Filed under: Autos, Features, New car introductions
The rich memories of my childhood include our family drives, usually on Sunday afternoons, in the rural areas north of Duluth, Minnesota. From the back seat of our black, 1951 DeSoto sedan, my sister and I would join my mom and dad playing word games, usually picking some everyday object and trying to prevent the rest of the family from identifying it. While asking for clues, the common starter was: “Is it bigger than a breadbox?”
There’s no time for family drives anymore, it seems, and our own two sons are adults, growing up before current electronic connectivity, videos and smartphones replaced guessing games. And what the heck is a breadbox, anyway?
Chrysler LLC has done its best to recapture that nostalgic era of family drives and possibly rekindle the demand for the family utility of minivans when it introduced the 2017 Pacifica, a totally renovated version of its once and present — and maybe future — premier family hauler. The Pacifica is Chrysler’s new minivan, a vehicle which might best be described as the automotive version of a breadbox; it stores people the way breadboxes used to store assorted loaves of fresh-baked bread.
In a unique idea, Chrysler invited auto journalists to The Resort at Pelican Hills, just south of Los Angeles, and to bring our families along. No limit on how many kids in a family, but they they had to fit into one room. However, The Resort at Pelican Hills offers more than just a room. More of a series of individual 3-bedroom condos complete with three bathrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, and enormous space, including outside decks, overlooking over a golf course with the Pacific Ocean just beyond.
How sophisticated was The Resort at Pelican Hills? The condo immediately next to us housed Ben Roethlisberger, the gigantic Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, with a revolving assortment of friends. Ben usually left the garage door open, giving us a good view of his gleaming white Ferrari, and a more symbolic view of why big-time quarterbacks need multi-million-dollar annual salaries.
For the auto journalists, there was no age limit on the “kids.” Unfortunately our younger son, Jeff, couldn’t join his older brother, Jack, and my wife, Joan, and me. Joan and Jack always have contributed opinions to my reviews for Newcarpicks, so it was sort of like a field trip for the three of us. Joan always has helps me evaluate test cars at home, and Jack provides views, and supplements my passion for photographing cars at car shows or Midwest Auto Media Association rally events.
As we first approached the Pacifica, and before we had even climbed aboard, Joan said: “I like the design. It’s really beautiful and sleek — especially for a minivan.”
The plan included each family getting a Pacifica for a full day of free time, either on your own or following planned trips itineraries in Los Angeles, Hollywood, or on down the Coast to San Diego — the perfect way to learn first-hand all the Pacifica could offer as a contemporary family hauler.
The striking appearance of the exterior led to some questions for chief designer Brandon Faurote, because while designing the Pacifica, it was an all-new breadbox, but a breadbox nonetheless. “There’s no better way to move people and cargo than a minivan,” he said. “If you have three kids, there’s nothing better.”
On the road, we drove south, and then through the Southern California mountain curves inland from San Diego to the Safari affiliate location of the world-famous San Diego Zoo. It was plenty twisty, but the tight steering allowed us trace perfect arcs around the tightest, more like a sports sedan. As if to provide a subtle analogy, the Safari staff provided a speed test with a cheetah, which sped past in an elongated cage, chasing a spring-loaded bait and nearly catching it, with a 0-70 mph burst that eluded the naked eye, but, fortunately, was caught on camera.
Later we cruised to Laguna Beach, various coastal towns and shops, restaurants and other attractions, always in spacious comfort. Jack, mostly encased in the rear seats, enjoyed the flexibility of the Stow ‘n Go arrangement to fold the second-row buckets flat into the floor. He didn’t get as much time as he’d have liked to watch the video screen and use the wireless speakers on the optional Infinity sound system, but he could appreciate the tight stability and handling from back there.
“It’s the perfect vehicle,” said Jack, a confirmed 2-door coupe zealot who once played guitar in a rock band. “It handles like a sports car, with enough room for the whole band. The Wi-Fi on board is one of the most useful things ever.
“It’s extremely quiet, for as rigid as the suspension is. Maybe it’s because we’re driving on roads without potholes. We’re just not used to that in Minnesota. And the Stow ‘n’ Go seats are now power operated.”
Joan was the perfect scrutinizer for the finer interior touches, such as the large and stylishly finished nav screen flush with its border. She liked the soft-touch material that gave the dash an extra feel of luxury.
“Inside, I like everything, including the layout of the instruments and things like the rotating shift dial on the console,” said Joan. She was more impressed the second day, when we moved up from the fully competent base model to the Limited. “Back seats are not always comfortable in minivans, but this one is,” she said. “The front seats are more comfortable in the Limited, too. If we had a family of young kids, I’d get one of these, because there is not one thing to not like.
“The way it’s set up for baby seats is great, and the Stow ‘n’ Go gives you a place to put your purse or other valuables. Every car should have that. They must have a mom on the design staff.”
That was all part of the plan, said Faurote, the designer who created a vehicle that most resembles an amalgamation of a minivan, SUV, and station wagon. “We wanted to appeal to both side of the brain, both the rational and emotional sides. We started from the ground up and changed the proportions by stretching the wheelbase, enlarging the wheels and tires, and widening the track significantly to give it a really strong presence on the road. We tried to round the corners off the box, to make it more appealing to the emotional side, versus the rational side. Something people really wanted to buy, rather than just needed to buy.”
In this connective age, we all know that features such as the Pacifica’s video screens in the backrests of the front buckets, and the larger rear-seat ceiling screen, have become the modern method for eliminating the constant “Are we there yet?” questions from kids who have lost their patience.
That, in fact, was perhaps Joan’s only criticism. We know that video games have become the pacifier/babysitter for a new generation. Can we imagine kids from today someday reminiscing about how they can’t remember anything about the family trip to the Grand Canyon, but that was the trip where they recorded their highest score in (insert name of favorite overused video)?
“I wouldn’t want the back video screens,” said Joan, recalling some great memories from actually looking out the windows at the real world speeding past, the way we used to do when our sons were kids.
Filed under: Autos, New car introductions
By John Gilbert
What would happen, I hear you ask, if all the slick new styling, interior features and attractions of SUVs and CUVs were combined with the family-friendly spaciousness and efficiency of a contemporary minivan, in one all-new vehicle? The result would be the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica — a brilliantly designed and finished family transportation module that could recapture the popularity once enjoyed by minivans.
A lot of the changes are subtle, and from a distance the Pacifica certainly looks like a minivan. But make no mistake: The Pacifica is entirely new, from its platform on up to its panoramic sunroof, and from its sleekly aerodynamic nose to its bob-tailed magnesium and aluminum liftgate. More than that, it drives brand new — more like a sports sedan than a soccer-mom-mobile, while pampering its occupants in quiet luxury.
The minivan as a U.S. automotive craze apparently ran its course in the three decades since.the sibling Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country created, expanded, and then dominated the segment that once sold about a million units per year. That number has dropped by about 50 percent as consumers become more and more infatuated with sports utility vehicles and now CUVs. But a half-million potential sales are still a lucrative target, and demographics indicating more kids are on the way might foretell a comeback for a vehicle that never really went away.
Chrysler has kept its minivan duo current, but time has come to revise the Caravan and Town & Country, so FCA — Fiat-Chrysler Automotives — decided to go all out and create an entirely new entity. That meant a new name, too, so FCA decided to reclaim its old Pacifica monicker for the vehicle that will relieve the Caravan and Town & Country of their duties as savior and mainstay of the corporation.
Minivans displaced station wagons about three decades ago as the most efficient and rational family hauler, but when they got so popular as to be commonplace, they were displaced by SUVs, which, in turn, currently are in the process of being displaced by CUVs — Compact Utility Vehicles. For some unknown reason, minivans became the vehicle that was needed, but unloved by modern buyers. Nobody wanted to boast about their minivan.
The Pacifica has a sleek attractiveness that neither minivan nor SUV has ever dreamed of, with contoured lines coming off a steeply-sloping nose, and sweeping rearward to collect themselves around a new-signature upsweep at the rear of the rearward side window, not unlike BMW’s famous rear pillar kink.
With twice the rigidity, road manners are very quiet, but with excellent road-holding dynamics. The streamlined look and the forms that flow around the vehicle in 3-dimensional contours are best defined by the 0.30 coefficient of drag.
“The grooves on the front end give a strong attitude that conveys confidence,” said chief designer Brandon Faurote, who grew up and went to high school in Winona, Minnesota. “The bright underline of the grille comes up to the outer top of the headlights. We were able to lower the occupants position in the vehicle. We wanted to create something with a strong presence that would be distinctive. The side glass tapers in, and the windshield is sloped more, helping us get a very slick aerodynamic number.
“The lower character line and the upward kick of the rear windows is a nice signature element and gives an unexpected look for a minivan. We’ve also gone from vertical to horizontal for the taillights for a more horizontal look. It’s very dramatic on the road, and emotional, which is very appealing to a driver.”
Chrysler Corporation’s Dodge Caravan was immediately dominant three decades ago, and later joined by the upscale Chrysler Town & Country, the tandem easily fought off all challengers from Ford and General Motors, and more recently faced increasing competition from the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, and Kia Sedona.
Faurote advanced the whole concept of a minivans with his exterior design, joining interior designer Chris Benjamin and chief engineer Mike Downey for a blend of ideas to make the Pacifica a complete package.
“The center structure has been strengthened for twice the torsional stiffness,” said Downey. “We previously had to compromise on our steering and suspension, but having the all-new platform meant we could change the architecture to improve steering, ride and handling.
“The sliding side doors are all aluminum, which saves 40 pounds, and they can be opened and closed hand’s-free. We use a magnesium insert and aluminum outer skin on the liftgate to save another 20 pounds. Altogether, we’ve saved 250 pounds. We also re-engineered the Stow ’n Go seats. The second seats tilt for easy access to the third row, and child seats can remain in place.”
The foldable second and third row seats disappear into below-floor cubicles to leave a large, flat floor. Stow ’n go is a Chrysler original, one of 78 firsts the company claims for its minivans over the years. The Pacifica adds 37 more new features. Sliding your foot under the sliding door or liftgate to activate them while your arms are full, may be traceable to the Ford Escape’s liftback, but it is new to minivans.
Also, Honda puts a handy on-board vacuum cleaner in the Odyssey, and the Pacifica does the same. “We have 14 feet of hose on our Stow ‘n Vac, and an extension gives you another 14 feet,” said Downey. “If you can’t do it first, do it best.”
Pricing separates the various models, starting with the L at $29,590. The Touring starts at $31,490, and Touring-L at $35,490, the Touring-L Plus at $38,890, and the Limited at $43,490.
The option bin is too tempting, but in basic form, the Pacifica offers plenty. The more potent Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 has 287 horsepower and 262 foot-pounds of torque, more than enough to hurl the Pacifica onward and upward. Its power to the front wheels is regulated by a rotating shift knob on the left side of the center stack, to mind the 9-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. The Pacifica responds swiftly and smoothly, but still attains an estimated 28 miles per gallon.
Inside, the optional plush leather seats, colors and materials were selected for artistic harmony, rather than just as an accumulation of luxury stuff. “We wanted to make the chaos less chaotic, to make it work for people,” said interior designer Benjamin. “The horizontal flow of the dashboard and the proportions of the instrument panel create a feeling of space. Every angle is soft to the touch, and we use colors and materials for contrasts.”
Larger knobs operate the radio volume and tuning, and the rotary shifter leaves extra room where the shift level would ordinarily have to be. The navigation screen is 5-inch in base form or 8.4-inch in optional size, and is bonded flush to the surface glass precisely. The huge, panoramic sunroof lets light shine in on up to eight occupants in all three rows.
With navigation and function screens, there is also an available 7-inch secondary driver display that can be programmed to contain personal information. A mobile phone app can allow vehicle owners to start the vehicle or to lock or unlock doors, honk the horn or flash the lights from anywhere.
You can also add on-demand Wi-Fi hotspot subscriptions. For backseat riders, there are 10-inch video screens in the backs of the front headrests and a rear ceiling screen for viewing videos or playing games for rearward occupants.
The Pacifica can become anything you want it to be, from an office on wheels, to a comfortable family traveling lounge, without intruding on the pleasure of driving, which combines the feel of a luxury sedan, the handling of a sports sedan, and the standard active noise cancellation of a bank vault, to eliminate virtually all outside noises from entering the interior. That enhances whichever potent audio system you choose.
As you carve perfect trajectories around mountain roadways, you forget you’re driving a minivan, because really, you’re not. Farewell, Caravan and Town & Country; long live Pacifica.
Filed under: Autos, New car introductions
By John Gilbert
Hyundai has been on an impressive upwardly-mobile roll ever since the 2011 model year, reaching levels of achievement in design and technology that couldn’t have been predicted. The Sonata has become a midsize mainstay, the Santa Fe and Tucson dependable entries in the sports-utility segments, the Genesis among sports-luxury sedans, the Accent as a subcompact, and the Veloster as a quirky specialty coupe.
There also is the compact Elantra, which was restyled for 2014, amid major upgrades to all the other vehicles coming from the South Korean manufacturer, and the Elantra surprised many even at Hyundai by winning the North American Car of the Year award in 2014, when it was last redesigned, right there among the world-class competition such as Civic, Mazda3, Corolla, Sentra and Jetta.
But now Hyundai has done it. The newest redesign of the compact Elantra for 2017 is so good it might be TOO good! I suggested to Hyundai officials that if the Sonata wasn’t one of my favorite vehicles in the automotive world, I would say the new Elantra is so good I’m not sure the Sonata is still needed.
The Sonata looks good, and the new Elantra looks like a slightly downsized Sonata, so the comparison begs to be made. A bit longer than the current model, considerably stiffer, stunning in its exterior restyling, and with driveability that is vastly improved in engine performance, steering and suspension, the new Elantra rates a “10” in every aspect, including a level of quietness that is startling for a compact. Read more
Filed under: Autos, New car introductions
By John Gilbert
The refrain sounded similar: a luxury auto-builder claiming that it could build a car that was so advanced that it would be bigger, stronger, stiffer, wider, and better-performing than “the competition.”
The competition of large luxury cars always seems is the same German triumvirate — the Mercedes S-Class, the BMW 7-Series, and the Audi A8. And while the new claims are impressive, the refrain seems wearisome, because it simply doesn’t apply once you get the car on the road.
But this time it had a different sound, because the new contender is the Cadillac CT6. You’re excused if the alpha-numeric tendency of contemporary car-makers leaves you perpetually perplexed. If not, see if you can name and identify all the Toyota Scion models, but do it quickly, before the Scion line disappears. In this case, the CT6 has nothing to do with the CTS, except by surname.
The CT6 is Cadillac’s new big sedan, a worthy replacement for all those big land yachts Cadillac used to turn out, only this one is loaded up with cutting-edge technology from its platform to its suspension, to its unique-to-Cadillac twin-turbo, dual-overhead-camshaft 3.0-liter V6.
It was first described to us by a speaker with a distinct German accent. It was Johan DeNysschen, whose name might be familiar because he is the CEO of Cadillac these days, after holding similar titles at such august companies as Audi and Infiniti, where we learned that his cars and his companies rose to prominence just as he said they would.
And he knows the German competition. He was addressing the auto media assembled at The Level, a modern, trendy hotel in Los Angeles, chosen to give us all the feeling of how the new Cadillac CT6 would fit into life in the big city. But reality got in the way of logistics. Read more
Filed under: Autos, New car introductions
Detroit, MI — The North American International Auto Show, better known as the Detroit Auto Show, had its share of surprises, but it also displayed a sense of confusion in the automotive world as it made its annual mid-January run at Cobo Hall.
The surprises include a stunning new Avista coupe from Buick, a new generation Mercedes E-Class, and several large luxury cars, including the Cadillac CT6, the Volvo S90, and the Hyundai Genesis G90.
Another surprise is that the large luxury vehicles overshadowed smaller compact-uitility CUVs, which, over the last two years, have proliferated and sold so well, causing them to become the largest single segment (14 percent) of the U.S. market. And yet even the judges for the North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year seemed oblivious to the newest and hottest trend in automotives.
The stretched-compact Honda Civic was voted car of the year, and the Volvo XC90, a breakthrough full-size SUV from the Swedish company now owned by Chinese interests, as truck/utility of the year.
Since gas has dropped down under $2 a gallon, alternative-energy cars and hybrids have taken a huge hit, while buyers once again have exercised that lustful American ideal of bigger is better. Nowhere was there a nod to the popularity of CUVs. Larger SUVs and larger luxury sedans were the primary stories at Detroit, although there was plenty of talk and displaying of autonomous (self-driving) cars, which are guaranteed to stir up conversation.
Also, while China has risen to become the largest auto market in the world, the suddenly struggling Chinese economy has caused that country’s demand to plateau. All of those things might be interwoven in what was laid out at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Read more