FCA holds an annual event at their Chelsea Proving Grounds in Michigan for journalists to give them a taste of what the brand has coming to dealer showrooms as well as a taste of future products with upcoming launch dates.
Most of the FCA line is well established, and new often means tweaks to horsepower, which often translates into dollars, as horsepower sells well. Ram Trucks have been refreshed over the last two model years, and their products are doing well, challenging their competitors in the market. Jeep continues to power sales and profits for FCA. And with the recent Gladiator launch, Jeep’s mid-sized pickup truck benefits from having Ram in the family.
Fiat, Alfa, Chrysler have been lagging in new products, with Voyager, a lower cost nameplate variant of Pacifica, a being the most recent. Maserati was not on the field for this event, but the muscle power leader, Dodge, and SRT put out for display a meaty wide-bodied Charger with some muscle-bound Hellcat power and ScatPac V-8 Hemi.
Leave it to the Dodge Boys to show that the love for American Motor Muscle is still alive at FCA with both Challenger and Charger, vehicles that you can raise a family in and be the fastest down the drag strip at the same time. Even if the sheet metal is basically the same for most of the recent decade, both of these machines continue to pump iron.
We gladly reconnected to the Jeep Brand, one that has a long history with this writer. Taking to the off-road trails with Brandon Girmus in a stock Gladiator. Having the pickup’s marketing manager show off his baby from the navigator’s seat was a lot of fun, as he knows which buttons and switches to apply, and when to use them. Plus, we got to talk about the completion of his recent history project an early Military Jeep, and his desire for a Forward Control. No doubt we will see him working on one of those soon.
Work and Play, It Is What You Haul
One of the benefits of having muscle power and the might of the FCA brand is that towing thing becomes easy. Be it with a Ram Heavy Duty Truck pulling a massive piece of construction equipment, a Dodge Durango pulling a swift race-ready Challenger, or a Jeep Gladiator pulling a really nice boat. Was also a highlight. One might think the experience is pretty much the same no matter the tow vehicle, Not so at all, each provided very different experience to the driver. And yes, pulling with a Cummins Diesel, Rocks.
Flashing Lights and Sirens, It’s the Cops
Taking to the test track, we got the behind the wheel of two of Dodge’s police pursuit vehicles. The Charger and the Durango. And we see why so many departments put these into their fleets. Fast and furious and dedicated to the job, FCA makes sure they offer what Officers of the Law need when it comes to their rolling office and detention facility. Police vehicles are very focused on the job at hand, without any fluff.
Abarth, taking to the track in a six-speed 124 Spider with the top down made you want to spend more time, topless in Pure Michigan style. Throaty and growly, agile and comfortable, this little 2-seater was more fun around the test track that should be allowed by law.
While our opinion is that FCA has an aging fleet of vehicles, they still produce ones that have a lot of value and merit in the marketplace. FCA’s has some very dedicated employees who love what they do, and it shows when they talk about the products. Kudos to FCA that they instill that kind of pride in their employees, as it is not easy to earn, especially in today’s world.
Words and Images by William West Hopper
Mr. Hopper currently serves as the President of the Washington Automotive Press Association and has been reporting and working in the automotive industry throughout his career, starting in heavy trucking, then managing a Telco Fleet, and now reporting on the latest news from the automotive industry.
FCA invited Mr. Hopper to attend 2019 What’s New event providing transportation, food, and lodging. This is not compensation for reporting about the brand or the event. His opinions expressed here are his own.
Whenever there is a wacko nutjob on the loose they always seem to be associated with a white van.
Look at our current news cycle with the MAGNA Bomber, back when DC was plagued by the Beltway Sniper, what were they on the lookout for, you guessed it, a White Van. Though in that case, the vehicle was a blue full-size sedan, still everyone was saying “be on the lookout for a white van.” If there is any talk of a child abductor or a terrifying clown with candy and thoughts of evil doings, the image includes the iconic white van.
Never is it a beat-up pickup or a ragged hatchback, not even a rattletrap SUV? Well maybe once in a California freeway chase with a Bronco, and it was white. The White Van is the vehicle that society assigns to any man who engages in an act against the people. We will not go into the fact that it is never a female, it is always a male and a white van.
As the owner of a white van, two now in the past 26-years, this is not the image that we as white van drivers are after. Who drives white vans? Normal everyday working people, plumber, carpenters, telco or cable folks, delivery drivers, who are the drivers of white vans.
At one time the van was the symbol of freedom, out on the open road, off to catch the waves, out to the wilderness with bikes, or off camping. Now, this vehicle casts an evil shadow on the thousands of people who own and drive one every day.
Yes, there are plenty of us who are not mass-murders, loco extremists, or someone with terrorist thoughts. Smile at the guy in the white van as you pass each other on the road, he is no doubt the one that is making our world a better place.
This is the opinion of William West Hopper – Images by William West Hopper
The once boxy Chrysler minivan (the company who originated this automotive segment three-plus decades ago,) is now producing a sleek passenger van that will change minds.
The 2018 Pacifica Hybrid in Limited Trim sure surprised us as we took out it on a recent thousand-plus-mile trip. What we found was an amazing road tripper. An excellent highway cruiser that is not intimidated by the semi-trucks, and had plenty of power to climb the twisty hills of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and to pass with ease.
“That is one HOT Mini Van,” said no one ever. While minivans may not be what people aspire to drive, they do offer convenience and capacity. The Pacifica is a keeper.
Hybrid | PHEV Power
This vehicle can be used like the gasoline-powered vehicle many are used to, with the hybrid power stepping in to extend fuel economy. What surprised us was the PHEV (Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle) technology. Plug the Pacifica in, be it at a Type Two Electric Vehicle Charger for a 2.5-hour recharge or into your home’s 110v grounded outlet for a longer charge time, about 14 hours. And drive 30-plus miles on all electric, which should cover most routine errand runs, or a one-way trip to work.
The extra step of plugging in is not hard, it just takes some forethought, to find an available Electric Vehicle Charger when you park. And of course to remember to plug the car into that charger, or the outlet at home.
The Chrysler Pacifica is designed with a focus on passenger comfort. From the heated and cooled front seats to the various interior lighting options. And what made me happy was the number of power outlets, some connected to the UVO system and others not, for the devices and electrical items brought into the van that need power.
Room for seven in three rows of seats, does it get any better? Why yes it does, as there is still cargo space even with all three rows of seats in use. Yes, let’s say it again, cargo space and not just a little bit, plenty of it. So you can take that road trip with the family and stuff that comes along, A feat which is hard to do in the smaller 3-row passenger vehicles at the same price that on the market today.
Many vehicles come with 3 rows of seats, but few provide much if any room in the 2nd row, and the 3rd row. Or other creature comforts for those passengers. HVAC controls as well as plenty of USB plugins for those passengers. In the Limited Trim model, we had there was a two-screen rear seat entertainment option for the second-row passengers with separate HMDI and USB plugs, as well as wireless headphones, or a headphone jack and individual remote controls. Which means not everyone has to watch the same video or play the same game.
Legroom and Cargo Space
Legroom is plentiful with seat adjustability for the first and second-row seats. In the hybrid, the 2nd-row seats can be removed and lifted out and stored out of the vehicle. (The Pacifica Hybrid does not have 2nd-row Stow and Go, as the batteries are carried where the seats would fold into.) Don’t take that as a negative, there is plenty of storage throughout the van, including a large drawer in the base of the front center console for the 2nd-row passengers, lots of crannies for storage, and best of all behind the 3rd row seats which are stow and go, there is space to carry cargo.
Storage compartments are all over, even a place by both front seats to stow a wet umbrella, including a little tray molded into the door sill to collect the water dripping off of it.
Doors All Around
From the side sliding doors on both sides and rear hatch, as well as the front doors, you can load people and cargo in and out of the van easily and at a comfortable height. Have your hands full? that is OK, put a foot under the vehicle and that door will open automatically (you do need to have the key in your pocket and know in just the right place.)
An All Seeing Van
From inside you can pop down the little rear seat monitor mirror to see what is happening in the back to the exterior cameras the van has to see the traffic around you.
The Pacifica has the optional 360-Degree surround camera that has a large camera in the base of the grill, one at the top of the windshield, and one under each exterior side mirror, as well as at the rear of the van (the backup camera) these operate individually or as a combined unit to help see all that is around the van. While you can only access the imagery on the screen in a parked or under 5 mph mode, this system combined with an onboard radar is the eyes of the vehicle, assisting the driver.
Adaptive Cruise Control is one of the best options on any highway cruiser. The driver sets the cruise control and enables it to look ahead to recognize if the vehicles are slowing down or pulling into the lane in front of you. It then adjusts your speed appropriately. With Full Speed Forward-Collision Warning Plus the van also pays attention when you may not be, slowing the van down and stopping if need be.
This in addition to ParkSense®, blind spot monitoring, rear cross path detection, and lane departure warning, when turned on, let you know what might be around you and warns you. It lets you know when you are drifting out of your lane, if there is another vehicle in your blind spot, or if you are simply backing up if another vehicle is going to be in your path. Very helpful and an added level of safety one needs in this distracted world.
Parking, No Problem
ParkSense® helps you see what you can not when you are parking, are you getting too close to something, it will let you know with an audible warning as well as a visual on the center screen from the camera view.
You may not like parking, so just hit the button and the Pacifica’s Parallel and Perpendicular Park Assist will take over for you and park the vehicle. You do have to be in it and provide assistance, but the cameras see and measure the distance and make all the decisions and steering moves for you. While this is the one feature we did not take advantage of, it can be a big help in tight spots. You tell the Pacifica you want it to find a parking spot, by pushing a button, then tell it which side to look by putting the turn signal on for that side, and the car finds a spot and asks you make the gear changes, brake and accelerator activations, but it steers itself into a parking spot using the onboard cameras.
The Pacifica is beyond a daily grocery getter, beyond the family van. In a crowded passenger minivan market, there are options. If you want something fuel efficient, one that can run 30 miles on all electric, the Chrysler Pacifica is a great choice.
In either conventional or hybrid form this front-wheel-drive transversely mounted front engine van provides all of the passenger comfort and roadworthiness from a brand well known for luxury.
While the hybrid and PHEV technology is beyond amazing, and the usefulness of the space that the Pacifica offers makes it both a great long-distance runner and a city street cruiser.
That is just part of the story of the Chrysler Pacifica. The rest of the story is you, your family. Visit a dealer and take a test drive. Compare it to other vehicles, including SUV and CUV offerings. If you need a vehicle to haul passengers and their stuff in comfort, with great fuel economy, this is a very strong contender at an under $50K price point.
Words and Photos by William West Hopper.
FCA and Chrysler were kind enough to provide us the use of the Pacifica for a week. We were asked to review it and share our experiences on social media, we were not compensated for posting, other than the use of the vehicle. We paid for our own fuel, tolls and other travel expenses.
This past April, Toyota invited a handful of Washington DC area automotive journalists to join them at Summit Point Raceway to see two original manufacturer built minivans, not customized racecars, compete in the One Lap America race series. Toyota USA’s Engineering and Marketing departments were campaigning a Sienna R-Tuned Concept and a Sienna SE+ during the week-long – multi-state racing event, that is One Lap America. Where they were raced all day, then driven hundreds of miles to the next track at night to get back on the track and race again the next day.
Toyota brought on Top Gear America’s, Rutledge Wood, a bearded hipster TV reality show host, as well as Grand-Am Rolex GT Champion race driver Craig Stanton, to pilot these vans, and a crew to support them as they raced the week away, with everyone working together like a seasoned race team.
Toyota’s purpose was both promotional, and an engineering one. Showing off that Toyota’s best-selling Sienna minivan could compete heartily with serious racecars, but also as an opportunity for the engineering team to tweak the van for better overall drivability in everyday situations and longevity.
A Toyota Sienna R-Tuned Concept vehicle, interior stripped out, caged with a custom suspension, and many modifications the Sienna SE+, tricked out with TRD Badging, on the shifter and oil cap, dark tinted lights and Pirelli P Zero tires, and the fluids replaced to better perform under racing conditions. Inside the SE+, sans roll cage, the seats were slipped in for passengers, or removed when out on the racetrack in competition. While both vans were labeled “Concept”, each appeared to be using off the shelf parts and products that any amateur racer could get.
During a break in the racing, a van load of the DMV Scribes drove the Sienna SE+ on Summit’s Main course. While none of us were as track savvy as the competitive team from Toyota, it was fun to get a minivan loaded with adults and seats on a race track, then see it stripped and back out racing minutes later in Wood’s capable hands.
Toyota and Racing: Toyota vehicles racing is nothing new, from enthusiast’s auto crossing Scion’s to Camry’s chasing round the NASCAR oval; Toyota Trucks going at it in the dessert in an off-road rally; Lexus IS F-Sport in a street race. Toyota has a racing brand, TRD, that you see proudly on street vehicles, pretty much everywhere you go. But the common family hauler, the Sienna minivan, that is not what is thought of when the topic of competitive racing is discussed.
This was one of those times where automakers wanting to appeal to that “younger Dad”, And make him think of motorsports and minivan in the same sentence. Instead of wrestling with the admission one has achieved stable adulthood and needs to transport their kids, friends of the kids, the dog, and a variety of belongings, around suburbia.
With this One Lap America experience, Toyota is not only showing that the family haulers can be the equivalent to racecars, as these two Sienna minivans indeed hauled it down the racetrack with the best of them, often competing with high-power performance monsters. In the end the team completed the week-long event in first place with 160 points, 65 more than its Acura MDX competitor, the other entrant in the Truck/SUV class.