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The Chrysler Pacifica minivan has much to admire

Who do we admire anymore?

Given the choice of talentless cretins who populate the entertainment field and hold political office, I am more likely to admire the Japanese maple tree growing in my backyard. It’s beautiful, and it brightens my day every time I look at it, offering far more comfort than I ever expected a plant could provide. So, when an ordinary object of the Clark Kent variety turns out to be Superman, you do want to admire it.

That certainly holds true for the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan.

Considering its utilitarian mission, the Pacifica proves to be quite fetching, even distinctive. Its new front grille, headlamps, fog lamps and taillamps, and the reverse slanted rear pillars make for a sophisticatedly styled schlepper. Chrysler would prefer you consider it a crossover, but the sliding side doors say otherwise.

Nevertheless, it gets a host of changes for 2021.

Aside from the updated wardrobe, the Pacifica gets a fully automatic all-wheel-drive system, and a new top-of-the-line Pinnacle model. There’s an all-new Uconnect 5 system, which features a new 10.1-inch touchscreen, Amazon Alexa, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a home screen that can be personalized for six different users. There are more tech niceties, such as Bluetooth that allows two phones to connect simultaneously, and up to 12 USB Type A and Type C ports. Parents will appreciate the new “FamCAM” interior camera that gives the driver a high-definition view of rear-facing child seats in the second row, and it can zoom in for a closer view.

Of course, given the choice, most of us would really rather drive a posh SUV or a thrilling sports car than a minivan, which is why Chrysler now offers a posh Pinnacle trim at the top of the line, featuring caramel Nappa leather seats in all three rows and matching quilted lumbar pillows in the second-row captain’s chairs. That said, the lineup has been simplified for the new model year. Whereas the 2020 Pacifica had eight trim levels, there are four this year: Touring, Touring L, Limited and Pinnacle.

The hybrid is now a driveline option, not a separate model, and is available across the lineup, but it’s not offered with all-wheel drive.

But this scenario has yet to unfold. Until then, customers will have to settle for the 2020 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan like this week’s tester, which is far from a consolation prize.

Chrysler is the world’s only manufacturer of a hybrid minivan, and like the standard minivan, it uses the corporate 3.6-liter V-6, albeit modified for hybrid duties, working in concert with two electric motors to deliver 260 horsepower to the front wheels through an electrically variable transmission developed by Chrysler. Electric power is supplied by a 16.0-kWh battery pack comprising 96 lithium-ion cells housed in the underfloor bins where the second-row seats normally stow. It recharges in two hours on a 240-volt circuit or in about 14 hours using a 120-volt outlet.

That supplies enough juice to run 33 miles solely on electric power, returning the equivalent of 8w mpg, according to the EPA. Once that point is reached, the Pacifica acts like a conventional hybrid, with the electric motor working in tandem with the gas engine to deliver 30 mpg in combined city/highway driving, 10 mpg more than the standard Pacifica enough to save $800 annually in fuel costs according to the EPA.

The added weight doesn’t seem to affect performance. The driveline is smooth and responsive, with the Hybrid driveline obediently delivering a smooth surge of power. It never feels overtaxed, even with a hefty amount of luggage and seats filled with family members. The steering is light and lacking in feel, but accurate. Body lean is moderate, and body motions are well controlled, furnishing a compliant, comfortable ride. It’s an easy vehicle to drive smoothly. Fuel economy came in at 28 mpg, a bit lower than the estimate thanks to a heavy throttle foot.

Driver assistance gear includes standard blind-spot monitoring with rear cross path detection, and optional forward collision warning, lane departure warning, parking assist, and a surround view camera. Although NHTSA hasn’t crash tested the Pacifica Hybrid, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates it a Top Safety Pick Plus, its top ranking.

Front seats proved roomy, comfortable and could be heated and cooled. Second row seats provide adequate legroom and slide back and forth for cargo/people carrying flexibility. However, the seating is low; better for children than for adults, although headroom is impressive. And, given the lack of children during the test drive, the cabin proved to be quiet thanks to insulated side glass.

If you think the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is just another glammed-up box, you’d be wrong. Quiet, comfy, powerful yet fuel efficient, not to mention incredibly useful for so many things, it looks more beautiful the longer you use it.

Consider it something worth admiring in a world where there’s so little left to respect.

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