For nearly as long as the minivan vehicle segment has existed, so too has the Chrysler Town & Country minivan. Offering plenty of space for soccer moms (and dads) across the U.S., the first Town & Country minivan hit the streets in 1989.
In that time, the Town & Country Minivan has gone through five major model revisions and, despite plenty of improvements to make it safer and more practical in everyday use, its fuel economy has been far from impressive, faring worse than many modern SUVs — the very cars which have taken over the minivan’s crown as the favourite family car for many Americans.
But this morning on the opening day of the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Fiat Chrysler unveiled the Chrysler Pacifica minivan — a full-sized minivan which comes with an optional plug-in hybrid drivetrain that will replace the outgoing Town & Country and perhaps even redefine the minivan segment forever.
The all-new minivan, which will debut this year as a 2017 model year vehicle, will come with a choice of two different drivetrain options, both of which make use of Fiat Chrysler’s latest V-6 engine technology. The first, a gasoline-only model, matches a 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6 engine with TorqueFlite automatic transmission to produce 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. While FCA says it will be more efficient than the V-6 engines found in the outgoing Town & Country minivan, it will still ultimately be a conventional internal combustion-engined vehicle.
Meanwhile, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid — which is actually a plug-in hybrid despite its name — marries an upgraded 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 gasoline engine with Atkinson cycle (the same cycle found on Toyota’s Prius hybrid) with a dual-motor electrically variable transmission. Both gasoline and electric power plants can drive the wheels directly, making it a series-parallel plug-in hybrid, while a 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery located under the vehicle floor gives what FCA claims is a total all-electric zero-emissions range of 30 miles per charge.
Official figures haven’t been released yet, but FCA also claims that when operating in electric-only mode, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid will achieve somewhere around 80 miles per gallon equivalent, making it the most efficient full-size minivan on sale to date.
Of course, we’d not be doing our jobs properly if we didn’t mention at this point that the idea of a plug-in minivan isn’t new to Chrysler. Between 1993 and 1995, way before its union with Fiat, the automaker produced just 56 all-electric minivans based on the Chrysler Town & Country. Called the Chrysler TEvan, it was little more than an experiment, cost $120,000 per vehicle to build, and managed 120-miles per charge from a nickel-iron or nickel cadmium battery pack.
It was followed in 1997 by the Dodge EPIC, a vehicle which offered a range of between 80 and 90 miles per 8-hour charge from either a lead-acid battery pack or later, a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Like the rest of the electric car produced around that time however, it was considered nothing more than a compliance car by Chrysler, built to satisfy California zero emission mandates. When automakers successfully lobbied for the California Air Resource Board to change its regulations on zero emission vehicles, the EPIC’s fate was sealed alongside that of the GM EV1, Honda Plus, Chevy S10 EV, Ford Ranger EV, Toyota RAV4 EV, Nissan Altima EV and more.
Both of these electric vehicles were followed in 2009 by a limited number of Town & Country range-extended electric vehicles. Unveiled seven years ago in Detroit just months before Chrysler declared bankruptcy in the summer of 2009, the Town & Country range-extended electric minivans featured a small displacement gasoline engine and gearbox designed to power the electric drivetrain system when required. Offering 40 miles of range from an on-board lithium-ion battery pack, Chrysler claimed the vehicle could travel around 400 miles on electricity and gasoline before needing a refuel.
Sadly, this vehicle — built as a limited-production test fleet vehicle — did not survive Chrysler’s bankruptcy and subsequent merger with Fiat. However, since then, we’ve heard plenty of rumors that a plug-in hybrid minivan was going to head to market sometime around 2016/17. Today’s announcement proves those rumors accurate.
Given Chrysler’s past experience with plug-in minivans, we’re sure some will be frustrated that FCA has decided to bring just a plug-in hybrid minivan with 30 miles of electric range to market instead of a 100% electric vehicle. And we’ll admit that a longer-range all-electric model is always going to be better in the long term than a range-extended plug-in vehicle, both for the environment and the user.
But when you consider the duties at which the minivan excels on a daily basis — namely the school run, trips to the shop and the average commute — a 30-mile electric range could easily be supplemented during the day by plugging in to a Level 2 charging station between trips. Meanwhile, range-extending capabilities make it possible to use the same vehicle for family vacations and longer-distance trips with kids, dogs and luggage.
Alongside the new drivetrain choices, both Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid are full of the latest technology, including blind-spot monitoring, parking assistant, all-round quad-camera system, lane departure warning system with torque assist, forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, rear seat theatre entertainment system, Internet sharing and more.
Sadly, pricing and final production plans have yet to be announced, but we’re interested to see what you think about the new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. Will it be a revolutionary vehicle for families looking for a practical ‘do-everything’ vehicle, or will it be just another limited-range plug-in cluttering up the marketplace?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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