Review update: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid hits the family vehicle sweet spot

The Chrysler Pacifica minivan has been our Best Minivan To Buy for five years running. Late in the 2020 model year it got better with the addition of all-wheel drive, then for 2021 it was improved again with a luxurious Pinnacle model and an improved infotainment system. 

Yet Toyota challenged the Pacifica’s dominance with the redesigned 2021 Sienna minivan that comes standard as a hybrid capable of getting 35 mpg combined with all-wheel drive. Even the plug-in Pacifica Hybrid can’t match that number, nor can it be had with AWD. Our comparison testing found the 2021 Sienna narrowed the gap between the 2021 Pacifica’s high TCC Rating of 7.2 out of 10

The Pacifica has something the Sienna doesn’t, beyond just Stow n’ Go seats and a bit more class: A plug that enables 32 miles of electric range. After revisiting it for a week, and cruising around Chicagoland, it reminded me why it’s the best family utility vehicle on the market.

Hit: Efficiency

With a 6.6-kw onboard charger, the 2021 Pacifica Hybrid recharges in less than two hours with a 240-volt (Level 2) home charger. On a standard 120-volt outlet, it can charge overnight in most cases. That 32 miles of range suffices for nearly all around-town duties called upon by a minivan. Once depleted, the Pacifica Hybrid gets 30 mpg combined, and on long road trips, it can stretch out 520 miles between gas station stops. Over 195 mostly highway miles during one weekend, it averaged 40.8 mpg, with 74 of the miles powered by the electric motors. That included two overnight charges from zero to full capacity. 

Hit: Numbers to dollars

The EPA estimates it will save you $2,250 in fuel costs annually over the average vehicle, such as any other three-row SUV or minivan that is not the Toyota Sienna. The Hybrid costs $4,800 more in its base Touring form, but it still qualifies for the full $7,500 federal EV tax credit. Even without the credit, the Hybrid pays for itself in fuel costs in a couple years. 

Hit: Power everything

From outside the car, from the front seats, from the second row, the sliding doors can be opened or closed with the push of a button. Or the side doors and liftgate can be opened with a calculated swipe of a foot. To make getting in and out of the rear rows easier, the Pacifica has a button tucked on the door-side panel behind the front seat. Push it, and the driver or passenger seat moves forward about six inches so rear passengers can enter and pass down the aisle to the third-row without touching the second-row seats. 

Miss: Power behind the wheel

The Pacifica Hybrid uses a 3.6-liter V-6 and two electric motors powered by a 16-kwh lithium-ion battery pack stored under the second-row floor. Hence, no Stow ‘n Go seats in the second row. There’s also no all-wheel-drive option, which was added on non-hybrid models this year to better compete with the Sienna. This system makes 260 hp, compared to 287 hp in the non-hybrid Pacifica or 245 hp in the Sienna minivan hybrid. It’s not as spry off the line as the standard V-6, and it can pause at passing speeds when you want a bit more burst. Since it doesn’t have drive modes, or paddle shifters—and we hardly expect it to—it doesn’t let the driver override its programming. But the transition from electric to hybrid is seamless. 

Hit: Seat flexibility

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

The plug-in hybrid does not get Stow ‘n Go second-row seats that might be the most clever mobility development since the inflatable tire. The 60/40-split third row collapses into the cargo well with pull straps. They require a reach and more effort than the Sienna’s third row, but the Pacifica covers all of the seating mechanism so it looks finished. Unlike the Sienna, the second row seats can be removed. They’re still heavy and bulky, but the cargo volume is exceptional. 

Miss: No drive modes

There’s no electric-only mode for around town, and no hybrid-only mode that lets you conserve the battery power for before and after the highway leg of your trip. That means you’ll arrive at long destinations with no electric charge left, except for whatever can be recouped from the regen braking system. Most other plug-in hybrids offer the option of conserving battery power via a hybrid-only mode where the gas engine is optimal at highway speeds. When cold, the Pacifica Hybrid uses the engine even on short trips to the store or school drop off until it heats up. 

Hit: Better tech

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

The 2021 Pacifica comes with a 10.1-inch touchscreen, running the latest Uconnect 5 operating system. The screen is larger, clearer, easier to navigate, and quicker to respond to inputs, except when it’s first turned on. The tester came with a $2,495 Uconnect Theater Family Group with rear entertainment system, but the jewel in this package is the FamCam. It projects on the touchscreen a sharp bird’s-eye view of the rear two rows of seats to check on noddin’ todds or to referee squabbling siblings. 

Minivans make family life easier. The Pacifica makes it better with greater efficiency, interior flexibility, and in-car tech. Chrysler could invest a little more functionality in the Hybrid powertrain to make it even more efficient.

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2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited

Base price: $47,340, including $1,495 destination

Price as tested: $49,835

Drivetrain: 260-hp 3.6-liter V-6 with two electric motors and 16-kwh battery pack; front-wheel drive

EPA fuel economy: 30 mpg hybrid; 32-mile electric range

The hits: Power everything, seat versatility, efficiency

The misses: Responses sometimes lag, no drive modes

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