Review: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle AWD

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Jack Baruth

What’s so funny about peace, love, understanding, or a $53,000 minivan? More to the point, why do so many of us have no difficulty justifying massive pricetags on SUVs and crossovers that are stunted-growth minivans in all but name—hello, Macan!—while flinching at the idea of spending real cash on something with sliding doors? I suspect it’s the same reason that full-sized pickup trucks have become luxury trinkets-on-wheels while full-sized vans remain workmanlike items. (At least, until Airstream or Sportsmobile get hold of them.) A lot of people buy a pickup truck or an SUV despite having zero practical use for them. But a minivan? That’s something you need. And people tend to be a little, shall we say, sharp-penciled when it comes to the necessities.

Most people, anyway. There’s a long and time-honored tradition in some circles of getting top-shelf family wagons. Kingswood. County Squire. Colony Park. Roadmaster. To these names, and to Chrysler’s own dearly-departed “Town And Country” trim level, you can now add: Pacifica Pinnacle. This is a fifty-three-thousand dollar minivan.

Jack Baruth

FCAs decision to resurrect the “Voyager” nameplate on a budget version of the Pacifica minivan in 2020 freed the latter nameplate to start heading upmarket at warp speed. Pacificas now start at $35,000 and climb sharply from there. No matter which one you choose, you’ll get LED headlights, revised styling that is not shared with the Voyager, a Pentastar 3.6 V-6, and a few boutique powertrain options: plug-in hybrid and all-wheel-drive, neither of which is broadly available in the competition.

Jack Baruth

As has been the case since 1984, Chrysler always has the neatest toys for minivan buyers. Today it’s a massive uConnect 5 infotainment system, additional head-to-head games for the second-row passengers, and the “FamCam” that allows drivers to easily see the faces and behaviors of children in the back seats without having to turn their heads, even if said children are in a rear-facing child seat. The side doors and rear liftgate can be operated hands-free. Two new center consoles are available, both providing cavernous storage and wireless phone charging. There’s a squadron’s worth of USB-C outlets throughout. Chrysler touts “100 safety features” in a manner that makes this Generation-X writer think of the K-car and it’s “41 standard features!” advertisements.

Jack Baruth

Above the base Pacifica there is a Limited. It’s available with “platinum chrome” trim or as a blacked-out “S” model. The “Red S” Pacifica variant, which combines black exterior trim and bright red leather seating surfaces, makes a return for 2021. (If you buy this, you are probably a really fun person and I’d like to meet you.) The top of the line is the newly-created Pinnacle, which has a unique center console, quilted leather, and all the good stuff as standard.

Jack Baruth

Chrysler wouldn’t necessarily be quick to tell you, but the Pinnacle’s primary reason for being (other than profitability) appears to be as an attempt to make the famous Stow N’ Go seating a bit more livable. Everybody knows that Stow N’ Go, which allows both rows of rear seats to disappear into the floor pretty much immediately to create a totally flat load surface, is a magic trick. But it’s like the magic trick at the center of the Hugh Jackman movie The Prestige, which is to say that it can lead to untold human misery. Nobody’s ever figured out how to make a flat-folding rear seat match the comfort of a conventional unclip-and-remove item.

The Pinnacle’s Stow N’ Go seats are very sophisticated, about as highly padded as it’s possible to be while still folding—plus they come with a Nappa leather/suede lower-back pillow. It’s the best Stow N’ Go seat I’ve yet experienced, and light-years ahead of the originals. That being said, it’s still not the optimal choice for long-term ferrying of full-sized adults. If you would like to do that, Jeep has a Grand Wagoneer coming in the near future.

Jack Baruth

Even at twenty-eight inches longer and ten inches wider than the original Chrysler Town and Country, the Pacifica relies on some tight packaging to provide Stow N’ Go plus all-wheel-drive. Yet it appears to work better than fine. FCA engineers claim that this minivan can make some very intelligent decisions about when to pre-engage the rear driveshaft. Are you braking hard? Swerving around? Accelerating hard? Chances are you need the rear wheels involved. If you’re cruising on the freeway with zero wheel slippage, the rear driveshaft stops and the fuel economy goes up.

Naturally, I had to test the stoplight-drag capability of the AWD, and I can report that when brake-launched at 2000 rpm or above the Pacifica will perform a zero-wheelspin dig that will have everyone’s juice boxes flying. Not fast by any modern standard—how could it be, with under 300 horses and close to five thousand pounds?—the Pacifica is still capable of cutting and thrusting with the most aggressive freeway traffic. Body roll when taking corners at double the posted limit is minimal. Brakes are strong with a progressive ABS interaction. The only real gripe concerns the side mirrors, which could stand a bit more convex surface for a larger field of view.

The grown-up focused aspects of Chrysler’s boutique minivan are very nice. The stereo system is more than adequate, with good staging and relatively tight drum/bass given the large interior. Seat comfort is impeccable. Noise is at an all-time low thanks to thicker glass and additional soundproofing. In the Pinnacle, you don’t touch anything that feels or looks cheap. There’s even a tiny bit of fancy wood that is supposedly quite real.

Next to this, Honda’s Odyssey Elite looks a bit plain-Jane. Yet Chrysler has long had a nontrivial advantage in minivan features, styling, and functionality. The competition tends to pull ahead based on reliability and durability. (Owners of “glass transmission” Odysseys are free to snort here.) To assuage this concern, FCA provides a 100,000-mile warranty on the hybrid powertrains. Yet there’s no escaping the fact that big, heavy, transverse-engine FWD-based minivans tend to be among the most fragile of new cars, no matter whose badge is on the snubby nose.

I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If you can afford a minivan at this price level, you can probably afford to keep it running. And the newest generation of SUVs, struggling to push truly bovine weights with strangled two-liter turbo engines, aren’t exactly designed for million-mile lifespans either. Nor can they even approach the people-and-cargo capacity of a true minivan. If you need something like this, you won’t be satisfied with a CR-V. There’s that word again: need. What’s so funny about a $53,000 minivan? Only this: With this Pacifica, Chrysler has once again managed to accomplish a unique, if quixotic goal. In a segment based almost entirely on need, this is the one you’d really want.

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle: $53,000 as tested. ($50,000 for hybrid FWD)

Highs: Continues to blur the line between luxury sedan and family van. Thoughtful features. Looks like a million bucks.

Lows: Costs like 53,000 bucks. Sideview mirrors are subpar. Stow N’ Go remains a big compromise. FCA still needs to make the reliability case for these vehicles.

Summary: Maximum minivan for maximum money—but if you have an appropriate use case, this will be a hard vehicle not to buy.

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