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Review: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is Mom tested, kid approved

Review: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is Mom tested, kid approved

Ahhh, Southern California. Sun, sand and surf. The ideal spot for a family vacation.
 
And so it is that we are here, family in tow, to drive the Chrysler Pacifica. The Pacifica is the newest eight-seat, high-end minivan offering from an auto maker known for sending the family station wagon six feet under.
 
FCA CEO and head designer talk about the Pacifica, but can the minivan be cool again?
 
We all jump in and look for our favourite features. My sister, Gail, in the passenger seat is programming the 8.4-inch display navigation system, which also shows the Uconnect media system, with WiFi.
 
Our boys in the second row – Matthew, 17 (mine), and Conn, 21 (hers) – unfurl cords for their music, thankful for individual USB plug-ins, and insist the sound system be turned to full throttle just “to see.” They pull down individual screens in front of their second row seats. Cool. The parental-control feature that limits their viewing, or their driving speed? No enthusiasm there.
 
In photos: Chrysler Pacifica inside and out
 
I want to mitigate the cold-morning/school-to-work drive so test the heated steering wheel, seat heaters and feet heaters, then adjust the lumbar spine support on the driver’s seat. With its low-to-the-ground, sleek styling and upgraded entertainment connectivity, FCA is pitching the Pacifica to families as an emotional buy. So what does it mean that I have an emotional reaction to the in-van vacuum cleaner?
 
In 2002, economist Amil Petrin reported, the “Industry would have been willing to pay Chrysler not to introduce the minivan.” Since then, Chrysler has commanded the Canadian minivan market, and is trying to redeem the Pacifica name with a 2017 version that pushes the limits in style, function and price.
 
Ride along with Janice as she takes the Pacifica for a spin
 
Before the drive, Chrysler designers tell us they want families to buy the Pacifica because of an emotional pull, not just a rational one. One upgrade is an in-van vacuum with a lengthy hose, and I’m sad to say that, yes, I do have an emotional reaction to the thought of cleaning the van easily.
 
One of Pacifica’s young interior designers tells us she’s expecting her first child, before presenting the palette of contrasting Pacifica interior colours, including a light beige. I look at it quizzically, wondering if this is the demarcation line between having kids and not, and hoping she may never know, as we do, what it’s like to have a kid burp, belch, then throw up a breakfast of blueberries on such an light interior.
 
We see projected images of the second- and third-row Pacifica seats folded down with standard sheets of plywood loaded into the van. I prefer the emotional thought of the space as as refuge from a storm or a place to nap while kids are on the soccer field. More likely, the seats-down Pacifica could nicely serve a small business hauling, home renos or many hockey bags and sticks.
 
Janice Paskey
Also on the rational side, Chrysler put the Pacifica on a diet: it’s 114 kilograms lighter than the outgoing Town & Country.
 
It’s time to go. The car turns on with a keyless system. I’m grasping in the middle for a shifter only to find I need to put the car in drive using a dial on the dash – which is space efficient, but weirdly clinical.
 
We are four in the white Pacifica Touring L Plus as I take the first tight turn at the roundabout and find the van nicely responsive. Then we head down the California highway towards a park attraction.
 
My sister owned the first-generation Pacifica and I remember it pulling up in front of the house with a lovely blue colour and sleek look that others have since imitated. But it was not a popular vehicle. Now under sunny skies and dry pavement, the 2017 Pacifica ride feels like a fresh start, the “for-better” part of marriage vows.
 
Janice Paskey
There is a lot of visibility with a windswept front window angling, and well-positioned mirrors. Although a three-row-long sunroof is an option, we don’t have it.
 
At home in Calgary, where I am mom to two boys, our family cars are a Volkswagen Jetta Wagon and a Ford Fusion. I love both, but they lag on hills. By contrast, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica powers nicely with its Pentastar V-6 engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. It feels as if I’m driving a midsize car.
 
The traffic builds and the warning system saves me from a bad lane change with a beep and flashing triangle in the side window. The van is quiet, blocking most outside noise, but I’m unsure if it is particularly quiet; we were just so loud. Imagine the din with all eight seats filled.
 
We talk about the minivan’s oft-cited image problem, but why not celebrate big families, kids’ friends, and all that space? Chrysler thinks buyers will be confident and educated (meaning they are ready to make a higher-end splurge) – the tipping point being the need to transport three or more children. We ponder whether final assembly at the Windsor Assembly Plant will be a selling point for consumers.
 
We arrive at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and I pull into a parking space. The Pacifica looks nice enough that I don’t want anyone to ding it, so I check to make sure it’s properly in the parking spot, hoping drivers will be careful with their doors. Aluminum sliding doors lighten the vehicle, but I wonder whether they can they stand up to people opening their car doors into them.
 
On the way back, we hit legendary California traffic which causes our touring to feel more like schlepping. When we arrive and get out, I note that the holes of the perforated leather seats are now squished full of popcorn and snacks that got sat on – it didn’t take long to make a family dent on the coffee-coloured interior.
 
FCA
On our final day, we try out the base model Pacifica Touring L in silver metallic with a lovely brown leather interior (no perforated seats so less worry about crumbs). Admittedly, it was hard to lose some of the features we’d come to enjoy the day before: a larger navigation screen, 12-way adjustable front seats, 13 amplified speakers, second and third-row USB charging ports, fancy stitching on the seats and dash and a fancier instrument panel. We drive to the beach and I manoeuvre into a tight space (there is a parking system upgrade for the Pacifica but I trusted my own abilities for this one), then rent some bikes to cycle the Newport Beach boardwalk. I am still hoping no one will ding “my” Pacifica as it’s the kind of vehicle you’d worry about.
 
Backing out of the beach parking lot spot is a challenge with cars, cyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians behind me. The Pacifica 360-degree camera system provides good visuals, reducing stress. And the sand! This model wasn’t equipped with the vacuum, though the sand had a playfulness about it. As a Canadian yearning for summer, I was in no rush to clean it.
 
Janice Paskey
Back at the hotel, I try to put all the seats into the floor just to know I can do it. The second row comes with a great feature: You can tilt the seats forward so third-row passengers get out more easily and, you can keep car seats in while tilting (child out, of course). I put the second-row seats in without a hitch but struggle to pull them out again. Pull straight up, not on an angle, says one of the exasperated lads. The third-row seats, too, take some power to fold down, even with two pull tabs (pull one strap, then the next). Once you get them moving, the seats snap back into the floor so quickly you’ll want to make sure your hands or any small children are clear.
 
We go to close the back door and search for the button, but it’s on the inside of the car, not on the door itself which seemed odd and counter-intuitive. It contrasts with the easy-to-find sliding door button (or chiclet).
 
In the end, your choice of minivan comes down to reams of technical data and a feel for a vehicle that is sure to be the epicentre of family memories.
 
Janice Paskey
 

TECH SPECS

Base price: Touring-L, $43,995; Touring-L Plus, $46,995; Limited, $52,995; Hybrid: Available later this year.
 
Engine: 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6
 
Transmission/Drive: Nine-speed automatic/Front-wheel drive
 
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.9 city, 8.4 highwa

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