Humans aren't worth much anymore – at least when it comes to employment.
At one time, after flipping through a mail order catalogue, you'd call an 800 number and place an order. Now, you browse through a website, choose an item, and enter your own information. You fulfill the order, not an operator whose job has been eliminated. It's no better at a fast food joint where you, not some employee, will enter your order. After all, the cost of equipment can be depreciated on taxes over time; employees cannot. And equipment doesn't require health benefits or vacation time.
Soon, artificial intelligence will be our chauffeurs, eliminating the need for humans behind the wheel. And while you'd never want to escape the thrill of driving a fast sports car yourself, for any number of cars, having microchips pilot you to your destination would only add to their appeal.
Consider the minivan. Driving rug rats to school, ballet and soccer practice is not fun. It's a chore. So why not let the minivan handle it? This way, you can chat with your children or fellow passengers, or watch a movie with them. Having the minivan handle the drudgery of driving itself seems ideal, like a robotic vacuum keeping your floors clean.
So it's almost appropriate that Waymo now has 600 Chrysler Pacifica minivans in its test fleet of self-driving vehicles. After all, given the choice, most of us would really rather drive a posh SUV or thrilling sports car than a minivan.
But this scenario has yet to unfold. Until then, customers will have to settle for smaller innovations, like the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan. Of course, this no small matter.
Chrysler is the world's first manufacturer of a hybrid minivan, and this model maintains its standing as a leader the segment. Like the standard minivan, the Pacifica Hybrid uses the corporate 3.6-liter V6, albeit modified for hybrid duties, working in concert with two electric motors to deliver 260 horsepower to the front wheels through an electrically variable transmission developed by Chrysler. Electric power is supplied by a 16.0-kWh battery pack comprised of 96 lithium-ion cells housed in the underfloor bins where the second-row seats normally stow. It recharges in two hours on a 240-volt circuit or in about 14 hours using a 120-volt outlet.
That supplies enough juice to run 33 miles solely on electric power, returning the equivalent of 84 mpg, according to the EPA. Once that point is reached, the Pacifica acts like a conventional hybrid, with the electric motor working in tandem with the gas engine to deliver 32 mpg, 10 mpg more than the standard Pacifica enough to save $800 annually in fuel costs according to the EPA.
The sounds great, but here's the caveat.
The Pacifica Hybrid starts at $39,995, a $13,000 premium from the conventional Pacifica's $26,995 entry-level price. Considering the difference in fuel economy, it would take a little more than 16 years to break even. But this isn't really a fair comparison since the Hybrid Limited being tested started at $44,995. That's $1,300 more than the Pacifica Limited, the top-of-line gas model that starts at $43,695. So breaking even takes little more than one and-a-half years.
Economics aside, there are some compromises that you'll have to live with. For starters, the Hybrid is only offered as a seven passenger vehicle, and the individual second row seats do not fold into the floor. Instead, you have to remove them for maximum storage capacity, however, cargo space is identical to that of the conventional Pacifica. And while the standard Pacifica can tow 3,600 pounds, it's not recommend with the Hybrid. Finally, the Hybrid weighs 657 pounds more than the standard Pacifica, while having 27 less horsepower.
But the added weight doesn't seem to affect performance. The driveline is smooth and responsive, with the Hybrid driveline acting as the obedient servant, always ready, never overtaxed. The steering is light and lacking in feel, but accurate. Body lean is moderate, and body motions are well controlled, furnishing a compliant, comfortable ride. The only complaint is brake pedal travel, lacks a smooth progressive feel, making smooth braking difficult.
Fuel economy came in at 28 mpg, a bit lower than the estimate thanks to a heavy throttle foot.
Driver assistance gear includes standard blind-spot monitoring with rear cross path detection, and optional forward collision warning, lane departure warning, parking assist, and a surround view camera. Although NHTSA hasn't crash tested the Pacifica Hybrid, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates it a Top Safety Pick Plus, it's top ranking.
Front seats proved roomy, comfortable and could be heated and cooled. Second row seats provided adequate legroom and slide for and aft fro cargo/people carrying flexibility. However, seating was low making them ideal for children but less so for adults, although headroom was impressive. And, given the lack of children during the test drive, the cabin proved to be quiet.
While front seat occupants get an 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system, other passengers get an optional two high-definition 10-inch touchscreens where they can watch movies, play built-in games and connect personal devices to surf the Internet.
In many ways, the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is a mobile great room, a thoroughly comfortable, quiet, and now fuel efficient ride that's remarkably unremarkable. It's the perfect salve for an overwhelmed parent. The only way it could be better was if it could drive itself.
Base prices: $39,995-$44,995
Powertrain: 3.6-liter Atkinson Cycle V6 and dual electric motors
Fuel type: Regular
EPA fuel economy (combined): 84 mpg-e (electric), 32 mpg (gas and electric)
Wheelbase: 121.6 inches
Length: 203.8 inches
Towing: Not recommended
Cargo capacity: 32.3-140.5 cubic feet
Curb weight: 4,987 pounds
IIHS rating: Top Safety Pick Plus
Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. Readers may send him email at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.
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