To appreciate Chrysler, it helps to know a little history. The company launched the minivan segment more than 30 years ago. Today, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it seeks to redefine the segment by unveiling a new van called the Pacifica – named, apparently, for a clunky, unloved, discontinued wagon from a dozen or so years ago.
It is true that Chrysler needed to update its long-running line of Town and Country and Dodge Caravan vehicles. Their breadvan – or breadbox – shape was dull and dated, and they were falling behind more feature-laden rivals like the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.
Pacifica’s arrival also marks the wind-down of the Caravan model altogether. While there is a Caravan for 2016, the model is set to disappear as Dodge becomes a cars-only brand.
But why did they give the new van an old name with so much unappealing baggage?
Chrysler said the Pacifica nameplate has “brand equity”— that people relate to it. But I doubt many folks outside the auto industry and the small group of people who bought the old Pacifica recall the vehicle at all. Look for it online and you’ll find many images of the old version.
Touted as a unique “segment buster” in the early 2000s (again, redefining), the previous Pacifica’s legacy is one of failure. And it wasn’t even a spectacular flop, just a quiet fizzle. Almost no one noticed when it slipped away from the party after the 2008 model year.
The 2017 Pacifica van, which includes standard and gasoline-electric hybrid models, sits on a new platform that is designed to give a smoother ride and better handling than before while offering more stow-and-go seat-folding options. There’s even a built-in vacuum cleaner, which veteran minivan drivers know is probably the most useful accessory on the market.
Chrysler also offers a range of safety features that until recently were found only on luxury vehicles but are quickly becoming must-haves for large family haulers, including 360-degree Surround View camera, a parking assist system, adaptive cruise control and a forward collision warning.