I am the last person in the world that needs a brand-new minivan. I am a childless, urbane homosexual. I already own three vehicles—two station wagons and an SUV—that provide adequate utility (in addition to two others that don’t.) I grew up in the station wagon era of the 1970s, and thus lack even a nostalgic reference for these boxy brat-haulers. And despite my consistent pronouncements that all cars are drag, simply costumes that we put on and take off, I am indefatigably vain.
Yet after a week in a $55,265 Chrysler Pacifica Limited All-Wheel-Drive in Red Velvet, I kind of want one. While crossovers, trucks, and SUVs have gobbled up the family vehicle market, the minivan category remains the most innovative and adaptive, the locus where design and engineering creativity really shines through. Yes, driving James Bond’s one-off Aston Martin DB10 may have made me feel enough like 007 to order a vanilla milkshake "shaken, not stirred." But if one really wishes to feel like a super-spy, the Pacifica is easily the most inventive, gadget-laden vehicle on the contemporary marketplace.
Patterson-Greenfield may have patented the first inner-track sliding door back in the late 19th century. The Kaiser Darrin may have made it weird. And Elon may have insisted on making it Dada-level absurd. But it’s Chrysler that pioneered the dual power-operated sliding side door. I can say with confidence that there is no easier nor more graceful way to get into and out of a vehicle. Nor is there one that more delights rear seat passengers when you pull up to the curb: Open the door with one press of the overhead button, close it with another. This feature’s functionality beats a coach-doored Rolls-Royce, and should alone allow the Pacifica to take the SUV’s middle name.
And have you experienced the black magic that is Chrysler’s patented Stow-‘N-Go seating system? To make the heated, Napa-leather-lined second-row captain’s chairs disappear—I mean completely disappear—from the cabin, all one has to do is press a conveniently-mounted button that motors the front seat forward, flip up a carpet-covered storage hatch, pull one strap, and the whole bucket folds and vanishes into the undercarriage. It takes about 15 seconds per side, and can be done with one hand. In contrast, I could barely figure out how to flip forward the second row in the new-generation Cadillac Escalade I recently tested. And don’t get me started on the power-operated second row in the BMW X7, which alternately tried to lock out or crush my passengers.
The Chrysler's 60/40 split third row performs similar effects, but under electric power, somersaulting into the rear cargo area. Either side can also be power-reclined nearly 45 degrees. If you stow the second row and sit in the third, you end up with more than 50 inches of rear legroom. Try that in a Maybach GLS 600.
Oh, and for those invasive helicopter parents (or friends), there’s a flip-down fish-angle rear-view mirror housed in the overhead console for surveilling rear passengers. If that’s not Foucaultian enough, Chrysler's updated UConnect infotainment system has a digital spy camera trained on each back row. If the driver clicks on a particular passenger, the camera zooms in, allowing parents to perpetuate the menacing myth of their omniscience. Wireless phone charging, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a heated steering wheel, a waterproof storage slot for a wet umbrella, literally one zillion USB charging ports, and an onboard vacuum cleaner round out the Pacifica's neat convenience features. And while you won’t win any drag races, an EPA rating of 20 mpg is realistic.
As it turns out, loyal owners feel much the same way I do about the there-when-you-need-anything, superhero-esque capabilities of their minivans. Alexander Edwards is president of automotive research and consulting firm Strategic Vision, which conducts in-depth psychographic surveys with hundreds of thousands of new car buyers each year. He says minivans delivery high on notions of "safety," "security," and "comfort," as well as on "meeting the needs of the owner." In fact, they hit this final mark higher than nearly any other vehicle category, besting luxury cars and the overall industry average by ten points. And while the vans score below average on notions of "freedom" and "esteem," especially in providing a sense of "power" and "individuality," no one is expecting any of that from a minivan.
Except maybe me. Shouldn’t Chrysler find a way to Electric Hellcat one of these?
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