September 22, 2021

Why a minivan is the best car ever


Obvious statements are obvious. For instance, water is wet. Fire is hot. Swedish Fish are addictive.

Also: Minivans are useful.

I am exactly as old as the first Chrysler minivans. I grew up in an era where the sound of a barn-style door sliding open followed by shrill yells was common to every nearly every parking lot. Over time, I’ve been bombarded with ads for vans ranging from the petite Mazda 5
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to the gargantuan Ford
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Aerostar.

And yet it took one small — very small, that is — arrival in my life to make me understand just how useful minivans can be. We had a baby.

As of this writing, our garage is, unfortunately, minivan-free. But there was a 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Limited in my life for one glorious week of effortless errands, visits to the pediatrician, and an impromptu (FOR. THE. LOVE. OF. ALL. THAT. IS. GOOD. AND. HOLY. WILL. YOU. *#%!ING. GO. TO. SLEEP) 2-hour road trip.

Never before have I borrowed a new car from an automaker and been so reluctant to give it up. That Aston Martin I took to a high school reunion? Meh. The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifolgio I hustled up the highest paved road in America? Forget it.

The Chrysler Pacifica.


Chrysler

I totally understand minivans now. So here are my five top takeaways about how the Pacifica made life with a newborn so much easier:

1. Insane ease of access

New parents, take note: Your kiddo may pop out in the 7-pound range, but get ready for some heavy lifting. That infant carrier that will be your little one’s ticket to fresh air is heavy and bulky even before a rapidly-growing rugrat is strapped in. Just try wedging that thing into the back seat of a Toyota
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C-HR after some jerk in a beat-up Altima wedged his car right up against yours in the Whole Foods parking lot.

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But with a minivan, those sliding doors are like the pearly gates of vehicle ownership. Not only do they power open at the tap of a button or the wave of a foot under the vehicle, but they also reveal a bucket seat positioned at roughly bar-stool height (this is the closest you’re going to get to a bar stool for a while, by the way). Then, all you have to do is gently click the infant carrier into its base.

2. A camera instead of a baby mirror

New for the Pacifica this year — and cribbed, at least conceptually, from the Honda
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Odyssey — is a single camera mounted in the headliner that points downward at the second and third rows. A tap on any seat brings up a close-up view on the right-hand side of the screen. Sure, the resolution could be a little better, but I could see if our newborn’s eyes were closed or open.

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The mirror I have strapped around our wagon’s rear headrest to keep an eye on our little one never stays in place.

I’ve also used Honda’s Cabin Talk and Toyota’s Driver Easy Speak intercom systems. They’re not useful for an infant, of course, but maybe in a year or so, I’ll have a similar revelation.

3. Go anywhere, almost

The Pacifica I tested was a Limited, which meant it came standard with all-wheel drive (front-wheel drive is standard on lower trims). Its 5.4 inches of running ground clearance gives it roughly the rock-hopping ability of a midsize sedan, but all-wheel drive is a nice safety net for a family vehicle.

Would it be nice to have a high-riding Pacifica like the new Toyota Sienna Woodland Edition with its factory lift kit? Yes. I did confirm that spacer lifts do exist for the Pacifica, though. The gears are turning.

The system features a rear-axle disconnect to save fuel in lower-load situations. Unfortunately, the thrifty Pacifica Hybrid comes only as a front-wheel-drive model. Nevertheless, in a 130-mile highway drive/mobile sleep-inducer that saw 3,000 feet of elevation change, the trip computer displayed 25 mpg, which isn’t bad given how large the Pacifica is.

4. Mobile living room and office

Of course, a vehicle shaped like the box it came in should be spacious. Tell that to SUVs with the same footprint as a minivan. With the infant carrier anchored into the right-rear captain’s chair, there was still plenty of room for both parents and both grandparents to go along for the ride. The built-in vacuum on higher-trim Pacificas (which has vanished for now from the Honda Odyssey) cleans up whatever mess those passengers leave behind, too.

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With #workfromanywhere the new normal for many, the Pacifica may be the perfect mobile office. The second-row captain’s chairs standard on most versions aren’t as plushily padded as some rivals like the new Kia
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Carnival. Still, there’s plenty of legroom, and the Wi-Fi antenna delivered reasonably quick internet to Papa Bear’s laptop while Baby Bear and I waited for Mama Bear to have a checkup appointment. Yes, this is how parents talk. All it took was seeing our little one’s big eyes for the first time for us to forget our promise to never talk in baby talk.

We also promised each other we wouldn’t drive a minivan, but how life changes instantly.

5. More big-box-hardware-store utility than a midsize pickup

The current talk of the town when it comes to new cars is definitely the upcoming Ford Maverick. No question, the new small pickup will be a game-changer for Ford with its standard hybrid powertrain and bargain-basement price. But if you want real utility, why not look at a minivan? You can stuff its cargo area with way more sheets of plywood, tools, and other home improvement projects than any SUV. Although, admittedly, you can’t hose out a minivan — or at least you really shouldn’t.

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The Pacifica is alone in having rows two and three fold flat into the cargo area, making it the minivan-hauling champ (albeit with seats that aren’t as plush as its rivals). Its cargo area doesn’t need DIY projects to expand its utility.

Now, if only I could find the time to actually do any projects.

This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.



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