Defying its splashy “first hybrid minivan” title, the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid looks positively pedestrian. There is a port on the front driver-side fender for charging its 16-kWh lithium-Ion battery pack, but otherwise the exterior is free from any of the quasi-futuristic goofballery that often plagues electrified vehicles.

Dig beneath the Pacifica’s suburban exterior, however, and its hybrid charms emerge. Even if you never plug it in, the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid delivers a stellar 32 combined city/highway mpg -- giving it a 45% efficiency advantage over the standard Pacifica. In our case, we averaged 25.6 mpg over a nearly 1,000-mile test route, though that included numerous hours blasting across California at...let’s say...spirited speeds. Moderate driving will yield better results.

Power to the people-mover

Of course, not plugging in your plug-in hybrid is like visiting Disneyland without ever leaving the parking lot. For charging up, there are two options. A normal household outlet will get the job done overnight, but use a dedicated 240-volt charger and you’ll reach a full charge from empty in about 2 hours. Fully juiced, the Pacifica Hybrid can travel 33 miles without combusting a drop of gasoline. Exhaust the battery and an efficient, Atkinson-cycle V6 engine comes alive, ensuring efficient commuting with zero range anxiety.

For all its efficiency, the Pacifica Hybrid has a few quirks. Thanks to blended gasoline and electric propulsion the driver might notice some unusual noises from the powertrain in motion. The odd whirring and humming sounds becomes normal with time, but a more vexing issue is the Pacifica’s unnatural, touchy brake pedal. By degree, nearly every hybrid car ever produced has some of this same issue so, clearly, it’s difficult to blend regenerative braking with traditional brake pads. Nonetheless, the Pacifica’s brakes have room to improve.

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A much brighter element is acceleration. Chrysler estimates a total system output of around 260 horsepower, but the Pacifica’s powertrain magic can be found in hearty electric torque. Whether peeling away from a stoplight, overtaking traffic on the freeway, or just lugging humans from A to B, the Pacifica Hybrid accelerates assertively.

Between its dual-motor EV drive system and its battery pack, the Pacifica hybrid weighs a hefty 657 pounds more than the gasoline version. Adding that much weight to any vehicle could negatively affect ride and handling, but for minivan duty the Hybrid’s weight is basically a non-issue. Through cities, on the highway, over many, many hours the Pacifica proved itself a fine-driving, comfortable long-haul sled.

Doing all the things a minivan is supposed to do

Ignore the mechanisms that make it so efficient and Pacifica Hybrid is just a minivan. It’s got countless storage cubbies along with excellent passenger and cargo accommodations. Even so, some compromises do exist. For example, the standard Pacifica’s awesome Stow 'n Go 2nd-row seats, which conveniently fold into an underfloor storage area, aren’t available on the hybrid because that storage hold is filled with batteries. The Hybrid also tops out at seven seats while the non-hybrid can be equipped with eight.

Another consideration is price. With all its dazzling battery and powertrain technology, the Pacifica Hybrid is notably more expensive than the equivalent Pacifica. But wait. The government and your fellow taxpayers want to help. The Pacifica Hybrid is eligible for a federal tax incentive of $7,500 that essentially nullifies the ($41,090 base) Hybrid Touring Plus trim’s $7,400 premium over the equivalent non-hybrid.

PHEV hungry? Check out our 2018 Plug-In Hybrid Comparison Test

Amplifying the Pacifica Hybrid’s government-assisted price parity are superior operating costs. Based on 15,000 annual miles, the EPA predicts you’ll spend only $950 on gasoline annually, compared to $1,750 for the regular Chrysler Pacifica. With no price premium to recoup the Pacifica hybrid starts saving you money immediately -- assuming you can exploit the $7,500 federal tax credit. Most hybrid vehicles take years to recoup their loftier purchase price.

Drive the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid and it quickly becomes clear that hybrid vehicles have evolved from the small, goofy-looking environmental statement pieces they once were. In nearly all regards the plug-in Pacifica is simply a minivan, ably hauling people and cargo in agreeable fashion. No pretense. Few compromises. Awesome efficiency. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the first hybrid minivan is that it took carmakers this long to arrive.

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