What we bought: Chryslers Pacifica was the perfect family plug-in hybrid, until it wasnt

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It’s a terrible time to buy a car. The global chip shortage and a pandemic-driven demand for safe transportation has pushed prices to obscene levels. It’s not unusual to see dealers adding on $10,000 or more in “market adjustment fees.” For most people, the smartest decision right now is to hold onto your current car for as long as possible. But as my wife and I began preparing for our second child, we realized we needed a larger vehicle for carrying twice as much baby gear, as well as to take the occasional road trip.

Gallery: Chrysler Pacifica 2018 | 15 Photos

Gallery: Chrysler Pacifica 2018 | 15 Photos

As much as I loved my 2017 RAV4 Hybrid, it would have been too tight with two car seats in the backseat along with two kids worth of gear in the trunk. It also didn’t have CarPlay integration, which meant I had to rely on Bluetooth audio and Toyota’s abysmal infotainment apps. (I was particularly annoyed that I couldn’t even play the radio while using Google Maps navigation.) There weren’t any rear vents for heating and cooling, either, which inevitably turned the back seat into a furnace during Georgia’s obscenely humid summers. That’s a surefire way to make a toddler cranky, and it would be even worse with an infant onboard.

Thankfully, I’ve spent the last few years obsessively researching the perfect family car. (You can thank the pandemic and my desire to tinker with new hardware for that.) Toyota’s hybrid 2021 Sienna taught me that minivans can actually look cool these days and get decent mileage. I’ve also tested out Toyota’s RAV4 Prime, Prius Prime and the Kia Sorento, all of which were plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) with a bit of electric driving range.

At first, I leaned towards the updated Sienna: I genuinely loved our review unit, and Toyota’s reliability is legendary. But it turns out tons of other people had the same idea earlier this year. New Siennas were selling for $8,000 over their list price, based on what I saw at several local dealers. (Who, of course, didn’t tell me about those extra fees until I stepped foot in their godforsaken offices.) And used 2021 models were actually going for more than their original list price. I wasn’t about to spend over $50,000 on a used Sienna.

Chrysler Pacifica 2018

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Then I remembered the other popular minivan, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. It’s the only PHEV minivan on the market, delivering 33 miles of electric range and 32 MPG of gas driving. We gave it a glowing review in 2018, and, well, my options were pretty limited earlier this year. My dream car would have been a large family-sized EV, but with the Tesla Model X still far out of reach and no alternatives available, a PHEV simply made more sense.

After being burned by several useless car dealers, I spent weeks hunting through Carvana listings. I appreciated that they were up front about extra fees, they don’t gouge you as much as dealers and I had a great experience buying my RAV4 from them in 2020. Eventually, I found my ideal Pacifica: a Limited 2018 model with low mileage, CarPlay, a tri-plane sunroof, advanced safety features and a 20-speaker sound system. There was no way I was going to look like a cool dad in a minivan, but at least I could have a bit of fun driving it.

Chrysler Pacifica 2018

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

A week later, Carvana took away my RAV4 as a trade-in and delivered the Pacifica to my driveway. It was love at first sight. Even though it’s not as sporty as the Sienna or RAV4 Prime, I love the Pacifica’s cute and quirky aesthetic. It’s as if Chrysler took the idea of a family van and processed it through a ’90s anime filter. Its arched LED daytime running lights seem like they’re winking at you, while the elegant body lines give it a sense of motion while it’s standing still.

The sheer practicality of the Pacifica also won me over quickly. The Pacifica’s sliding doors made it a cinch to install my daughter’s 30-pound car seat, and I appreciated having much more room for child loading/unloading. Being a minivan, its trunk area was massive, even if I decided to have the third-row seats opened up. Those rear seats are a serious upgrade over mid-size SUVs, where they’re only meant for children.

Chrysler Pacifica 2018

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

My wife and I also loved having more interior space in general, since we inevitably found ourselves buried in toddler toys and gear in the RAV4. There’s even enough room for my daughter to use her portable potty between the seats! Another bonus: The rear seats also have two separate video screens, which will be perfect for keeping the kids entertained during long trips.

Things got even better in the driver’s seat, where the Pacifica’s UConnect infotainment system finally made me feel like I was driving a modern car. The 8.4-inch screen was bright enough to be clearly visible in direct sunlight (something my RAV4 struggled to do), and it had a surprisingly responsive touchscreen. While I was most excited to have CarPlay integration, it was nice to see that UConnect’s entire interface could be customized as easily as an iOS device.