There's a new battery-electric vehicle arriving this fall, one that will open up electric vehicles to a wider audience than ever before, potentially revolutionizing the whole electric-car market. And it's not the Tesla Model 3, or even the Chevy Bolt.  It's the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.

We've already talked about the new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, and how it offers class-leading technology and features all wrapped in styling that's easily at the head of its class. But the standard Pacifica shares the same fate all big family haulers have: Fuel economy isn't great. Sure, the Pacifica heads its class with highway mileage of 28 mpg and a combined city/highway 22 mpg. Those numbers aren't bad for an 8-pasenger vehicle. So goes the standard claim about fuel economy in larger vehicles including even the Toyota Highlander Hybrid; its 28 mpg combined score is noteworthy only because the non-hybrid version gets just 20 mpg combined.

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Perception vs. reality

Our perception of what "fuel efficient" means has been forever altered thanks to hybrids like the Toyota Prius, super fuel-sippers like the new Honda Civic and Chevy Cruze, and to a lesser extent, diesels like Volkswagen's TDI-powered cars. If you're used to being in a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or just a very efficient family sedan, and suddenly need a bigger three-row vehicle, the prospect of getting fuel economy in the teens and low 20s is enough to make you weep.

That's why the Pacifica Hybrid is such a big deal. With a 16-kWh battery stored under the second-row floor, the Pacifica Hybrid will offer up to 30 miles of electric-only range. That's pretty solid, putting it in the upper range of plug-in hybrid vehicles, beaten only by the much smaller Chevy Volt and Cadillac ELR. It's enough range to handle a short commute, and certainly enough to run the gamut of tasks usually asked of minivans: dropping the kids off here and there, going to the grocery store or Costco, hitting the mall, and so on. For a lot of people, the vast majority of those day-to-day miles would fall well under the 30-mile EV range of the Pacifica Hybrid, meaning drivers wouldn't burn a drop of gasoline.

This isn't unusual, except that the Pacifica Hybrid comes with all the packaging advantages of a minivan, and that's nothing to sneeze at. Name another vehicle that can go 30 miles without burning fuel while carrying seven people and all their stuff. You can't, and to top it off, all this eco-and-family-friendly utility comes in a carrying case that's maybe the best minivan on the market right now.

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Hybrid tradeoffs

There are downsides. The Pacifica Hybrid can only carry seven passengers, not eight. Since the battery pack is below the second row floor, the Hybrid lacks Chrysler's clever Stow 'n Go seats, although Chrysler compensates by giving the Hybrid better second-row captain's chairs. But the biggest open question is cost. The hybrid will certainly come at a premium, although we don't know how much. However, Chrysler does say the Pacifica Hybrid will qualify for a $7,500 tax credit, meaning even a big premium -- let's just speculate $10,000 -- will be much more manageable on your monthly payment.

There's one more thing. It's likely the underlying architecture of the new Pacifica -- or at the very least, its compact hybrid powertrain -- will be shared among other Chrysler and Dodge vehicles in the near future. So if minivans aren't your thing, just wait.

More 2017 Chrysler Pacifica news...

2017 Chrysler Pacifica earns top EPA highway mark

2017 Chrysler Pacifica: The next minivan chapter


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