A lot has happened since my last update. A refreshed 2021 Chrysler Pacifica was revealed with a more menacing face and new and updated features. My wife and I are now expecting our second child. Oh, and the world shut down thanks to a global health crisis. None of those things is to blame for the tardiness of this 2018 Pacifica wrap-up review that you’re reading in 2020. I’ve come to learn in my nearly two years of parenthood that it’s just tougher to stay on top of things when you have a kid. As the Steve Miller Band famously sang, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’…”
Does that mean this report is irrelevant? Quite the contrary, I would argue. The extra time has given me additional context to consider when evaluating the pre-refresh Pacifica. As an owner of the old model, would I feel left out not having the latest and greatest version? Would I regret not having waited for the (finally) new 2021 Toyota Sienna? Will parents just now entering the minivan market leave much on the table with a lightly used Pacifica instead of a brand-new model? Let’s explore those topics and more.
2018 Chrysler Pacifica vs. 2021 Chrysler Pacifica: What’s the Difference?
For the 2021 model year, the Chrysler Pacifica receives a more aggressive look, with a large mesh grille and redesigned, angrily slanted headlights front and center. This face-lift is intended to move the Pacifica away from the testosterone-sapping image that’s inexorably linked to the minivan genre and closer to a more fashionable SUV look. Personally, I’m not a fan. The pre-refresh Pacifica has a streamlined elegance to it, which I feel has broader appeal. It’s a minivan, and it owns that—and once you accept it for what it is, it’s a handsome vehicle. With this new one I see the same van wearing a luchador mask.
What I would miss by not getting the 2021 Pacifica is the option of all-wheel drive (though FCA just announced a special AWD Launch Edition for the 2020 model). AWD is expected to add about $1,500 to the price of a Pacifica and doesn’t come at the cost of the van’s best party trick, its Stow ‘N Go seating. The addition of AWD should give the new Pacifica more traction (pun intended) in regions that get snow. The plug-in hybrid and lower-cost Chrysler Voyager remain front-drive only, however. Another handy upgrade is the available 10.1-inch touchscreen with sharper resolution and FCA’s latest Uconnect 5 infotainment system. Top models also get a headliner-mounted FamCam rear passenger monitor, FCA’s answer to Honda’s CabinWatch feature.
Chrysler Pacifica vs. The Minivan Competition
We put just under 20,000 miles on the long-term Chrysler Pacifica in the 12 months it was in our care, and in that time staffers used it to shuttle their families, move in and out of their homes, shoot car-to-car photos out the back, and much more. In almost every situation, the Pacifica was more than up to the task. I can’t overstate the usefulness of the Stow ‘N Go seats. In five minutes or less, you can transform the Pacifica’s interior from a seven-seat people hauler to a cavernous two-seat cargo van. Or if you just need to lose one, two, or three seats, you can do that, too. You have options, and that’s what made the Pacifica the go-to choice for most jobs that didn’t require a pickup bed.
Fold-into-the-floor seats remain an FCA-exclusive feature, and that gives the Pacifica a huge advantage over its competitors. You can’t slide them forward like the seats in other minivans, but the seats fold forward for third-row access, and the space between the captain’s chairs offers ample room for kids to access the third row. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make for the added versatility Stow ‘N Go brings to the table.
Subjectively, the Pacifica drives better than any other minivan on the market. We haven’t driven the new Sienna as of this writing, but when driven back to back with the Honda Odyssey, the Pacifica’s ride, handling, and steering precision shine. Where the Pacifica loses ground to the Odyssey is in the transmission department—FCA’s nine-speed automatic still lacks refinement and can be clunky with its shifts. It’ll be interesting to see how the revised 2021 V-6 Pacifica stacks up against the new Sienna with its 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid powertrain and CVT—especially now that the Pacifica offers AWD, too. Toyota estimates the 2021 Sienna will achieve a combined 33 mpg, which would be 3 mpg better than the Pacifica plug-in hybrid. The standard Pacifica with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, meanwhile, is rated at 22 mpg combined, though throughout our test we averaged 19.4 mpg, just beating the predicted EPA (and Real MPG) city rating of 19 mpg.
What’s the Chrysler Pacifica Ownership Experience Like?
The Chrysler Pacifica was very easy to live with on a daily basis. Our Limited model was a particularly cushy commuter with its stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, slick Uconnect system with Apple CarPlay, and cooled leather seats. The ride on the highway was smooth and quiet with the standard 18-inch wheels, though your experience may vary if you opt for the 20s.
As I’ve chronicled extensively in these updates, our long-term Pacifica was plagued by an intermittent stalling issue that landed it in the shop for a solid month. The dealership provided me with a rental for the duration of the repair, but that’s a long time for a car to be out of action. What’s worse is the initial visit didn’t fix the problem, nor did the one after that. FCA corporate had to bring in its own team to finally fix the issue. I never did get a full explanation, but the root cause was a software flaw in the powertrain control module, which was fixed with a reflash.
In addition to that major hiccup, our long-termer suffered premature anti-roll bar link failure, which caused a disconcerting knocking sound from the front wheelwell. The heater also stopped working before the odometer hit the 10,000-mile mark. If there’s an upside, it’s that all of the above issues were covered under the warranty, including the rental, which would have cost $1,000 by itself. As for regular maintenance, the two trips to the dealer for service totaled $276.88. We don’t put a whole lot of minivans through our long-term testing, so our most recent direct comparison is a 2016 Kia Sedona, which cost $364.30 over four service visits. Because many minivan shoppers also consider three-row SUVs, our Subaru Ascent cost us $0 in maintenance but incurred more than $1,700 in other expenses, our 2018 Volkswagen Atlas set us back $167.69, our 2018 Dodge Durango saw just $77.90 in service costs, and our 2017 Mazda CX-9 ran up $322.35 in service charges.
Should You Buy a Chrysler Pacifica?
Never have I been so conflicted over a long-term vehicle than with the Pacifica. On the one hand, it’s a pleasure to drive and offers so much utility—and in Limited trim, plenty of luxury, to boot. But on the other, this particular example has been in and out of the shop more than my previous two long-termers (a Kia Stinger and Mini Clubman S) combined. The dealership experience also left something to be desired. Although I could tell the service advisers and customer service reps were trying their best, there was always an underlying feeling of chaos behind the scenes. This was backed up by parts constantly being delayed or lost or broken in transit and repair orders being misplaced or never logged to begin with. Maybe the problem lies with FCA’s parts supply infrastructure, maybe it’s just this particular dealership’s service department, or maybe it’s a little bit of both, but I was never glad to be there, especially as often as I had to be.
With that said, when the Pacifica was working, I loved every minute behind the wheel. I thought it would get boring eventually—especially coming out of a Kia Stinger—but it never did. Instead of feeling like an X-wing pilot, I was the captain of the Millennium Falcon with a princess riding shotgun and a tiny Wookiee in the back manning the laser turret, and I don’t consider that a downgrade. Hopefully the major kinks have been ironed out with the 2021 model. If so, then the Pacifica will be pretty tough to beat.
Read more about our long-term 2018 Chrysler Pacifica:
- Arrival: Enter the Dad Van
- Update 1: Just So Handy
- Update 2: Dealership Woes
- 7 Reasons Why I’d Get It Over a Crossover
- Update 3: Is It Fixed Yet?
- Update 4: What Chrysler Pacifica Does Better and Worse Than Honda Odyssey, Pilot
- Update 5: Why the Chrysler Pacifica Is the Minivan You Want for Your Next Road Trip
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