According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. fertility rate fell to a record low this year. I, however, have done my part to ensure the continuation of the species. I’ve got four children, all of ‘em girls, ranging in age from 7 to 21.
My older kids live in a different part of the country, and when we all get together, like we did this past June for my second oldest’s high school graduation, we need a big vehicle. Otherwise, we’re forced to take two cars wherever we go.
Thus, it was good luck that upon arrival at Boston Logan International Airport at the fine hour of 1 a.m. Eastern Standard time, my reserved car was not available. Instead, the obviously bored desk agent asked in a robotic voice: “You guys willing to drive a minivan?”
“Hell yeah! I’ll drive a minivan!” I thought to myself. Then, without that same level of exuberance, I asked: “Whatcha got? Because I’m not putting my kids in a Dodge Grand Caravan. It gets crappy crash test ratings. Gimme a Chrysler Pacifica or a Kia Sedona, please.”
A Chrysler Pacifica it was, a 2018 model painted refrigerator white, wearing a Quebec plate, and equipped with a speedometer reading kilometers per hour. Excellent. I had a perfect excuse to give to the cops.
We stashed nine days worth of stuff behind the third-row seat and climbed aboard. This Pacifica was nice inside. Even smelled new. It had leather, and Apple CarPlay, and a rear-seat entertainment system, and a panoramic sunroof, and a bunch of safety technology. And the satellite radio subscription was still active!
As it turns out, we had a 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L Plus optioned with larger wheels, the Advanced SafetyTec option package, and the glass roof. The price tag was $43,875, including a somewhat ridiculous destination charge of $1,345.
Once everyone was settled in, we aimed the Pacifica toward Cape Cod and a long weekend of celebration and family time.
Featuring black leather seats and carpeting set against light gray interior plastics and metallic accents, the Pacifica’s cabin conveyed an upscale look. Naturally, the van’s interior offers plenty of storage space, which wasn’t a problem regardless of how many people we piled aboard.
Up front, my wife and I enjoyed the comfortable, 8-way power adjustable seats. The test vehicle’s heated steering wheel and heated front seats weren’t necessary during cool early summer weather, and since the humidity machine hadn’t yet kicked on the Touring L’s lack of front seat ventilation wasn’t an issue. Younger kids without the layers of insulation enjoyed by their parents did, however, employ the triple-zone climate control and the heated second-row seats.
On the Cape, most journeys had six people aboard, with mix-and-match seating assignments. Nobody complained about comfort, and my eldest commented favorably upon the plethora of USB charging ports.
Our rented Pacifica also included a Uconnect Theater infotainment system and a 13-speaker Alpine premium sound system. Unfortunately, since we’re an Apple family, we could not wirelessly stream content to the dual rear screens, a new feature for 2018 that is restricted to Android operating systems. Nevertheless, the kids entertained themselves with Chrysler’s ingenious built-in travel games.
During the half of our vacation spent on the Cape, the Pacifica was perfect for shuttling between the hotel pool and the beach, and between Orleans and Provincetown.
Even with six people aboard, the 287-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 engine never felt winded, and its 9-speed automatic transmission always selected the right gear. The Pacifica easily negotiated the narrow and crowded streets of Provincetown, effortlessly tucking into a parallel parking space on Commercial Street thanks to the rear parking sensors with automatic reverse braking and a 360-degree surround view camera.
In addition to those features, the Pacifica Touring L Plus is equipped with a parallel and perpendicular parking assist system, but I did not use it. I don’t find them to be terribly useful, especially when spaces are tight and traffic is backing up behind you.
That feature and the 360-degree camera are part of the Advanced SafetyTec option package, which also installs a full roster of driver assistance and collision avoidance technologies on a Pacifica, and for just $995, which is so reasonable it would be foolish to skip it.
Plus, the Pacifica is a “Top Safety Pick,” according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), as well as a 5-star rating from the federal government. Needless to say, I felt comfortable putting my family in this Chrysler.
In addition to holding all of our luggage, the Pacifica’s substantial 32.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third-row seat worked well for beach gear. Chairs, coolers, umbrellas, towels – it all fit. Unfortunately, unlike many SUVs, minivans don’t offer separately opening rear window glass. So while loading is easy, once you arrive at your destination stacked items tend to tumble out when you raise the rear liftgate.
If you use the Pacifica’s third-row seat only occasionally, you can tumble it into the floor to create 87.5 cu.-ft. of cargo space. For maximum volume of 140.5 cu.-ft., the second-row Stow ‘N Go seats collapse into bins in the floor, a Chrysler exclusive that allows owners to expand space on a whim.
Most other minivans require second-row seat removal, which is a genuine hassle. Exceptions include the aged Dodge Grand Caravan, which also has Stow ‘N Go, and the Kia Sedona, in which the second-row seats push forward and collapse vertically against the front seat backs to create 142 cu.-ft. of volume. So, while the Kia’s seats are not quite as trick as the Chrysler’s, you end up with just a little more space.
Departing Cape Cod, my wife and two youngest kids headed for a few days of history, government, and museums in Washington D.C. With Apple CarPlay handling navigation, we took I-95 south, stopped at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Conn., for some of the best pizza ever created, threaded across the George Washington Bridge just ahead of New York City rush hour, and arrived in D.C. by sunset to return the Pacifica for its next adventure.
Even without a DVD, the kids remained content, switching between Uconnect Theater’s built-in road trip games, books, and checking out the scenery when appropriate. Up front, Liz and I caught up on what had been happening via SiriusXM’s CNN channel (fake news!), the Pacifica effortlessly cruising at 75 mph by the digital speedometer in the driver information center.
At all times, the Pacifica delivered an expertly balanced mix of smooth ride and capable handling, enhanced by perfectly weighted steering and faithful brakes. Furthermore, the Pacifica was comfortable, quiet, and commendably fuel efficient, returning an impressive 26.7 mpg during our entire trip, not far off the EPA highway rating of 28 mpg.
Granted, I did not subject this rental to my usual battery of tests, but another way of putting it is that I drove it exactly like most owners will. Under normal driving conditions, the Pacifica proved itself an excellent companion.
Dynamically and stylistically, minivans are not exciting. They’re tools of convenience, designed to provide maximum utility and seating capacity in as fuel-efficient a package as is possible. In short, they’re designed to make life easy.
As a parent four times over, the promise of an easier and simpler life is exciting to me. Any vehicle that does what I want it to, when I want it to, with a minimum of hassle and a maximum of capability, automatically appeals to me. Add agreeable driving dynamics, a bit of design flair, practical technologies that are actually useful, and top safety ratings, and I’ll become downright giddy.
And so it is with the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica, which is one of the best family vehicles you can buy today.
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