With the 2017 Best Buy award for minivans on its mantle, you could say we're fans of the new Chrysler Pacifica. Its combination of style, family friendliness, high-tech features and easy to live with drivability is simply unparalleled in the market. It's a great vehicle to be sure, handily the best in its class, but not quite revolutionary. If you want a revolution, check out the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.

The Pacifica Hybrid is the first affordable plug-in solution for families who need to transport more than five people. With an EPA-verified 84 MPGe and 33 miles of EV-only range, plus very good hybrid fuel economy the rest of the time, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid at long last allows big-box family hauling without the compromise of mediocre fuel economy. Put simply, it redefines what to expect from a minivan.

Here are the facts: The Pacifica really does go 30 miles on EV mode before it kicks on the engine; we observed very good fuel economy when in hybrid mode; it drives almost exactly like the regular Pacifica; it doesn't give up much in the process; and it costs far less than you could have hoped for.

No second-row Stow ‘n Go

Let's get the brief downside out of the way: The 16 kWh battery pack goes in the wells behind the front passenger seats, which means Chrysler's clever Stow ‘n Go second-row seats aren't available. They've been replaced with super comfortable captain's chairs that weigh 64 pounds apiece, and you'll need to wrestle them from the van if you need to maximize cargo space. Likewise, the Pacifica Hybrid is also a seven-passenger only proposition, since there was no economical way to engineer the eighth seat.

And that's about it.

The good news is that basically everything else we love about the Pacifica is present and accounted for. You can get all the high-tech safety equipment -- including active cruise control, lane keeping assist and an around-view camera -- in the Platinum model. From behind the wheel, the Pacifica Hybrid feels pretty much like its non-hybrid cousin. The 260-horsepower combined output of the Atkinson's-cycle 3.6-liter V6 engine and dual electric motors provides acceleration that isn't any different from a seat-of-the-pants measurement than the non-hybrid Pacifica. The continuously variable automatic transmission doesn't intrude on the driving experience. You will hear the engine cut in and out, but only if you're trying, and only if you have the radio off.

During our test drive, we found that the estimated 30 miles of EV range was not only realistic, but easily attainable. If you floor the throttle the engine will kick on, but at anything less than about 80 percent of the gas pedal's travel the van will resolutely stay in EV mode as long as there's enough charge to sustain it. Even in mixed driving that included more than its share of lead-footedness and hills, the Pacifica hit its 30-mile EV range without difficulty. When it did go into hybrid mode, it was just as pleasant to drive as the standard Pacifica, which is to say it's comfortable and quiet, with a nicely sorted suspension that didn't embarrass itself on the twisty roads above Malibu. We were even able to regenerate about 17 percent of our battery (about 7 miles of range) on a long downhill stretch by dialing the transmission selector from "D" to "L."  As for fuel economy, on a nearly 70-mile loop with a mostly depleted battery that forced the van into hybrid mode, we observed a 29.3 mpg average, something that seems fairly easy to reproduce in average driving conditions. About our only dynamic complaint was the steering, which was on the too-light side.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

Priced right

So the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid works well as gas-free plug in, works well as a hybrid, and thanks to its generous features, space, and seating, still does all the family-hauling duties as well as ever. So, it must be really expensive, right? Wrong. The lower-level Pacifica Hybrid Premium starts at $43,090 including the $1,095 destination charge, and includes standard parking sensors, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-path detection, three-zone climate control, heated front seats, active noise cancellation, a backup camera, and the unique-to-hybrids 7-inch driver information display, plus a bunch of other standard equipment. The top-line Pacifica Hybrid Platinum starts at $46,090 and adds in Nappa leather seats, a heated two-tone steering wheel, Uconnect Theater rear-seat entertainment system, 13-inch Alpine sound system, navigation, and a suite of active safety systems that includes all-speed adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and prevention, parking assist and automatic headlights. A $1,795 panoramic sunroof is the only standalone option.

But here's the good news: Because of its big battery, the Pacifica Hybrid qualifies for the full $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles. That means the real price for the Pacifica Hybrid Premium is actually $35,590, while the top-line Pacifica Hybrid Platinum is $38,590. Neither price factors in state incentives; California residents can take another $1,500 off those prices, for example. By any measure, that's a screaming deal. The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is good looking, functional, luxurious, high-tech, fuel-efficient and affordable. If that's not a game changer, we don't know what is.


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