Styling freshened, all-wheel drive added, plug-in hybrid returns: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica preview

by Ed Piotrowski and CarPreview staff

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Red S Edition

What changes will make the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica different?

Freshened styling inside and out and available all-wheel drive (AWD) will update the 2021 edition of this stylish minivan.

Adding AWD makes the Pacifica just the second minivan in today’s market to offer that traction advantage; the Toyota Sienna is the other. However, the ’21 Pacifica Hybrid – actually a plug-in hybrid that can travel some 32 miles on electricity alone and has a total gas-electric range of 520 miles – will remain a Chrysler exclusive. It’s America’s most fuel-efficient minivan.

Despite those assets, we’d urge Chrysler to step up its safety game for the ’21 Pacifica. Charging extra for protective technology like autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure warning clashes with this minivan’s family-friendly profile. For model-year ’20, those safety features and others were optional on all gas-powered Pacificas and were unavailable on the two least expensive Hybrid models.

The Pacifica debuted for model-year 2017, replacing the venerable Chrysler Town & Country. The model-year-’21 changes will facelift its sleek bodywork and promise to refine its versatile interior and hone its impressive road manners.

Wise families know there’s really no substitute for a minivan, but that hasn’t prevented the class from shrinking as buyers flock to crossovers and SUVs. Indeed, minivan sales are in steady decline. They fell another 16 percent through the first three quarters of 2019, with the Pacifica suffering a 23-percent drop. For perspective, the Toyota RAV4 compact crossover is on pace to outsell all minivans combined in calendar 2019.

Still, automakers aren’t abandoning the minivan market. In fact, every entry will be redesigned or refreshed for model-year 2021, with all-new versions of the Sienna and Kia Sedona and an updated Honda Odyssey.

Moreover, reports say Chrysler may introduce an all-electric minivan for ‘21. Likely called the Portal, it would have a range of up to 250 miles and a special DC Fast Charge port that could furnish up to 150 miles in under 20 minutes connected to a compatible charger. This on the heels of the model-year-2020 introduction of the Chrysler Voyager, a minivan name resurrected for a lower-priced version of the Pacifica aimed at rental fleets and families on tight budgets.

Should I wait for the 2021 Pacifica or buy the 2020?

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Red S Edition

Might be advantageous to wait for the 2021 Pacifica changes. Like what you see and decide to buy, and you’ll get a minivan with up-to-date styling and features that should sustain it until the next full redesign, likely for model-year 2024 or 2025.

If the updates aren’t convincing, you could probably grab a 2020 Pacifica for a significant discount as dealers look to clear inventories in anticipation of the freshened ‘21s.

The freshened 2021 Pacifica lineup should return Touring, Touring L, Touring L Plus, and Limited trim levels. The Hybrid roster would likely again include all but the Touring L Plus grade.

Will the styling be different?

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Limited with S Appearance Package

Very likely, though we hope designers show restraint and don’t stray too far from the 2017-2020 model’s shapely form. Expect stylists to tap the Portal concept vehicle for inspiration. That likely means a slightly more upright grille with sharper, more angular headlights. Pacifica’s overall profile isn’t apt to change, though expect revised taillights and maybe a reshaped rear fascia. The ’21 Pacifica Hybrid will continue with modest extra body addenda designed to improve aerodynamics.

Count on Chrysler to again offer optional appearance packages, such as the S Appearance Package with blackout wheels, grille, and exterior trim. It’s also likely to return something like the Red S Appearance Package introduced for 2020. It augmented the exterior blackouts with Nappa leather upholstery trimmed in Rodèo Red with contrasting Light Diesel Gray stitching and piping. It was offered exclusively on the Limited grades but could spread to other models for ’21.

Such a package would enhance what should continue to be a cabin extraordinarily well suited to minivan duty. It’ll again seat seven with available second-row captain’s chairs or, in gas-only models, eight with a removable second-row center seat. Eight-passenger versions should again include latches for five child safety seats. That second-row center position is a little narrow for grownups. But the ’21 Pacifica should otherwise continue to furnish genuine adult-worthy knee, head, and shoulder room in all three seating rows.

Expect gas-only models to return with Chrysler’s exclusive Stow ‘n Go seating. This enables the second and third rows to tumble and fold for a completely flat load floor aft of the front seats. With the second row in the seating position, the floor wells into which they fold become handy covered storage compartments. Placement of the battery pack will again forego this functionality for the second row in the Hybrid, although its third could will still folded into the floor.

Welcome returning conveniences will include the available hands-free power rear liftgate and hands-free power sliding side doors. Cargo volume is road-trip convivial, with a generous 32.3 cubic feet behind the third seat, 87.5 with it folded, and a voluminous 140.5 with both the second and third rows stowed. 

Also returning will be Pacifica’s excellent rear-entertainment solution. Dubbed Uconnect Theater, this option would consist of two 10-inch touchscreens that deploy from the front seatbacks. In addition to supporting individual video and audio sources courtesy of discrete HDMI inputs, the system would also include several built-in activities and games. Look as well for return of the available built-in vacuum cleaner

Instrumentation and controls should remain clean and straightforward, with the Hybrid sporting a power-delivery meter in place of a tachometer, plus readouts of remaining battery charge and a surprisingly accurate estimate of how long it would take to replenish while charging on a level one (110-volt household) and level two (240-volt) circuit.

Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto would return as standard equipment across the board, supplemented by Chrysler’s responsive Uconnect infotainment interface on a 7- or 8.4-inch touchscreen. As part of its potential model-year 2021 update, we would like to see the company revise the layout of the physical climate controls to include buttons for the available heated and ventilated front seats and heated steering wheel. As in most vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), these functions are governed via the infotainment screen, which is something of an inconvenience. (FCA consists of the Fiat, Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, and Alfa Romeo brands.)

Any mechanical changes?

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid cutaway

Yes, AWD — but just for the gas-only models. They’d return with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine of 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It would again team with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive would remain standard, with AWD an option for all but the entry-level Touring trim.

It wouldn’t be intended for off-roading, certainly. Ground clearance on AWD models would remain carlike and they wouldn’t get all-terrain tires. Rather, by automatically sending engine power to the rear wheels when sensors detect tire slip, the ’21 Pacifica would provide a measure of added traction for acceleration in snow or on low-grip surfaces. AWD was offered on previous generations of Chrysler and Dodge minivans offered front-wheel drive, but since model-year 2005, that feature in this segment has been a Sienna exclusive.

Front- or all-wheel drive, expect smooth acceleration with enough power for confident takeoffs, merging, and passing at any speed.

If your budget allows, step up to the impressive plug-in hybrid. For 2021, its drivetrain will again pair a 3.6-liter gasoline V-6 with a pair of electric motors powered by a 16-kilowatt-hour battery. Chrysler estimates total system output of 260 horsepower but doesn’t list a torque figure.

Expect Chrysler to again estimate 30-40 miles of battery-only travel before the gas engine kicks in and the Pacifica Hybrid operates like a traditional hybrid. In that mode, sensors determine the best mix of gas propulsion and electric assist and the batter recharges by capturing energy during braking and coasting.

Our testing corroborated that battery-only range estimate. Recharge times for a depleted battery ranged from less than three hours from a 240-volt station to roughly 13 hours on a standard 110-volt household circuit. Chrysler could tweak the battery, increasing storage capacity and thus, greater electric-only range, but with slightly longer charge times.

The Pacifica Hybrid should again furnish stronger acceleration than its gas-only counterpart. Thank the electric motor’s instantaneous torque, which also provides a welcome boost to high-speed merging and passing when in conventional-hybrid mode.

Natural-feeling steering should again team with easy maneuverability around town and surprising balance in fast turns to make the ’21 Pacifica a fine all-around driver. AWD versions could provide a bit of a grip advantage, even on dry pavement. But expect Hybrids to handle as well or better because their underfloor battery pack contributes to a lower center of gravity.

2020 Chrysler Pacifica

Absorbent over bumps, composed over high-speed dips, and controlled even through bumpy corners, ride quality should remain an asset on any ’21 Pacifica. So should a cabin nicely isolated from wind, road, and engine noise.

All models should again come with alloy wheels, though the designs are likely to change as part of the facelift. Expect wheel-and-tire sizes to repeat, with 17-inchers standard on all Touring grades, 18s standard on the Limited and optional for the Touring grades, and 20s an exclusive Touring option.   

Will fuel economy improve?

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Limited

Doubtful, even if the restyled ’21 proves slightly more aerodynamic. Expect EPA ratings for gas-only, front-wheel-drive Pacificas to remain around 19/28/22 mpg city/highway/combined. Even though they add 150-200 pounds, AWD systems of the type earmarked for the ’21 Pacifica don’t tend to exact a serious fuel-economy penalty. Look for EPA ratings nearly equal to those of the front-drive gas-only model.

EPA ratings for the 2020 Pacifica Hybrid gave it a 32-mile electric-only range and rated it 82 mpg-e — the miles-per-gallon equivalent of running on gasoline. In conventional-hybrid mode, it rated 30 mpg city-highway combined.   

If the plug-in gets a revised battery pack with greater capacity, its all-electric driving range could exceed 40 miles. The battery alone was sufficient for the vast majority of our testing. We used less than 2 gallons of the recommended regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.

Will there be new features?

2020 Chrysler Pacifica

We hope so. For model-year 2020, key driver assists — forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic highbeam headlights, and lane-departure warning — were optional on all gas-powered Pacifica models and on the Limited Hybrid. They were unavailable on the Hybrid Touring or Hybrid Touring L. A similar suite of safety aids is standard on most versions of the Odyssey and on all Sienna models.

Among gas-only models, the Touring should include power-sliding rear side doors, power rear liftgate, remote engine start, power driver’s seat, second-row sunshades, three-zone automatic climate control, 7-inch touchscreen infotainment with CarPlay and Android Auto, Stow ‘n Go second- and third-row seats, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert, and rear-obstacle detection.

Moving to the Touring L would add a roof rack, convenient grocery bag hooks on the third-row seatbacks, sunshades for second- and third-row occupants, driver-seat memory, leather upholstery, and heated front seats.

Touring L Plus grades would add a larger front console with illuminated cupholders, configurable instrument panel display, heated outboard second-row seats, upgraded Alpine-brand audio system, and 8.4-inch infotainment display with imbedded GPS navigation. Uconnect Theater would be standard on this model as well.

Limiteds would return with hands-free power rear sliding doors and liftgate, power-folding exterior mirrors, power panoramic sunroof, Nappa leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, and power-folding third-row seat. Strangely, Uconnect Theater is optional on this grade. Perhaps Chrysler will make it standard for 2021.

Hybrids would generally line up with their gas-only counterparts for standard equipment, but the Limited would come standard with Uconnect Theater, but not available even as an option on the Touring and Touring L.

Will 2021 prices be different?

2020 Chrysler Pacifica

They’ll likely increase. The model-year ’20 introduction of the Voyager gave Chrysler room to take Pacifica upmarket. Updates to styling and/or content could push asking prices higher still. Estimated base prices include manufacturer destination fee, which was $1,495 on the 2020 Pacifica.

For gas-only front-wheel-drive 2021 Pacificas, estimated base prices are $36,000 for the Touring, $39,000 for the Touring L, and $42,000 for the Touring L Plus. Expect the Limited to start around $46,000. Expect AWD to add around $1,800 to the base price of eligible models.  

The plug-in system should again mean a reasonable price premium over front-drive gas only models for the 2021 Pacifica Hybrid. Estimated base prices are $42,500 for the Touring, $45,000 for the Touring L, and $48,500 for the Limited.

Among options, Uconnect Theater should continue to cost about $2,400, a trailer towing package would be about $1,000, and the standard S Appearance Package would be a reasonable $800. The Advanced SafetyTec Group, which includes driver-assistance features, would be about $1,000 if Chrysler doesn’t elect to make it standard.

As an aside, we applaud Chrysler’s introduction of the Voyager. It’ll replace the Dodge Grand Caravan as FCA’s budget-friendly minivan. Slated to finally end production after the 2020 model year, the Grand Caravan was a holdover from the company’s pre-2017 minivan design and proved immensely popular. Voyager supplants it with the far superior Pacifica-based design. The 2021 Voyager lineup should again consist of L, LX, and LXi trim levels. The last should remain for fleet sales only, although used examples ought to eventually hit the market for the general public.

Voyager will continue to share Pacifica’s gas-only, front-wheel-drive powertrain but each model will again be de-contented to some degree from roughly comparable Pacificas. That means more modest trim inside and out, 17-inch steel wheels with plastic wheel covers across the board, no leather upholstery, and Stow ‘n Go seats included only with the LXi grade. For perspective, base prices for the 2020 Voyager were $28,480 for the L model, $31,290 for the LX, and $34,490 for the fleet-only LXi.

When does it come out?

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Limited

The release date for the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica will likely be in the fall of 2020.

Best competitors

Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Toyota Sienna

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]