Picking which Pacifica to buy just got more difficult.
We've said this before and we'll say it again: You should buy a minivan, or at least consider one before thoughtlessly hopping into some SUV. Today's minivans are roomier, drive better, and are typically more affordable than their crossover counterparts. That's doubly true of the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica, which builds on a great base with thorough upgrades and, for the first time since the 2004 Town And Country, the inclusion of all-wheel drive.
According to Chrysler, not having all-wheel drive was a “non-starter” for some customers interested in the current Pacifica, particularly those in the middle of the country that see feet of snow each winter. Accompanying the new powertrain option is refreshed tech and improved styling, making the Pacifica that much harder to ignore.
The same powertrain options from last year's Pacifica carry over: A naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6 and a plug-in hybrid setup that combines a retuned version of the engine with two electric motors. The former is good for 287 horsepower while the latter produces a scant 260 horses. The plug-in’s batteries take up the space that a driveshaft would occupy, so all-wheel drive is limited to the gas-only model.
We drove the all-wheel-drive Pacifica on the rain-soaked roads of rural North Carolina, which was a perfect setting to put the new drive setup to the test. Chrysler engineers note that this all-wheel-drive system is a mechanical one, with a front-wheel-drive bias that delivers an appropriate amount of torque to each axle only as needed. So in perfect conditions – 65 degrees and sunny – power still travels almost exclusively to the front wheels.
Although the nine-speed automatic is inoffensive at best in normal driving conditions, it's slow to respond when pushed.
But on these drenched North Carolina roads, the Pacifica's all-wheel-drive system works exceptionally. While there's no indication of when or how the system is functioning, the extra grip is obviously there as we flung the 4,800-pound minivan around rural roads pretty aggressively. There's not even a faint indication that the Pacifica might lose traction, even on extremely damp pavement.
In terms of handling, the Pacifica's steering has a nice weighty feel to it and provides good feedback. There's still body roll – as with almost all minivans – but the Pacifica is flatter and smoother than most of the alternatives. If anything, the V6 could be a bit peppier. The Pacifica isn't slow, but the gas engine lacks the low-end torque you get from the plug-in hybrid version or even the hybrid Toyota Sienna (thanks, electric motors). On some steeper roads, the V6 wheezes and whines more than it should. And although the nine-speed automatic is inoffensive at best in normal driving conditions, it's slow to respond when pushed.
Bold Looks, Better Tech
The upgrades to the exterior of the 2021 Pacifica are subtle, and really only obvious when you put this car side-by-side with its predecessor, but overall, this minivan looks much cleaner. The headlights are slimmer and extend further onto the front bumper, there's a larger grille between them with a fresh mesh design, and the new wraparound light bar in the rear looks like a riff of what you get on the Dodge Charger and Challenger. The goal, its designers say, was to make the latest Pacifica look more like an SUV – and if you glance solely at the tapered front end, it sort of works. Almost.
Inside it's a bit more obvious that you're sitting in a minivan. But, Chrysler did make a few tweaks to the Pacifica to give the cabin a more modern look. The center console (on certain trims) now flows seamlessly into the dash, wrapping around a cleaner 10.1-inch embedded touchscreen and joined by nicer trim pieces like lacquered wood. There's also a new Pinnacle trim for 2021 that adds a black-and-caramel leather combo with quilted stitching and even a pair of tiny quilted throw pillows in the second row. Chrysler says this is the most luxurious interior ever offered on a Pacifica, and we agree – the second row is a very nice place to sit.
But it's the thoughtful rejiggering of the storage – somehow adding even more capacity to the already cavernous minivan – that makes the inside of the 2021 Pacifica so impressive. If you opt for the range-topping Pinnacle trim, the Pacifica now offers 227.6 liters of total cargo volume, including 12.1 liters of storage up front thanks to the combo of a larger center cubby and a wider pass-through opening just underneath the dash.
The standard 10.1-inch touchscreen in the Pacifica is a nice addition. An upgrade over last year's 8.4-inch screen, this setup now runs the latest Uconnect 5 system, which is a huge improvement over version four. The home screen layout is cleaner, the graphics are crisper, the response time is smartphone-fast, and the navigation gets more seamless and easier to use. There's also wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for the first time, both standard, and a new FamCam feature. Similar to what you get in the Honda Odyssey, FamCam displays a bird's-eye view of the rear seats.
The kiddos in the second row also get updated versions of the rear entertainment system. It still allows them to stream music and videos from a smartphone but also adds new games and a few different functions for 2021. And there are plenty of ways to plug in; the 2021 Pacifica has up to 12 USB-C and USB-A ports located throughout the cabin, plus an optional wireless charger up front.
Take Your Pick
The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica starts at $35,000 for a base Touring model. Our Limited tester (forgive the Pinnacle trim in the gallery) costs $46,000 out of the box, and all-wheel drive adds an extra $2,500 on top of that (on the Touring model, it costs $2,995). If you want to go all out on the range-topping Pinnacle model, it will set you back $51,000 plus an additional $2,500 for all-wheel drive.
Whatever the cost though, the Chrysler Pacifica certainly has mass appeal, whether it be a sporty-looking plug-in hybrid, a luxurious V6-powered Pinnacle model, or something in between. Adding all-wheel drive, fresh exterior cues, and more tech to the lineup only makes the decision of which Pacifica to buy that much more difficult.
Pacifica Competitor Reviews:
Gallery: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica AWD: First Drive
2021 Chrysler Pacifica Limited AWD