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THe 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid has a sleek, modern interior.
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The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid plug-in offers incredible fuel economy. THe 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid has a sleek, modern interior.
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Fast facts

- Model: Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Platinum

- Exterior color: Silver Teal

- Interior color: Alloy and Black

- Engine: 3.6-liter V6 eHybrid

- Horsepower: 260

- Transmission: EVT

- Fuel economy: 84 MPG equivalent in electric mode, 33 mpg city/highway in gas mode

- Local dealer: Crown Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, 2120 Chapman Road

- Price (as tested): $47,885

When we first drove the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica last fall it was love at first sight. From its fetching face to its expansive rear window, the Pacifica is a thoroughly modern minivan.

In fact, we were quick to label it the best-looking minivan on the market.

Now comes a plug-in hybrid version of the Pacifica that promises to ratchet up our admiration even more. After a week of commuting and soccer carpooling through the Tennessee Valley in the Pacifica Hybrid, we'd be hard-pressed to identify a more well-rounded, economical family hauler.

The Pacifica Hybrid is the first hybrid vehicle in the segment. Its combined city-highway fuel efficiency is the equivalent of 84 miles per gallon in all-electric mode, a mind-blowing statistic for a seven-passenger vehicle that feels like the first-class compartment of a Boeing 747.

A so-called plug-in hybrid, the Pacifica is designed to travel about 33 miles on electric charge alone. If you have a short commute to work, it's possible to power your minivan with only negligible amounts of gasoline. Once battery power is depleted, the Pacifica switches to gas power.

With a full electric charge and a full tank of gas, the Pacifica Hybrid can theoretically travel 566 miles between stops, although full bladders may compel otherwise. The battery pack can be fully recharged on household current in about 14 hours. A special Level 2 charger using 240 volts can do the job in about two hours.

The Pacifica Hybrid is not yet broadly available in area dealerships, but should start showing up in coming weeks. Production began in December. Lee Johnson, a sales manager at Crown Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram here, says his dealership expects to start taking delivery of Pacifica Hybrids late next month.

Importantly, the Pacifica Hybrid, which combines a conventional 3.6-liter V6 gasoline engine with a 16-kWh electric battery pack, qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit. As a result, the $47,885 price of our superbly equipped Platinum edition is really closer to $40,000, which makes it a real bargain.

Factor in that 80-plus miles-per-gallon equivalent fuel economy in all-electric mode and the Pacifica Hybrid is an especially compelling deal. The government estimates annual fuel costs at $900. That's another $7,000 savings (below average) over five years.

The base, Hybrid Premium model starts at $41,995 before tax credits if you want to push the cost even lower.

The Pacifica competes with the segment-leading Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna, although neither Honda nor Toyota now offer hybrid models.

DESIGN AND FEATURES

The Pacifica's hybrid architecture means losing the Stow-n-Go feature of the second-row seats. But unless you are hauling around pianos or baby rhinos, this shouldn't be too much of a sacrifice.

The exterior of the Pacifica Hybrid is essentially the same as the nonhybrid version. The only way your Chattanooga neighbors will know your green intentions is from a hybrid badge on the lid of the electric charging port on the front passenger-side quarter panel. It's a subtle emblem, so you'll have to settle for self-satisfaction.

That said, all the 2017 Pacificas have a distinctively 21st-century vibe that is designed to reinvigorate the minivan segment, which has steadily lost market share to SUVs over the last dozen years. Chrysler invented the segment in the 1980s and the new Pacifica is designed to take over for the retiring Town and Country minivan.

The Pacifica gets an A in our book for comfort. Tons of interior space make the Pacifica feel more like a well-furnished family room than a minivan. The best seats in the house are the second-row captain's chairs. A UConnect theater package provides second-row passengers with seat-mounted video screens with HDMI ports to accommodate video streaming from a tablet computer or cellphone. There's also a built-in Blu-Ray DVD player.

Standard features on the Pacifica Hybrid Platinum include a third-row fold-in-floor bench seat, navigation, SiriusXM radio, heated front seats, LED running lights, a 13-speaker Alpine sound system, an active noise control system, a Blu-Ray DVD player, and leather upholstery.

A safety tech group includes blind spot detection, parallel park assist, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and lane departure warning.

A tri-panel panoramic sunroof ($1,795) opens up the Pacifica like a greenhouse.

DRIVING EXPERIENCE

Unless you've driven an electric vehicle, it's hard to explain how relaxing it can be to pilot a minivan that sounds more like a golf cart. The Pacifica almost seems to hover above the ground. Even when the gas motor kicks in, sound-deadening technology makes for a peaceful driving experience.

Together, the V-6 engine and twin electric motors built into the the variable transmission make for a potent propulsion platform. The Pacifica Hybrid makes 260 horsepower, and low-end torque is enhanced by the instant-on nature of electric power.

Brakes are a bit spongy and throttle response is not as sharp as we might hope, but overall the Pacifica has an energetic powertrain that is fun to drive and never feels underpowered.

BOTTOM LINE

Comfortable, economical and easy on the eyes, the Pacifica Hybrid has all the virtues you could ask for in a family vehicle. The fact that it's the first-to-market hybrid in the segment puts pressure on the imports to match the technology.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

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