Minivans exhibit some of the best examples of practical engineering. Their space-efficient exterior proportions aren’t the most athletic or adventurous looking but they seem to conjure the creative spirit that leads to better solutions for everyday problems as opposed to simply new ideas. And with this model’s $51,000 price tag, there are plenty of examples of ingenuity but what better way to find out than a road trip through the southern Rocky Mountains.
The standard minivan profile already makes for easy ingress/egress with a low floor, a natural-height hip point, and a high roofline, and when getting ready for the big trip, ones hands might be too full to press the button on the door or on the key fob. In those cases, the Pacifica has you covered with a foot-waving sensor to activate the sliding doors – though practice is advised before attempting in public. For more packing space, the third row can be folded or tumbled into the floor with a single press of the button to allow you to go back and get more stuff while it finishes its mechanical dance.
If even more space is needed, the Pacifica’s second-row seats will tumble into a cavity cutout in the floor with just a pull of a strap and a firm downward shove. No tools and no heavy lifting are required and the result is a flat loading floor that requires zero planning ahead.
As the road-trip miles add up, one might want to check in on what’s happening in the back. The Pacifica has a clever solution to help with that. It’s called the Fam Cam and it is a wide-angle camera lens that provides a rear-facing view of the second-row occupants and a forward-facing view of the third-row. It can also zoom in to a particular seating area and it works at night.
There’s no need to wait until the van gets back home before clean-up work can begin. The Pacifica’s onboard vacuum is more than capable of sucking up sand and dirt from any area of the van and there are several adaptors included. Even its canister is easy to empty.
Despite the cavernous interior, some items are simply too large or just don’t belong in the cabin and get relegated to the roof. For those times, the Pacifica includes roof cross rails that are integrated into the longitudinal rail. This helps avoid having to rummage around the garage or the need for any tools.
The panoramic sunroof extends to the second-row, which is more than what some competitors offer, and the Pacifica engineers graciously thought to include the third-row occupants too and installed a fixed glass panel above their heads. The result is an expansive feel that helps everyone stay just a little calmer during the endless hours on the road.
The Harman Kardon 18-speaker sound system is ready to envelop its passengers with its bass-heavy sound. Whether its an F-14 fly-by or simply rocking out to your favorite tunes, the improved-for-2021 sound system is ready to liven up the road trip experience.
Looking at the driving experience, the Pacifica’s powertrain meets the expectations for a minivan and feels geared towards smoothness and maximum efficiency. Its V6 is strong across the rev range and its fuel economy is reasonable. The 9-speed transmission is well behaved, despite the number of gears from which it has to choose, and the newly available (standard on this Limited trim) all-wheel drive worked seamlessly when asked to push the Pacifica through the slushy remains of a Denver blizzard.
While the Pacifica demonstrated that it’s been thoroughly engineered with a very practical purpose, the long road trips offer a lot of time to consider the “what else?”.
Starting with the design of things, the interior dash is full of ovals and curves that don’t particularly look high-rent or carry any inspiring design theme. Plus, the space taken up by the unnatural transmission knob pushes the HVAC controls so they are off-center from the large infotainment screen that sits above. It features the brand’s latest UConnect 5 system which experienced several glitches but nothing that a reboot didn’t resolve. Plus, it has over-the-air update capability so a trip to the dealership most likely won’t be necessary for a correction.
For the second-row seats to be able to perform their disappearing act, their designs required a couple of noticeable compromises. The cushions feel short and flat and there is no fore/aft adjustment so legroom isn’t overly generous. In order to get that lounge experience that one dreams of on a long road trip, one would need to collapse the second-row seats and hop the third row, not exactly ideal for holding a conversation or viewing the 10-inch front-row-mounted flip-up screens.
The powertrain could also use some additional attention to improve the engine’s coarse sound at mid-rpm, its tendency to start in second gear which leads to sluggish acceleration off the line, and lethargic gear changes which are smooth but not very satisfying to the ears. It’s simply not inspiring to drive.
The addition of the AWD system brings a very slight rise in ride height but, at just 5.4-inches, there are going to be a lot of times where the Pacifica will be the one doing the plowing.
And despite improvements in noise control, the interior was still a bit noisy on the highway, a challenge for every vehicle with a large open interior.
After a week of commuting through heavy snow and bright sunshine, going on a long road trip, and examining each square inch inside and out, the Pacifica proved the value of its practical ways time and time again. It’s a minivan to the max with its clever packaging, thoughtful features, and exceptional capability. However, those looking for driver engagement or a collective sense of luxury would do best to check out its competitors.