Try to guess what kind of vehicle I was driving a week ago when I experienced these two incidents.
In the first, while droning along on a freeway, I used the vehicle’s satellite radio to tune in some Frank Sinatra. The first song to play was “For Once in My Life,” from Sinatra’s 1969 album My Way, when he swings the number as only Sinatra could. I cranked the volume high and felt the music wrap all around me, even pierce through me as the bass notes pulsing from the Alpine 13-speakers vibrated the cabin’s atmosphere. When Sinatra paced through the song’s closing crescendo, the vehicle became the music, and the experience couldn’t have been better if I was in a concert hall.
The second incident also occurred on a freeway. Through a long open stretch high up in New Hampshire, I was cruising a few miles per hour above the posted speed of 70, eager to cover some miles quickly to get home. I encountered a fast and furious rain squall. The few other cars sharing that stretch of interstate slowed immediately.
I did too, at first. When I drive in hazardous conditions, I try to find the car’s best speed: the fastest pace at which it safely and confidently holds the road. Not a mile per hour faster than that. But also not a mile per hour slower. After all, I still need to get someplace.
The speed at which my vehicle very assuredly held the road, during the flooding rain squall, was the same speed I’d been driving on dry land. With the vehicle remaining stable, I felt calm and confident as I pushed past the slower cars. I also felt grateful that the vehicle rode so solidly and so precisely held its course.
So, what could I have been driving while groovin’ to a tune, and when holding wet pavement with cool precision? A sleek, low sportster? A fortress-sized sport-utility vehicle?
I was driving a Chrysler Pacifica minivan.
Some savvy family haulers already know this, but some other people might be surprised to learn that you can drive a minivan and still be cool. To some, the minivan has a stigma as a mom-mobile: a vehicle for suburban parents who are too wrapped up in their kids to also lead independent lives.
The Chrysler Pacifica helps dispel that stigma with its contemporary elan. It is a smooth and slick looking vehicle, with versions packed with the advanced technology that distinguishes upper-end modern motoring.
“Yes, the stigma is sometimes spoken about during the purchasing phase. But the style and the technology of the Pacifica make it easy for a stylish mom or dad to drive,” affirmed Brian Heney, chief operating officer of Kelly Automotive Group.
Headquartered in Danvers, the Kelly dealership family sells the Pacifica minivan in Methuen at Kelly Jeep Chrysler Dodge Ram, and in Lynnfield at Kelly Jeep Chrysler. The group also operates Kelly Ford in Beverly, Kelly Infiniti and Kelly Volkswagen in Danvers, Kelly Honda in Lynn, Kelly Nissan in Lynnfield and Kelly Nissan in Woburn.
“The Pacifica is so good looking that they don’t feel like their driving around in a vehicle like their mom or dad used to drive,” Heney said.
The 2019 Pacifica is the descendant of the first minivan, created 35 years ago by the company then called Chrysler Corp. (now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles). Those boxy, first minivans were revolutionary, as oversized front-wheel-drive automobiles shaped for maximum passenger capacity. The big barn door on the side rode on a slider instead of a hinge. It didn’t need room to swing open, and, best of all, kids could climb in with ease.
Although they’re large vehicles by today’s standards, the “mini” in the minivan name set those first models apart from conventional vans of the era, which were pickup-sized work vehicles.
Parents loved the new concept so much that a lot of today’s adults grew up riding in the back of a minivan. Thus a lot of them associate the vehicle type strictly with family transport. Hence the stigma as mom-mobiles.
While the contemporary flair of the Chrysler Pacifica helps it overcome that image, the model retains the maximized passenger capacity and other practical qualities that traditionally have made minivans a smart choice for families.
“The Pacifica is sleek and stylish. However; it is still a minivan, with all the capabilities and space that minivan drivers appreciate and need,” Heney stated. “It’s an easy purchase for people who have the need for the space and the capabilities it offers.”
What’s more, he noted, Chrysler recognizes that safe travel is a high priority for parents.
“The safety features are more important than style for most families,” he emphasized. “So the Pacifica is loaded with all your standard safety features, as well as an incredible amount of new technology like forward collision avoidance with active braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, 360-degree surround-view monitor and back-up rear-view camera.”
Chrysler positions the Pacifica as a premium people mover, distinguishing it from its close cousin, the Dodge Grand Caravan, sold by the Dodge unit of Fiat Chrysler. Pacifica trim levels start at a list price of $28,480. They run as high as $45,990 for versions equipped with its conventional power team, a V6 gasoline engine and nine-speed automatic transmission.
The car brand also sells a gasoline/electric hybrid-drive Pacifica, available only in the more expensive trims. The price of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid tops out at $47,040. Its principal advantage is better fuel economy. The Pacifica Hybrid’s government fuel-economy rating is 30 miles per gallon in combined, city/highway driving, compared to 22 mpg for a model with standard power.
The Pacifica Hybrid also includes plug-in charging feature. Taking electricity from a wall or parking-lot plug increases the model’s economy, by extending its electric driving range.
I was driving a hybrid version last week during my cool-cruising minivan experiences. My theory is that its superior road-holding through the rain squall was due to its hybrid-drive makeup. I’ve experienced similar, superior traction in some other hybrid vehicles. The weight of the electric motors and the batteries make hybrids heavier. For example, the Pacifica Hybrid weighs 650 pounds more than a standard-drive model. With hybrids that extra weight is usually carried low in the vehicle’s body, which can lower a hybrid’s center of gravity enough to help it stick better to challenging pavement.
I can’t say if a standard Pacifica equipped with a gas engine alone would have handled the drenched road at the same cruising speed. But it’s certain that it would have delivered all the other minivan advantages. And Sinatra would have sounded just as swinging.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2019 Chrysler Pacifica
Vehicle type: 4-door, 7- and 8-passenger, front-wheel-drive minivan
Price range: $28,480 to $47,040 (plus options)
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty
Base engine: 3.6-liter V6
Power: 287 horsepower at 6,400 rpm; 262lb.-ft. torque at 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 19 mpg city; 28 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 122 inches
Length: 204 inches
Width: 80 inches
Height: 70 inches
Weight: 4,330 pounds
Fuel capacity: 19.0 gallons
Turning circle: 39.7 feet