It’s no secret that for many years minivans have given ground to crossover SUVs, victimized by the public perception that minivans aren’t cool. Tim Kuniskis, head of passenger car brands at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, characterizes the phenomenon as “a martyrship to owning a minivan,” even though he sees minivans as “the best tool for a family to move people and stuff.”

But Kuniskis also points out that Chrysler created of the modern minivan, a segment still amounting to over a half-million sales per year, and that the brand is still the dominant player in a field long-since abandoned by its domestic rivals.

To sustain its leadership, gain share, and reverse the shrinking market trend, FCA embarked on sweeping changes to the vehicle Chrysler invented in 1984—a complete redesign that includes a plug-in hybrid, a first for the segment, as well as a new name.

The minivan reimagined

Kuniskis calls it “re-imagining the minivan,” an exercise that warranted the new badge. When it reaches showrooms next spring as a 2017 model, it will be called the Chrysler Pacifica, a revival of the name employed for the three-row people-hauler developed jointly during the Daimler-Chrysler era and sold during model years 2004 – 2008.

Though the earlier Pacifica was essentially a minivan in terms of function, it had front-hinged sedan-style rear doors. While the new Pacifica is more stylish than the Town & Country van it replaces, those sliding rear doors remain, unmistakably minivan.

However, Kuniskis and company believe the Pacifica is packed with so much tempting equipment, including an extensive list of safety features, wrapped in an attractively sculpted package, that the sliding doors will be less of a stylistic liability. In fact, some FCA design staffers quietly hope the Pacifica will be perceived as cool in its own right.

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More new features

In addition to expanded telematics and infotainment, FCA claims 37 innovations for the Pacifica. Noteworthy under this heading: hands-free operation of the sliding doors and rear liftgate; a redesign of Chrysler’s clever Stow ‘n Go seating; a three-panel panoramic sunroof (two of the panels can be opened); 360-degree surround view cameras (available sometime this summer); and an on-board vacuum cleaner (Stow ‘n Vac).

The Pacifica is a little bigger than the current Town & Country with a wheelbase stretched about a half-inch, to 121.6 inches. Overall length is essentially unchanged. Width has expanded from 78.7 to 79.6 inches, lending a more aggressive look to the package. And at 69.9 inches, the roof is more than a half-inch higher, which adds up to significant increases in passenger and cargo volume, cited by FCA as best in class.

The Pacifica rides on an all-new platform, with torsional rigidity improved by 30 percent, according to FCA. Power for the standard gasoline version will be supplied by Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, delivering 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Both output ratings represent small gains over the current Town & Country.

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Lighter weight, slicker shape

A nine-speed automatic transmission, replacing the previous six-speed in the gas version, improves efficiency and performance. However, a bigger factor in boosting both is weight reduction, down over 300 pounds versus the Town & Country according to FCA, as well as slicker aerodynamics.

The 3.6 V-6 will also serve in the Pacific Hybrid, with reduced output—248 hp, 230 lb-ft—and augmented by electric motors powered by a 16 kwH lithium-ion battery pack stashed beneath the second row seats. Specifications for electric motor power will be announced closer to the hybrid’s on-sale date. Power will find its way to the front wheels via an “electrically variable transmission,” which is FCA-speak for a CVT.

Chrysler was not ready to announce full fuel economy ratings for either powertrain, other than to note that both operate on regular fuel, that the company anticipates best-in-class mpg. The current Town & Country is EPA rated 17 mpg city, 25 highway. The hybrid will also be able to operate up to 30 miles on electric power and FCA anticipates an equivalency rating of 80 MPGe city for that model.

Pricing is a wait-and-see. The regular gasoline Pacifica will be offered in six trim levels: LX, Touring, Touring L, Touring L Plus, Limited, and Limited Platinum. Due to go on sale in late summer, the hybrid will come in three trims: Touring, Limited, and Platinum.

Can the Pacifica put an end to minivan “martyrship?” That, too, is a wait-and-see.


 

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