrids. Spending time comparing the features you really want and need will pay off when you order your van. And spending time on the road in this comfortable, features-laden van will make daily driving far more pleasant.

On Sale: Early 2017

Base Price: $43, 090 before govt. rebates

As Tested Price: $47, 885

Drivetrain: 3.6-liter Atkinson-cycle V6, 2 electric motors, eFlite electrically variable transmission, FWD

Output: 260 hp combined

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