One thing I've learned in my decade as a race organizer, living a life of biohazardous motel rooms and bad food on the road, is that racers love minivans. The reason for this is simple: A good minivan will handle the jobs of multiple vehicles, leaving space and money for more race cars. As an added bonus, a minivan makes an excellent support vehicle for those weekend-long track events; you can even sleep comfortably inside if the weather renders your tent uninhabitable. Last year, I took a Toyota Sienna AWD to camp at the B.F.E. GP 24 Hours of Lemons race in Colorado. That worked so well that I decided to go a bit more green and take the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Touring Plus to the Sears Pointless race at Sonoma Raceway this year.
It seems strange to call a vehicle that weighs nearly 5,000 pounds a "mini" van, but such is the 21st century.
As is usual for my trips to work at Northern California 24 Hours of Lemons races, I picked up the van at the Oakland Airport and stopped by my childhood home on the Island That Rust Forgot. It's a 43-mile drive from there to the front gate of Sonoma Raceway.
You can drive from San Francisco to San Diego without stopping for gas.
When I used the 2017 Prius Prime for this purpose last year, I got about 25 miles into the trip before the fossil-fuel power kicked in. A couple of years before that, the Chevy Volt managed to get nearly to the track entrance on battery power alone. How far would electricity take the Pacifica Hybrid?
There's a power outlet under the bleachers at Sonoma Raceway, for the portable PA system used during trophy ceremonies. I brought a long extension cord and used it to throw some charge into the Pacifica while I worked.
Thursday night, I charged the batteries overnight on the 120-volt AC wall-outlet power at my mom's house, then drove the car to the track on Friday morning. The Range-O-Meter was very accurate about the 33-mile pure-electric range; that's about what I got before the V6 fired up. While working, I'd leave the van plugged into an outdoor outlet under the big bleachers at the track. Race Organizer Tip: If you bring sufficient length of extension cords, you can always find a way to top off your plug-in hybrid's batteries at a race track. (Ed note: Follow at your own risk; the manufacturer would advise against this.)
With the rear seats removed, there'd be enough room inside to sleep in comfort.
I'd yanked the back seats out as soon as I got the van, so I'd have room to sleep inside if my camping plans were disrupted by the all-too-common spring rainstorms at Sears Point (the geographical feature upon which Sonoma Raceway stands is called Sears Point, so this usage is correct). Removing the seats is something of a sweaty, knuckle-scraping process, but I suspect the release latches may have been damaged by the ham-handed automotive-journalist predecessors who drove this van before me, few of whom will RTFM prior to using complex features.
The sheep showed up overnight, much to my surprise the next morning.
Sonoma Raceway is set up to handle tens of thousands of rowdy NASCAR fans, so the few thousand who show up for a 24 Hours of Lemons race leave a lot of empty space at the facility. I took the van up into the hills overlooking Turn 4 and set up my tent next to the Pacifica.
My neighbor at Camp Pacifica.
The weather seemed pretty good when I set up camp, so I opted to sleep in the tent instead of the minivan. At first, this seemed like a great idea, what with the idyllic view and sounds of wildlife around me. During the night, though, a typical Bay Area March rainstorm blew in, and then a herd of sheep— complete with barking, angry sheepdogs— showed up to eat the grass. I didn't have the energy to move back to the van, so I spent the night being awakened every hour or so by dripping water, a trio of very noisy Great Pyrenees dogs, and baa-ing sheep. The Pacifica got stuck in the resulting mud the next morning, of course, but I was able to rock it out later that day.
The great thing about a van is that you can just toss all your grimy camping gear inside, without worrying about making it fit.
Here's one of the reasons racers love minivans so much. They drive like cars, they consume fuel like cars, and— maybe best of all— they hold more of your unorganized crap than just about any SUV. When it was time to shoo away the sheep and pack up my camp, I just hurled everything through the big side openings and forgot about it.
No surprises on the road, which is a good thing with a utilitarian machine such as this.
Driving the Pacifica Hybrid is pretty much an uneventful experience; it's hard to detect the switch between gasoline and electric motors, so it feels about like any competent modern car on the highway. Nothing exciting, but nothing irritating. The sound system in the audio system provides the proper wattage for Race Organizer tunes and the whole experience is about 19 times more comfortable than the truck-influenced monsters that most people who really need a minivan tend to buy instead.
I drove it 393 miles, so I had to add some go-go juice.
I drove a total of 393 miles, mostly highway and without making any attempt to conserve energy, and consumed 7.909 gallons of gas. That's just a hair under 50 miles per gallon, in a vehicle that weighs nearly 2 1/2 tons and seats seven. I didn't keep good enough track of electricity consumed to calculate the cost of the kilowatt-hours used during those 393 miles, but it couldn't have been more than the cost of several gallons of California Regular Unleaded. I'd call this an astounding performance and proof that we live in a golden age of automotive technology.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $39,995
As Tested Price: $41,585
Powertrain: 3.6-liter Atkinson-cycle V6, 2 electric motors, CVT, front-wheel-drive
Output: 260 hp combined
Curb Weight: 4,987 lbs
Fuel Economy: 27/33/29 MPG, 84 MPGe(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Observed Fuel Economy: 49.7 MPG
Options: Power liftgate ($495), destination charge ($1,095)
Pros: Racers love minivans, and this one gets great fuel economy.
Cons: Non-racers fear the minivan image.