2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid: first drive of plug-in hybrid minivan

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The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid wraps a number of firsts into one innovative package.

The Pacifica minivan, launched this year, has received positive reviews for its combination of stylish design, comfortable interior, easy-to-use infotainment, and capacious carrying capacity for up to eight adults and their goods.

Despite its name, the Pacifica Hybrid is a plug-in hybrid with a 16-kilowatt-hour battery pack that gives it an estimated EPA-rated electric range of 30 miles. That makes it the world's first plug-in hybrid minivan.

DON'T MISS: Chrysler Pacifica: The Car Connection's 2017 Best Car To Buy

The combination of an seven-seat vehicle with usable electric range will be appealing enough for families and others who like the utility, capacity, and ease of entry that minivans offer.

But the Pacifica Hybrid is also good as an electric vehicle, with strong enough electric power that it doesn't kick on its engine at the merest provocation, as do lower-range plug-in hybrids from luxury makers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

We tried hard to get the vehicle into this year's Green Car Reports Best Car To Buy award competition, but Chrysler's embargo on driving impressions (today) missed our deadline for the award by exactly one day.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica - Best Car to Buy 2017

2017 Chrysler Pacifica - Best Car to Buy 2017

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Getting behind the wheel of the plug-in hybrid Pacifica, very little is changed from the conventional version that is now appearing on U.S. roads.

Slightly different frontal styling and a charge port on the left-front fender are about the only clues to the electrified minivan's very different powertrain.

And Fiat Chrysler, whose CEO has long trumpeted his irritation at having to produce zero-emission vehicles to stay legal in California, has produced a remarkably good plug-in hybrid for its first effort.

ALSO SEE: Chevrolet Bolt EV: Green Car Reports' Best Car To Buy 2017

The company's philosophy is that this is a powertrain option, not a lifestyle, and so it's relatively simplified.

This explains, among other things, the choice of name: "hybrid" is a familiar term that translates to better energy efficiency, whereas "plug-in hybrid" will likely be confusing to family-vehicle buyers of the sort who don't read sites like this one.

Starting off with a charged battery, the Pacifica Hybrid defaults to all-electric operation—though unlike the Prius Prime, it will kick on the engine when full throttle is needed (and keep it on for long enough to warm up the emission-control system).

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

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In a variety of drive routes and conditions among three different High Gear Media editors, we found the plug-in minivan to be a capable performer on electricity alone.

It's hardly Tesla-fast, but in local use and even on highways up to about 70 mph, it will stay in all-electric mode and most likely deliver its rated 30 miles of electric range. (We haven't yet tested it in winter weather, however.)

In mixed driving conditions, including lots of up- and downhill stretches, we saw 32 miles before the battery was depleted. In the right conditions, we might expect as much as 35 miles of electric range.

CHECK OUT: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime: first drive of new plug-in hybrid

The accelerator is linear and easy to modulate, and we found the braking good: progressive and without any annoying regenerative traits. Switching from all-electric to hybrid mode was smooth, seamless, and shudder-free.

A "low" setting increases the regeneration, but it's nowhere near as strong as the BMW i3, Chevy Bolt EV or Volt, or any Tesla model.

There's no Volt-style increase in regenerative braking on demand, which means one-pedal driving would be close to impossible. Nor is there an "EV only" mode or an option to conserve battery charge for later use.


 
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