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The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica now offers all-wheel-drive for the first time since 2004. (FCA)

All-wheel-drive returns to Chrysler Pacifica for 2021

New front and rear styling and cabin innovations join all-wheel drive as Pacifica mid-cycle enhancements.

The refresh of the 2021 model-year Chrysler Pacifica minivan premiers a top-of-the-line luxury trim, the debut of a next-generation infotainment system, and the return of all-wheel-drive. Chrysler minivans haven’t offered AWD since 2004, but the driveline choice is revived for the 2021 model. “We’ll make AWD available in the current generation minivan for about 90 days, starting in the second quarter of 2020, to get it into the market,” Matt Davis, director of Chrysler and Fiat Brands for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said prior to the 2021 Pacifica’s unveiling at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show.

For several years, the Toyota Sienna has been the only minivan in North America offering AWD. Available on Pacifica’s ICE (i.e. non-hybrid) models, the American Axle-supplied AWD system is self-activating, according to Pacifica’s chief engineer Brian Swanson. Activation triggers are based on various parameters. “If the outside temperature is approaching freezing... If front wheel slip is detected... If the driver is in wide-open throttle or there is excessive accelerator input, indicating a possible passing maneuver, the system activates,” Swanson said, citing several situations that prompt automatic AWD engagement.

When AWD is not engaged, only the front wheels are driven. The Pacifica’s AWD employs an all-new power transfer unit (PTU) to deliver torque to the rear-drive module and its electronically controlled wet clutch. A three-piece driveshaft connects the PTU and the rear-drive module. The AWD variant of the 2021 Pacifica also has unique front and rear suspension tunings.

“We added a rear stabilizer bar to help with handling and there is an 18-inch brake package with larger front vented rotors and solid rear rotors,” Swanson said. The AWD variant is fitted with 18-in self-sealing Michelin tires; later availability adds optional 20-in tires. The AWD Pacifica’s ride height is approximately 0.78 in (20 mm) higher, but ground clearance is effectively unchanged.

Cabin makeover
With new manufacturing fitments for doors and a move to an acoustic windshield and thicker side glass, the 2021 model’s cabin is claimed to be quieter than its predecessor. “These changes result in a 6- to 8-percent improvement in speech intelligibility inside the vehicle,” Swanson said, noting the Limited and the new top-of-the-line Pinnacle trims also have acoustic front side glass.

There are two new floor consoles for Limited and Pinnacle trims. Both consoles flow and integrate into the instrument panel. “Not only does this design provide comfort and personal space, it also increases the storage space,” said Winnie Cheung, chief designer for Jeep and passenger vehicle interiors. The new consoles feature wireless charging surfaces and segment-first USB-type C ports, which charge electronic devices four times faster than conventional USB ports.

The Pinnacle trim’s 13.65-L console is approximately 4.5-L larger than the current version. The total vehicle interior volume is best-in-class at 227.6-L. The Pinnacle trim’s three seating rows are dressed in caramel-color leather with quilted side bolsters and perforated inserts capped by contrasting piping and stitching. Second-row captain seats feature two removable caramel-color leather lumbar pillows. For front row occupants, the touchscreen increases from the prior 8.4-in to a standard 10.1-in.

“We continue to redefine the minivan segment, bringing the Pacifica to a next-level experience,” said Cheung, adding that the minivan also debuts the automaker’s Fam-CAM technology. The Infrared-enabled, high-definition camera is packaged overhead between the second and third row. Button-touch engagement provides a touchscreen view of the second and third rows. “This [camera] technology also provides the ability to see a child in a rear-facing infant seat, which no other model on the market today offers,” said Swanson.

Next-generation infotainment
The Pacifica’s larger touchscreens coincide with the debut of Uconnect 5, the automaker’s fifth-generation infotainment system. “We have three times the display resolution, so we’re at ultra-high definition,” said Vince Galante, chief designer for FCA’s user experience. The five-times-faster operating speeds give the user quicker access to navigation, radio, and other information.

“We’re using depth and hierarchy to make sure that the things that are important are closer to you and are also the brightest,” said Galante. He also points out that the graphic revisions add more space between letters, as well as less detail to certain characters. “That makes it a lot easier to read,” Galante said.

Uconnect 5 also features an interactive status bar. “Let’s say you have navigation running and you want to turn on the heated seats. You push a screen button, and it will overlay on top of whatever you’re using. So no more ‘killing an app’ when you want to turn on the heated seats,” said Galante. New navigation from TomTom provides live, updated traffic maps. The system permits six individual profiles, including valet. “Each driver using the car can have a custom profile,” Galante said, referring to music, seat and mirror positions, in-vehicle temperature and other personal settings.

A new front grille, front and rear fascias, taillights and LED headlamps alter the vehicle’s exterior. “This is the first minivan with standard LED headlamps,” said Davis. Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid will be available in four trims: Touring, Touring L, Limited and the new Pinnacle. The 2021 minivan also gains 14 new-as-standard safety features, including Pedestrian Automatic Emergency Braking. Dealerships are slated to have the 2021 Pacifica by late 2020.

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