TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Just me and my minivan (well, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ press-fleet test vehicle). But we did just fine by ourselves.
I trekked from southern to northern Michigan in Chrysler Pacifica’s version of a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle. Destination: the 52nd annual Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars, a granddaddy of automotive conferences.
OK, I realize the minivan is a peoplemover more than a person-mover. I should have had five others with me to achieve the vehicle’s full utilitarian effect. In lieu of humans, I brought a lot of stuff, including an overloaded suitcase, not one but two briefcases, golf clubs and my kitchen stove (just kidding about that one).
Needless to say, there was plenty of room. I also could have accommodated a bevy of hitchhikers. But a road sign along the way warning “Prison Area – Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers” thwarted that notion.
But the primary mission of the drive was to put the minivan, its clever propulsion system and assorted advanced technology (adaptive cruise control is wonderful on highways) to the road test.
The Pacifica Hybrid made the grade in various departments, the first one being fuel economy. I averaged a nice 28.2 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) for the entire trip, which consisted of limited city driving, some motoring at moderate speeds on county roads and a lot of wide-open barreling up I-75 (where the speed limit on some stretches has been increased to 75 mph [121 km/h]).
Under those circumstances, 28 mpg is respectable in a fullsize vehicle with a PHEV powertrain that performs at its fuel-economical best in the stop-and-go environment of city roads. For example, the regenerative braking that helps battery recharging is not happening much in non-stop freeway driving.
Otherwise, the Pacifica Hybrid defaults to electric mode (its most efficient) whenever possible. Before I depleted my e-fuel, I averaged 57.8 mpg (4.07 L/km).
I had a full charge when I left home and drove 25 miles (40 km) before my electric power supply was drained. Most of that early driving was on a high-speed freeway.
This is the first-ever mass-market electrified minivan in North America, and it comes from the brand that invented the minivan in the 1980s and remains the segment leader, even though the sector is less popular than it once was. Since 1983, the automaker has sold 10 million minivans.
Here’s the Pacifica PHEV’s make up: a 220-hp, high-compression Atkinson-cycle V-6 (a derivative of FCA’s award-winning standard Pentastar V-6) is paired with two electric motors. A 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack sits under the floor of the second row of seats.
Many hybrid systems use the larger of the two electric motors to drive the wheels with or without the gasoline engine, but the large motor never works in tandem with the smaller one. It primarily serves as a starter-generator.
But in the Pacifica, an electrically variable transmission, using a planetary gearset and one-way clutch, draws on both electric motors and the gasoline engine to rotate the wheels.
The plug-in Pacifica is a 2017 Wards 10 Best Engines winner. Judges were impressed by the system’s seamless integration. All electrified vehicles are not created equal. Some stand out for their sophistication, the Pacifica’s SI-EVT eHybrid among them.
The EPA numbers impress: 84 mpg-e (2.9 L/100 km) and 566 miles (911 km) of range, including up to 33 miles (53 km) of all-electric range.
During the Wards 10 Best Engines judging, there was little disagreement over putting this system in the winners’ circle, although one judge tempered her praise by suggesting the Pacifica might be too big for a PHEV. The e-miles seemed to melt away fast, she said.
Fair point. But as another judge noted, the Pacifica Hybrid performs a lot of miracles without a lot of drama.