When it comes to all-wheel-drive minivans, the North American market has been long dominated by the Toyota Sienna, a vehicle that has run largely unopposed against its competition. Now, Chrysler will enter its own offering into the mix with an all-new drivetrain in its popular Pacifica minivan. There's just one simple but awesome difference: it can send all the power to the rear wheels.
A minivan's design isn't something that one would typically describe as "cool," but the Pacifica isn't your typical minivan. It's one of the leading contenders in a tight-knit market, and newly crafted styling is just one of the many important changes ushered into the facelifted 2021 Chrysler Pacifica.
The most important of which, however, is the minivan's brand new all-wheel-drive platform. Moreover, the minivan makes use of an elaborate mechanical torque vectoring system to move power between the front and rear axles, enabling owners to tread through whatever life throws their way.
Under most conditions, the van will operate by sending power to just the front wheels, but here are pre-programmed scenarios that will signal the van to call for all-wheel-drive. This means that if the exterior temperature could freeze water, the windshield wipers are switched on, the front wheels begin to slip, or you happen to be a bit heavy-footed when passing on the highway, the minivan will seamless begin to deliver power to the rear axles. Chrysler says that it won't limit the system to a trivial amount either—and if needed—it will send all available engine output directly to the rear wheels.
While this platform isn't meant to put you on the road to Formula D, it's certainly something not typically seen in the minivan segment. It's all about practicality, which is a staple of any people-hauler. That's why it's also important to note that Chrysler somehow managed to retain the Pacifica's coveted Stow 'n Go seating system despite running a driveshaft the length of the vehicle while only raising the ride height three-quarters of an inch.
Sadly, the all-wheel-drive platform is exclusive to the gasoline-powered Pacifica, meaning that Hybrid owners can't have their electric cake and eat it too. Likely, this is attributed to the way Chrysler stores the hybrid variant's 16-kilowatt-hour battery module which is nestled deep into the vehicle's floor, making it even more difficult to send power to the rear wheels.
The Pacifica is also Chrysler's first North American vehicle to offer the automaker's newest flavor of its UConnect 5 infotainment software. The update breathes refreshed life into the system's already robust interface, tying Amazon's Alexa into the vehicle. Occupants can ask Alexa to perform nearly any skill it can ask of a standalone Echo device, including playing music, checking the news, or adding something to their to-do list. This also ties the van into the Alexa ecosystem, enabling owners to unlock their van's doors or start the vehicle from inside of their homes.
Chrysler bravely encroached on Honda's bread and butter by equipping the Pacifica with the FamCAM. The cleverly named feature is an interior-facing camera that is used to monitor occupants from the upgraded 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Chrysler has opted to add a split-screen view that can also peek in on rear-facing child seats, as well as zoom in on individual passengers for a closer look.
Stuffing an all-wheel-drive system into a minivan without making the vehicle feel bulky and unwelcoming has proven to be difficult for automakers. For consumers, this means another carefully crafted vehicle abandoning the stigma that is front-wheel-drive.
If America can idolize the long-defunct Toyota Previa, it can certainly learn to love the feature-packed Pacifica. And in a world of SUVs, maybe, just maybe, it can learn to love the minivan.