For a large family car, it’s difficult to beat the minivan. Vast expanses of passenger and cargo space put SUVs and crossovers to shame, and these merits are joined by pleasant driving dynamics, decent gas mileage, ample safety and convenience features, and relatively affordable prices.
And for a minivan, at least today, it’s difficult to beat the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. The all-new replacement for the popular Town & Country represents a major advancement for Chrysler and also breaks new ground against its competitors.
The Pacifica essentially collects all the cleverest features from the old Town & Country and all competing vehicles – minivan and crossover alike – into one package. You get an in-car vacuum cleaner like the Honda Odyssey. You can wave your foot under the tailgate to open it like in some Fords (while Chrysler added the ability to do the same with the power-sliding doors). You get a surround-view parking camera system like the Kia Sedona and Nissan Quest. And you get an improved version of Chrysler’s middle-row seats that fold into the floor to maximize cargo space, a feature that no competitor has managed to duplicate since “Stow n Go” debuted more than a decade ago.
The Pacifica impressed during a quick preview drive last year, and a subsequent weeklong test confirmed that this minivan is strong beyond the spec sheet; it’s in line with the best competitors for ride, handling, acceleration and fuel economy. Meanwhile, the interior boasts respectably comfortable seating for eight passengers, with ample entertainment opportunities – including airplane-style screens on the seatbacks for middle-row passengers on the tested $43,765 Touring L Plus model. (The base price is $30,090.)
As if it’s not impressive enough that the normal Pacifica’s V6 engine offers an excellent EPA rating of 22 miles per gallon in mixed driving, Chrysler has also launched a class-exclusive plug-in hybrid model that can go 33 miles per electric charge, get 32 mpg after the charge is used up, earn you a $7,500 federal tax credit, and let you drive solo in Maryland’s HOV lanes.
There are some advantages to competing minivans. The Honda Odyssey has cushier seats, and its upcoming 2018-model redesign promises various upgrades in addition to emergency automatic braking becoming standard on all but the base model; that system is available only on pricey Pacificas. The Toyota Sienna, while aging and not due for any major redesign soon, will get that feature standard for 2018. The Kia Sedona offers a more luxurious look and feel to its interior. Meanwhile, value-seekers can still buy Chrysler’s old 2008-era minivan under the Dodge Grand Caravan name.
But if you’re shopping for a minivan, the Pacifica is the most well-rounded, best-executed model available today.
These days, many car buyers find it challenging to justify purchasing a luxury car. When an Audi costing nearly $50,000 is missing some of the features that you’d find on a $30,000 Kia, with less interior space to boot, some buyers will decide that the latter offers the better experience for them.
But the redesigned 2017 Audi A4 entry-luxury sedan offers other components of luxury that are hard to replicate: groundbreaking technology and outstanding driving dynamics.
Stylistically, even some car folks have struggled to distinguish the exterior of the new A4 from its predecessor. Clean, simple lines aim for more of a timeless flair than an aggressively modern one. But inside, Audi has emerged as a technology leader with its widely customizable digital gauge cluster, integration of Google Maps and other clever features.
While a growing number of cars have replaced physical speedometer dials with electronically rendered display screens, Audi has shown by far the most creativity with this approach. You can set the car to show you normal-looking gauges, or tap a steering wheel button to see most of the gauge cluster replaced with a gorgeous Google Maps satellite view of your surroundings. Meanwhile, you can input the address for your GPS directions by handwriting the letters on the surface of a dashboard dial. The overall interior aesthetic impresses both for its technological focus but also for clean, minimalist design and outstanding build quality.
The A4 also impresses on the road with seemingly unflappable composure. It’s not the outright sports sedan that some of its competitors are, but it stays confidently planted to the road and calmly handles either a bump or a tight curve with aplomb. Meanwhile, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine offers both peppy acceleration and respectable gas mileage: an EPA rating of 27 mpg in mixed driving.
Prices for the 2017 A4 start at $40,350; the tested car hit $48,725. Shop it against the posher Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the more affordable Lexus IS and Infiniti Q50, and also consider Audi’s own smaller, less expensive A3.