Consider the poor, much maligned minivan for a minute.
Almost from the moment Chrysler’s first “Magic Wagon” – the Dodge Caravan – hit the street in 1984, someone, somewhere, took one look and said, “That’s not cool.” Despite its simple brilliance as an affordable, comfortable, practical mover of people and goods, it has been mocked mercilessly for its decidedly unfashionable looks.
Despite this, the minivan became an instant sales sensation, with names like the Chrysler Town and Country, Chevy Astro, Ford Windstar, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey overpopulating suburban driveways everywhere for the next two decades.
Hell, I had one. Two actually. A leased 2004 Pontiac Montana, replaced four years later with a 2008 Pontiac Montana SV6, also leased. And I hated it. For the entire eight years. Sure, it was perfect for those two rite-of-passage family road trips to Florida, for ferrying my oldest son to soccer tournaments, my youngest to his football games and, finally, for carting off the oldest to university. However, it made me feel like a 60-year-old man behind the wheel. Vanity, thy name is Darren. I felt uncool. Well, more uncool than usual.
Fast-forward to today. The minivan fell out of favour a few years back, shuffled to the side, and seemingly destined for the historical junkyard because of the rising popularity of slick SUVs.
But wait. Hold the eulogy.
Minivan sales, according to Bloomberg, are up significantly this year in the United States. In Canada, the Dodge Grand Caravan ($22,395 base) sold 6,368 units in April, a 76-per-cent year-over-year sales increase. It is Canada’s bestselling minivan and the 10th bestselling vehicle over all year-to-date, enjoying an unexpected renaissance.
Which brings us to the newest player on the scene: The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, here just in time to move my youngest son to university.
At first blush, I still don’t love it. Try as Chrysler might to give the Pacifica Touring-L more appealing lines – to think outside the box, so to speak – it’s still just that: an oversized, unattractive box. Painting this particular one silver doesn’t help. Yes, form follows functionality. I get it. No one buys a minivan because they wish to be noticed.
Inside, however, is a different story. The Pacifica is brimming with goodies and gadgets: infotainment connectivity, power outlets, cup holders and storage space. The seats are big and comfortable, the ergonomics sensible, with everything smartly laid out. The look is surprisingly stylish.
And here’s the best part – the vehicle’s raison d’être: Loading it for my son’s trip to Wilfrid Laurier University is a cinch. There’s seating for eight but the second and third rows, through the ingenuity of Chrysler’s Stow ’n Go seats, drop into the floor and out of sight simply, and in a matter of seconds. Lo and behold, before you is your very own personal, portable man cave – almost 4,000 litres worth of cargo space.
We, however, need the second row for passengers, and pack all of Jacob’s stuff in the nearly 2,500 litres worth of space still available with the third row hidden away.
Six years ago, I stuffed that Montana to the ceiling and had to remove the third row of seats manually, leaving them behind in the garage. This go-around, Jacob’s possessions don’t even threaten to block the view out the rear window. I swear, he has a lot of stuff, including a rather bulky keyboard (he’s a music student), but the Pacifica swallows it all up easier than a Kentucky museum sinkhole claiming Corvettes.
Hitting the highway for the more than two-hour trip, the engine – a 3.6-litre V-6 – is responsive, smooth and quiet, although there’s an occasional bit of hesitation from the nine-speed automatic transmission. Its 287 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque provide enough backbone to move its 1,950 kilograms quickly and effortlessly.
Fun to drive? Uh, sure. Certainly not exciting, but pleasant. I didn’t hate it – maybe because I’m a lot closer to 60 now.
There is, of course, the elephant in the minivan: the Pacifica’s price for all this family friendliness. The base model starts at $43,995, rising to $52,995 for the Limited edition. Tack on the available options, and the Limited version tops $60,000. Sure, funnyman and Pacifica spokesman Jim Gaffigan can easily afford a whole fleet of them, but for the rest of us that’s a lot of tuition money.