I finally did it: I'm a dad. The funny thing is, I've always owned dad cars, even before I needed to. Owning anything with less than four doors never made much sense, which is how I ended up with a stable of souped-up grandpa cars from the Sixties and Seventies. Now that I'm a father, the '74 Oldsmobile sedan I brought my wife and son home from the hospital in seems a bit dated. And that, my friends, is how I found myself on this quest to find the perfect new dad car. The most recent contestant: The 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.
The 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited, By the Numbers:
Base Price (Price as Tested): $46,390 ($46,390)
Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6 and 16-kWh lithium ion battery pack, 287 hp combined (torque figure not available); electronically variable transmission; front-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: 84 mpge (electric-only mode); 31 mpg combined
0-60 MPH: 7.8 seconds (Car and Driver testing)
Range: Fully gassed up and charged, the Pacifica Hybrid can go up to a claimed 566 miles.
Random fact: A huge, clip-on bus driver mirror will allow you to see more of what your children are up to behind you, but won't do much to keep them from screwing around back there.
When Chrysler introduced the car-based front-wheel drive minivan for the 1984 model year, it was a novel concept. Here it was, something better than the by then-hated family station wagon. Thanks to improved cargo space, seating capacity, fuel economy, traction and small car exterior dimensions, it was, for all intents and purposes, the greatest thing since sliced bread. And they sold like hotcakes.
Fast-forward to today. All but the most enlightened Americans still seem to hate station wagons, and minivans—once the darling of families all over the country—have been relegated to the ranks of vehicles deemed uncool by those afraid to face the fact that no parents, no matter what they drive, are cool. (Personally, I'm waiting for crossovers, or as I call them, "fake SUVs," to join that group, but that's another story.) The refrain to the news that someone has delivered a child into the world is a common one, typically delivered as a sort of sneer: "Oh, you had a kid. Gettin' a minivan now?"
Despite the rising popularity and booming sales of not-always-practical trucks and crossovers, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles did the unthinkable a few years back by reimagining its original utilitarian creation as the Chrysler Pacifica. Introduced for the 2017 model year, it's now available as a plug-in hybrid, and surprisingly enough for a vehicle that weighs just shy of 5,000 pounds, it boasts the second best all-electric range among all the plug-in hybrids on the market. It'll go 34 miles on an overnight 120-volt charge—enough to run most errands—and on my family's beach vacation several states away, I consistently saw 31 miles per gallon (or rather, somewhere between my lead-footed 28 mpg and my wife's ginger-toed 33 mpg).
After driving the new Pacifica Hybrid Limited all over the place for more than a week, I'm a minivan convert. To be fair, my mind had already been prepared for the change based upon my observations of how much easier a friend's life had become (he has three children) after he bought a minivan. I also harbored hazy memories from my own childhood about how much easier it had been to ride in friends' minivans than in my parents' cramped Japanese economy cars.
You may wonder if the Pacifica is fun to drive. Whatever. Irrelevant. Sure, it has an electric motor that gets it going plenty fast, and a governor that limits its speed to, ahem, a triple-digit number that precludes passing sports cars on the New Jersey Turnpike. (Don't ask me how I know.) Its surprisingly smallish size—especially when compared with some of the more bulbous large crossovers—makes guiding it through tight traffic a cinch. It's no BMW sedan, but it handled the stubborn-traffic slalom course with aplomb.
What's more important here is that my family and I were sublimely comfortable in it. Why? Because it had plenty of space for all of my kid's crap, all of my wife's crap, and—perhaps most importantly—all of my crap. Family vacation gear that could easily have swamped my tiny Subaru wagon fit nicely inside the Pacifica with room to spare, long surfboards and all. A trip to the home improvement store and the town recycling center were no sweat; the back row of seats disappears into the floor with the flip of a couple of latches.
When I got sick of driving, my wife took the wheel, and I slid into one of the middle row captains chairs to watch both the 1946 and 1964 versions of The Killers. That's right, the Limited comes standard with a DVD player, HDMI connectors, and seatback screens—enough to keep children and husbands quiet for hours. Just when I started getting into some old Bruce Brown surf flicks, I remembered to think about what the Chrysler was like to drive. Then again, the driving dynamics didn't disturb my movies and the kiddo slept all the while, so they must've been all right.
When all was said and done, everything had been so easy and pleasant, I didn't care who thought I looked like a schlub because I was behind the wheel of, or a passenger in, a minivan. There aren't many versions of this sort of vehicle left on the market—only five minivans are currently on sale in the U.S., including the Pacifica. But for those who have made a full commitment to inherently-lame family life and don't harbor pointless concern over coolness, they're thankfully still available. So if you're a dad and still struggling to fit your family's junk into the back of your cool guy WRX, take some advice from another dad: Don't be that 40-something skateboarding through life wearing a trilby and a pair of high-water pants. Act your age. Be a minivan guy.