In 2019 my wife and I went to a Discovery Dinner at the local nature center. It was a presentation about electric vehicles. The presenter, Jukka Kukkonen, was an automotive engineer by trade. He switched his focus to hybrid and electric vehicles as he knew clean energy would be the way of the future. We left the dinner with one major point in our head:

If you’re going to buy a hybrid vehicle, make sure it is a plug-in hybrid.

Jukka

At that time we had a Toyota Highlander Hybrid (not a plug-in). It was fantastically reliable with over 250,000 miles on the clock. Never had to replace the batteries. No major engine or drivetrain issues. Consistently 20-27MPG – not a stunner, but much better than most other SUVs of that era. Every time we drove that car over 200,000 miles it felt like a gift.

For our next vehicle, had set our sights on the Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid. I always wanted to go straight to minivan ownership when we became parents. I understood a van’s utility and could look past the soccer mom image, she couldn’t.

After Jessi got a new job in 2020, it was time. We shopped for used Pacificas as the new ones are upwards of $40k. We wound up getting a deal on a 2017 model that had 120k miles on it – am I concerned? Nope, and I’ll explain why…

Joining the neighborhood Minivan crew

PHEV Awesomeness

Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles (PHEVs) are the best of the two worlds we currently live in. You plug it in and get up to 30 miles of driving all-electric. You really don’t need a level 2 (240 volt) charger, as the 30 mile range will recharge in 12 hours overnight with the included 120 volt charger.

When you run out of battery, the gas motor kicks in and the two work in concert to get better mileage than a gas motor alone can’t. There’s no range anxiety, but you can still plug in at the mall or the grocery store (usually for free) to extend your electric range.

In the first 6 months we had the Pacifica, we put on 5,000 miles: 3,000 electric and 2,000 gas. If the previous owner had the same experience, that means out of 120k miles, the gas motor was only responsible for 48k of them. 120k miles doesn’t sound too scary then, eh? Worst case scenario the gas motor worked 2/3 of the time so it effectively has 80k miles.

The bottom line is the Pacifica is an excellent hybrid. Even when the battery reads 0%, it’s not fully depleted. There’s always some reserve to operate in a traditional gas-electric hybrid mode. And when it’s in that mode it uses electric drive way more than our Highlander did.

These are just some of my thoughts on what you can expect as a first time PHEV owner, and some of the quirks of the Pacifica. One thing I want to note is that when the car is in electric mode you hear everything. Tire tread, road grooves, the steering rack – if it makes noise, you’ll hear it b/c there’s no engine noise to cover it up. 😀

Climate Controls

In our 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, the sure way to get the gas engine running is to turn on the heater. When I’d do oil changes on the HiHy in the summer, rather than following the ridiculously complex “force the internal combustion engine to run” procedure, I’d just turn on the heat.

Pacifica Hybrid in Freezing Weather

The Pacifica is similar, but not as bad. One thing is for sure, the internal combustion (IC) engine is going to run from a cold start on cold days. When it’s freezing (below 32°F) the IC engine will run until the coolant temp is 130°F – even if the climate controls are off. This is because the battery coolant, which also acts as a battery warmer in cold weather, is connected to the engine coolant. My suggestion is to run the heater during this time because the IC engine is going to run regardless.

After 130°F if the climate controls are off it will switch to all-electric. Maximum battery power delivery will be limited – lithium batteries can’t sustain high amp draw without severe voltage drop when they’re cold. So if you stomp on the accelerator, the IC engine will kick back on.

If you keep the heater on, the IC engine will continue to run and heat the coolant up to 165°F. It will switch to all electric drive once it’s above 165°F, and then run the IC again when coolant goes below 150°F. On a cold day (0°F) at highway speeds with the heater on, this will mean about 1-2 miles with the IC engine on and then 2-4 miles with the IC engine off. Mostly because the wind chill is very effective at lowering the coolant temp.

I may try putting some cardboard in the grille like Minnesotan’s used to back in the day. 📦

Touchscreen & Software

The center console touchscreen is capacitive, so if you want to operate it in winter, you’ll need to be wearing touchscreen compatible gloves.

I had an issue with navigation system. I don’t actually use the built-in nav, I use my phone. But the problem revealed itself through the compass. I noticed it was wrong a lot of time, sometimes showing the opposite direction I was traveling.

When it was happening, I switched to the navigation map and it showed an icon of the van in the metro area, but it was not on the road I was on. It was sort of “floating” over the map, through fields and neighborhoods. It wasn’t just a compass issue, it was a GPS issue.

I updated the software and that took care of the issue. BTW, plan for 30-45 minutes for the software upgrade. If it’s cold out when you perform the update, bring a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate. ☕

Battery Life & Electric Range

Even with the number of miles on the clock – estimating that the battery pack and motor have traveled 72k miles, it still has good range. In warm weather (without the electric heater running) it will get 25-30 miles. You should probably cut those numbers in half if you’re running the electric heater w/o assistance from the gas engine.🔋

Best Minivan Ever?

I never thought I’d own a Chrysler. But I think they did a great job and other owners I’ve talked to say the company put a little more care into this vehicle than their normal offerings. We’d be more likely to go with a Toyota, but the Sienna hybrid came out in 2020, and not as a plugin (see above). The 2021 Sienna Hybrid is a plug-in with EV range, but at $40k+ I’d have to wait for someone else to buy it and sell it to me later 😂 Perfectly happy with the decision we made.

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