Chrysler, the company that invented minivans, is the last of the Big Three to still have a minivan in its lineup. GM and Ford long ago retired form the field, effectively ceding this market to the Japanese and Koreans.
The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna pretty much own the segment now, with the Kia Sedona and Nissan Quest cleaning up most of the scraps.
So, it's brave for Chrysler to even stay in the game, and it's downright courageous of it to bring out a brand-new van.
*What It Is
The Pacifica is Chrysler's replacement for the Town & Country, which has been retired.
Prices for the Pacifica start at $28,995 for the LX trim, which seats seven. This can be increased to eight seats by ordering an optional removable second-row center seat.
There are also Touring, Touring L, Touring Plus and Limited trims. The Limited includes a built-in vacuum cleaner, 20-inch wheels and two sunroofs, kind of like a '70s-era Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon.
The manufacturer's suggested retail price for the Limited is $42,895.
Everything, including the name.
Available rear-seat entertainment system includes two 10-inch Blu-Ray monitors built in to the driver and front passenger seat backs.
An easily removable second-row center seat adds (or subtracts) passenger and cargo capacity as needed.
It can tow a bit more than the Sienna and Odyssey.
*What's Not So Good
Adaptive cruise control sometimes struggles to keep the set speed on downhill grades.
It has a much wider turning circle (39.7 feet) than either the Odyssey (35.1 feet) or the Sienna (37.5 feet).
All-wheel drive is not available.
*Under the Hood
The Pacifica comes standard with a V-6 engine that's slightly larger and stronger than the Sienna and Odyssey. It has 3.6 liters and 287 horsepower.
The Chrysler also comes with a nine-speed automatic transmission, whereas the Sienna and Odyssey have six-speed automatic transmissions.
But it works out pretty much the same.
These vans all go from zero to 60 mph in the mid-to-high seven second range -- the same time slot as sporty cars like a Mazda6 sedan.
With 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, gas mileage is pretty good, given the Pacifica's performance, size and weight.
*On the Road
From the driver's point of view, this not-so-minivan doesn't feel as big as it is because the nose is fairly short and you sit very close to the front axle centerline. This gives you a good sense of where the front corners are relative to potential paint-scraping/fender-denting obstacles.
But be aware of the rest of the van.
The Pacifica is the longest between the Odyssey and Sienna. It also has the longest wheelbase, 121.6, and the widest turning circle. However, this only becomes apparent when maneuvering in very close quarters, such as making a U-turn on a narrow street, while the ultra-plush ride (a function of the extra-long wheelbase) is your everyday asset.
*At the Curb
Minivans started out as appliances. They have become very nice appliances.
You can order two sunroofs (a large panorama main section that slides and tilts, and a fixed glass panel at the rear that provides natural light for the third-row occupants), 20-inch wheels (Sienna and Odyssey max out at 19-inch wheels) and individual LCD monitors for the optional entertainment system.
The Pacifica also offers a very elegant-looking (and larger than rivals) 8.4-inch iPad-style LCD touch screen, which is standard in the Touring L Plus and Limited trims. It's delicately framed and canted slightly toward the driver.
It's somewhat surprising, given that the Pacifica is the longest of the three, that it has the least amount of cargo room: 32.3 cubic feet behind the third row and 140.5 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded. The Sienna makes up for its somewhat cramped second row with the most cargo room of the bunch: 39.1 cubic feet and 150 cubic feet with the seats removed/folded. The Odyssey is slotted in between with 38.4 cubic feet behind its third row and 148.5 cubic feet with everything folded down.
Minivans have morphed from Spartan, utilitarian kid carriers to ultra-plush empty-nester RVs. They can still be used to carry kids around, but they are also ideal for extended road trips.
It's odd, though, that AWD is not available, as this feature is hugely popular in crossover SUVs, which are functionally similar to minivans, and other cars.
*The Bottom Line
Chrysler used to own this market, and it hopes the Pacifica will help snatch some of it back.
Eric Peters' column, "Peters' Garage," can be found at creators.com.