When future anthropologists want to understand American cultural between 1980 and 2020, they might do well to start with the curious case of The Minivan. When it was introduced by Chrysler in the early 80s, it was at once a utilitarian triumph (7 seats on a unibody chassis!), a corporate savior, and even a sort of status symbol. The family-oriented SUV as we know it today didn’t really exist, and the early minivans represented the only (relatively) fuel efficient way to transport your kids and their junk. Of course, we all know what came next. Everyone decided at once that minivans weren’t cool. And, as image and brand became more important, the mall parking lots of America went through several cycles of trucks -> sedans -> SUVs -> crossovers -> really big trucks -> crossovers. Now though, it feels like something has changed, and the minivan is again – dare we say it – having a moment.
It’s maybe not the type of moment where someone’s going to write a song saying “I heard you and your family sold your SUV and bought a minivan,” but it seems like their image is shifting. Most of the SUV/crossover trend was driven by image-conscious consumers. In 2019, though, being conspicuously concerned with image isn’t cool. The Instagram influencer is the most deservedly derided profession in our strange, modern times. Quietly doing a job well and more efficiently is cool. Being mediocre but shouting about how masculine you look or how great you might be *if* you ever were to go off-road is … not. It’s true that at their worst, minivans were slow, cheap feeling, uninteresting boxes for the parts of your life that just needed to get someplace somehow. Now, they’re still slow, but minivans have assumed the type of cool reserved for those people who you know have interesting lives, but managed to not be on social media. Pretty amazing for a car whose basic design never really changed.
We here at TeamClearCoat Global HQ lived with the 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid for a week, and the best analogy we came up with is that it’s a belt sander. Whatever you’re doing with it, the Pacifica sands off the rough edges. Only one of us is be-offspringed (which makes the other be-savings-accounted), but we both found that while none of our experiences were exactly more exciting with the Pacifica, they were all just a little easier. Date night transportation for an enthusiast is sometimes a dicey proposition (will the valet destroy the clutch, will you make it in the driveway, will it start, etc). But with the Pacifica, you’re both in a quiet, comfortable, and well made environment. Hey, maybe FCA can get the Pacifica interior team to look over, uhh, everything else they make. Even the solo morning commute was more relaxing after a night of charging the battery.
And while we know it’s probably not right to refer to the unbridled joy of a child’s voice as a “rough edge,” the built-in screens ensure you won’t have too much unbridled joy in your life (EDITOR’S NOTE: I am at 3,576 counts of “when are you done typing” unbridled joys). The sliding doors and easy-to-reach position of the middle row seats make it much faster to get the kids in and out. One of the TeamClearCoat kids is only a year, which means the amount of stuff he requires usually means Marshall Plan levels of logistical planning. Even with the third seat erected, there was plenty of room and clever packaging for everything we needed.
It might seem weird for an ostensibly enthusiast focused blog to take 5 paragraphs before getting around to a car’s driving dynamics, but here we are. In truth, the Pacifica in hybrid trim is the best driving minivan either of us have experienced. But let’s not get crazy – the best you can really hope for with a car like this is that the driving experience gets out of the way of the rest of what’s on offer. And on that point it delivers. Still, there is a sort of fun to be had. The hybrid drive information on the dash is really intuitive and appealed to us by relaying real information about what was happening under us. There are a few throttle and brake positions where you’re reminded through the seat of your pants that there’s a lot going on between electric and internal combustion drivetrains. But for the most part, it abstracts all that complication and just smooths it all out for you. You can’t even change gear, which really just adds to the “don’t worry, I got you boo” vibe of the Pacifica.
A long time ago, we talked about what filmmakers map best to which cars. At the time, I thought Ron Howard’s excellent, if workman-like style meant he was basically Porsche. But now I realize the Pacifica Hybrid is the better example of the “Ron Howard enigma”. That by letting go of posturing you end up with something that just *works*. And that something well-executed is its own sort of genius. And that, maybe, just maybe, it might be a little cool.