As more electrified vehicles join the list of nominees for Wards 10 Best Engines, we’ve recalibrated our testing to recognize “propulsion systems” such as EVs, plug-in EVs, hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles as an ever-increasing part of the powertrain future.
We also have learned all electrified vehicles aren’t created equal – many suffer from range limitations, noisy motors, poor calibration and hesitant and inconsistent power delivery. But we were pleasantly surprised by the ’17 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan, one of three hybrids on this year's list and among 11 electrified vehicles tested out of the field of 40.
Our judges awarded the Pacifica Hybrid high marks for the vehicle’s seamless drive quality as well as its technological advancement as the first mass-market electrified minivan in North America.
The EPA numbers alone are impressive: 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 and at speeds up to 75 mph (121 km/h). And when the 3.6L Atkinson-cycle V-6 does kick in, fuel economy still ran above 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) in our judges’ real-world, around-town driving, and topped 40 mpg (5.8 L/100 km) in one instance.
The Pacifica Hybrid accomplishes this while maintaining all of the passenger and cargo room of a minivan as well as the vehicle’s comfortable ride and steady handling. The 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack is fitted into the minivan’s underfloor tubs that are used for seat-stowage in non-hybrid models, saving intrusions into passenger and regular cargo areas. Charging via a 240V, 6.6-kW onboard charger takes about two hours, while 120V household current replenishes the battery in about 14 hours.
Total system power is rated at 260 hp, with output from the Atkinson-cycle 3.6L V-6 reduced to 220 hp and 235 lb.-ft. (319 Nm) of torque compared with the standard Pacifica V-6 that is rated at 287 hp and 262 lb.-ft. (355 Nm).
A primary electric motor dispenses 85 kW (114 hp) and 231 lb.-ft. (313 Nm) of torque while a smaller motor-generator is listed at 63 kW (84 hp) and 92 lb.-ft. (125 Nm).
Unique to the Pacifica Hybrid, and critical to its smooth and efficient operation, is the eFlite transmission developed in-house by FCA engineers. The transmission incorporates the dual electric motors, a planetary gearset and a one-way clutch to gain the most efficiency and power from the engine and both electric motors.
At lower speeds in EV mode, the two electric motors work in tandem to drive the front wheels, while the larger motor and the gasoline engine work together in hybrid mode. This is a differentiator from many hybrid systems that use the large motor only to drive the wheels with or without the gas engine, while the smaller motor is reserved strictly for starting the engine or serving as a generator.
FCA powertrain engineers did all the hard work to make their PHEV minivan simple and convenient. One example: If charged regularly, the Pacifica Hybrid can handle all the daily school drop-offs, grocery store trips and other around-town errands without burning a single drop of fuel – meaning busy parents can cross routine gas-station stops off their to-do lists.
But when it comes time for the drive to visit out-of-town relatives or take that long vacation road trip, the 7-seat Pacifica Hybrid’s multi-state range on a single tank of fuel makes it the perfect family truckster.
The best part? The Pacifica Hybrid performs all these miracles without any drama, operating much the same as a typical gasoline-engine minivan. Simply push the ignition button, put it in gear, push on the accelerator and the machinery does the rest.
“The eFlite transmission shifts between pure electric mode and a combination of electric and gasoline engine propulsion without a hiccup,” says Drew Winter, senior content director at WardsAuto.
[email protected] @bobgritzinger