WHISTLER, BC — The young doorman at the Whistler Westin is taking a long look at my Chrysler Pacifica. He smiles.
“I used to work at the plant where these are built,” he says. “I heard sales were slow; too expensive. What do you think?”
About minivans? This Pacifica?
“Minivans are pretty old school,” I concede, “but I can’t think of a more useful vehicle. Roomier and flexible and better than most SUVs in almost every way. The sliding side doors are good for loading skis in tight parking spaces. This one seats eight. Fold-in-floor rear seats and so on. Bag hooks on the back of the seats in the way back. It’s slick.
“Yeah, I’ve head it’s a ‘little milk truck’ a million times and that’s a problem. So is the price.”
Chrysler in Canada advertises a base Pacifica at $37,995 minus a $3,750 discount. (Note: the online pricing tool made me start at $39,790 minus $3,750, which is weird.) Regardless, you’re looking at spending somewhere in the mid-$30,000s for the most basic Pacifica. If you’re ambitious, you can drop $50,000-plus, all in.
So this is not your $19,999 or $18,999 Dodge Grand Caravan of just a few years back. It’s not even the $25,695 base Grand Caravan (minus $6,300 in discounts) for sale right now.
FCA has been selling both the old Grand Caravan and the newer Pacifica for several years now. Canadians bought about 31,000 combined in 2019 (3,731 Pacificas and 27,382 Grand Caravans). Yes, the old minivan out-sells the new by nearly 10-1.
It’s all about family economics. Truly, if FCA Canada sold a $19,000 Grand Caravan today, at least some of your neighbors would be buyers. Cross Canada, sales would still hit 40,000 or 50,000 annually. This rig is that useful. But price matters.
FCA will eventually phase out the old Grand. The tooling is aged, and as rules around fuel economy, emissions and safety tighten up, the Grand end will come. Our young Westin doorman saw the future, so he bolted Windsor, Ontario, for a western resort town and good times.
Truth is, the Windsor plant where he used to work, once spit out half a million minivans a year, or more. Last year, it built around 290,000 Pacificas and Grand Caravans, combined, in a highly automated factory needing fewer and fewer workers There was a time when the auto industry sold 1.4 million minivans a year in the U.S. and Canada. Twenty years ago. Jobs were plentiful and they paid well.
Those factory jobs still pay a good wage, but to fewer and fewer workers. Auto manufacturing is slowing disappearing in Canada and has been for years. It’s part of the larger hollowing out of Canada’s manufacturing sector.
Canadians working on assembly lines making a living wage with good benefits are turning into doormen scrambling for tips – in the short term, at least. Our young man here in Whistler plans to go back to school and become a biology teacher when ski season is done and tips dry up.
But he’s not going back to Ontario. The current government there is at war with teachers, as part of a larger war on intelligence and common decency.
“And once I saw these mountains, I knew I’d never go back (to Southern Ontario),” he says. Next stop: University of British Columbia.
Even with a degree and a good job, it will be a while before he can afford the Pacifica Touring, I testing on this ski trip. This model, which beautifully managed the slick and twisty up-and-down Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler, stickers out at $49,560, though I believe FCA Canada has a $6,000 sweetener on offer.
That price includes $1,895 in destination/prep charges and another $4,000-plus in options (safety, cold weather and protection packages, and the excellent Uconnect navigation package with a five-year Sirius XM subscription).
The occasional ski bums I hang with in winter, agree that this Pacifica is luxurious and comfy. One guy in the second row (of three) was able to read his phone for long stretches, no carsickness. Skis, ski boots, poles and all the rest were loaded up with one of the very rear-most seats laid flat. Brilliant. Took less half a tank to get from Vancouver to Whistler and back, which for the 220 km-ish round trip became a $40 fuel bill. (Fuel economy is rated at a combined 10.6 litres/100 km.)
The optional 8.4-inch infotainment screen is too small by half, at least, and its undermines the Uconnect system. Moreover, the base 7.0-inch screen is simply unacceptable at a time when smartphones come with bigger screens.
The seats could be better engineered, too – wider, additional padding and with specific adjustments for lumbar support. The 3.6-litre V-6 with its nine-speed automatic gearbox is adequate, though the Pacifica Hybrid is more economical and livelier. This van, however, has a great rearview camera and no end of other useful electronics.
Skiers like me might also want all-wheel drive. The Pacifica gets it for 2021, along with a 10.1-inch touchscreen, among the upgrades. It will do be just fine for next year’s ski trip.
2020 Chrysler Pacifica Touring
Price as tested: $49,560.
Engine: 3.6-litre V-6 (287 horsepower/262 lb-ft of torque).
Transmission: nine-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 combined.