Are There Any Hybrid Minivans? (Your Only Option)

Minivans are perennial favorites for drivers who require comfort, along with ample cargo and passenger room. While SUVs and crossovers have more recently become the go-to vehicle of choice for many of these drivers, the minivan has never completely lost favor. Compared to the SUV and crossover crowd, many minivans offer better storage capacity, easier ingress and egress for passengers, and more family-friendly optional equipment. When you combine those benefits with the gas savings of a hybrid powertrain, the minivan is still a strong contender, even among some serious competition. If you have your heart set on purchasing a hybrid minivan, you’ll be happy to hear that it’s a possibility. However you don’t have to worry about spending hours of research comparing and contrasting models— there’s only one.

As of 2020, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the first and currently the only hybrid minivan on the market. The Pacifica Hybrid offers 32 miles of fully electric travel and is paired with a conventional V6 gasoline engine, allowing up to 520 miles of travel before refueling/recharging. This seven-passenger minivan offers more cargo room than any other hybrid and features over 80 different seating configurations to maximize the utility of its space. While your choices are limited to this sole vehicle, you’ll be happy to hear about the impressive features along with the glowing reviews and accolades the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid has been raking in since its introduction in 2017.

Chrysler’s Pacifica Hybrid

The One and Only Hybrid Minivan

Introduced at the 2016 North American International Auto Show, the Chrysler Pacifica was nearly unrecognizable compared to its previous iteration, the Chrysler Town & Country. A sportier, sleeker design replaced the boxy, upright approach that had defined the Town & Country. In addition to the new name and updated styling, designed to compete more competently with SUV and crossover competitors, the Pacifica provided revised and updated technology and options along with a lighter base curb weight.

Introduced that year, alongside the regular models, was the Pacifica Hybrid. The 2017 Pacifica Hybrid was available in either ‘Premium’ or ‘Platinum’ trim and cost $41,995 or $44,995 respectively.

Current Pacifica Hybrid

As of 2020, the Pacifica Hybrid starts at $39,995 and is available in myriad trim levels, topping out at $48,940 for the top-of-the-line Red S Edition. And although there is a significant initial price increase from the base model gasoline-powered Pacifica ($33,745) to the Pacifica Hybrid, the latter qualifies for the federal $7,500 tax credit along with other available state and local incentives making that price difference just about irrelevant.

Pacifica Hybrid Specifics

The Pacifica Hybrid is powered by a fuel-efficient V6 but the real draw is, of course, the hybrid power. The Pacifica Hybrid sports two electric motors that are powered by a 16-kWh battery, tucked under the floor in the center of the vehicle. While this forgoes the ability to stow mid-row seating like in conventional Pacificas, that option is still available in the rear.

The Pacifica Hybrid’s 360V lithium-ion battery allows fully electric starts and, when fully charged, is capable of traveling up to 32 miles on electric power alone. With a full tank and juiced-up battery, you can expect up to 520 miles of range.

The Pacifica Hybrid’s two electric motors each serve a designated purpose: one battery is for electric driving while the other helps charge the battery pack as well as helping to start the gasoline engine.

The Pacifica Hybrid is a ‘plug-in hybrid’ which means that it requires charging via a charge port, located at the bottom of the driver’s side A-pillar. This allows the minivan to plug in directly to any 120V wall receptacle with the included ‘Level I’ cable. Charging this way can take anywhere from 12-14 hours for a full charge, however, a ‘Level II’ option is available. This option, in conjunction with Amazon, charges at 220V and will decrease charge time to only two hours.

What is a Hybrid?

Defining a hybrid vehicle is simple: it’s a vehicle that combines two different types of components, both performing essentially the same function. That’s the Merriam-Webster version, anyway. However, outside of definition, things get a bit more complicated.

While the general definition is broad, we can narrow it down to talk specifically about ‘hybrid electric vehicles’, also known as HEVs.

The ABCs of HEVs

Technically speaking, a hybrid vehicle can be powered by any two separate components, but most people think ‘gasoline-electric’ when they hear hybrid. These HEVs rely on designated electric motors to work in concert with the gasoline engine. A plug-in hybrid can fit into any of these models, the only difference is that an outside power source is used. Gas-electric hybrids can be divided into three main modes: series hybrid, parallel hybrid, and power-split hybrid.

Series Hybrids

The series hybrid uses gasoline to power the internal combustion engine (ICE) which, in turn, powers a generator. This generator then powers the motor that drives the wheels. The generator can also be used to charge a battery which can then send power to the motor as well.

Parallel Hybrids

Parallel hybrids allow both power sources to directly power the wheels through the transmission. In this model, fuel powers the ICE which sends power directly to the transmission. Mirroring this, the battery pack sends power to the electric motor which then sends power to the transmission.

Power-Split Hybrids

The power-split hybrid, used in the Toyota Prius, works on the same principle as the parallel hybrid but allows the transmission to be powered fully by one source at a time, optimizing efficiency so both power sources can be utilized for maximum effectiveness.

History’s First Hybrid

The advent of the first gasoline-electric hybrid was created by none other than the godfather of German speed himself: Ferdinand Porsche. Porsche created the Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid in 1901, with twin electric motors mounted in each of the front wheels. However, being incredibly heavy and expensive to produce, these were only sold in small numbers. It wouldn’t be until the late nineteen nineties, almost one hundred years later, that hybrid vehicles would resurface with any kind of real availability.

The Pragmatic Prius

In December of 1997, Toyota released the Prius into the Japanese Domestic Market. True to its etymological roots (Prius is Latin for “original” or “first”) the Prius became the first mass-produced gasoline-electric HEV in history. Three years later the Prius arrived stateside, just trailing the Honda Insight by a nose.

But while the Insight was a funky two-door subcompact that appeared to fill a more niche role, the Prius positioned itself centrally between the small Corolla and roomier Camry.

The Prius has evolved with time to include the use of bioplastics and the addition of optional electric all-wheel-drive. It’s continued to be a staple in Toyota’s lineup and has managed to remain one of the most popular HEVs after over twenty years of production.

Hybrid vs Electric

Only fifty years ago it would have been hard to imagine common cars traveling with electric drive assistance, let alone fully-electric power— but today, Teslas are a common sight in just about every city and HEVs are even more commonplace. At a glance, these may seem like nearly interchangeable labels to the average consumer, but the differences are many.

Hybrid Power

Like we talked about above, HEVs rely on an internal combustion engine to work alongside electric motors to send power to the wheels. These hybrids can harness power through regenerative braking and make use of a generator. The generator can power a wheel-driving motor and also be used to charge a battery pack. These hybrids can work in tandem or together.

Some hybrids require an outside source of electricity, these are called plug-in hybrids. Plug-in hybrids utilize, you guessed it, power from a stationary plug-in system. Usually connecting from a wall system, Plug-in hybrids can be charged up at charging stations or overnight in the owner’s garage.

Fully Electric Power

It’s hard to believe, but the first usable electric vehicles predate the modern automobile itself. In 1888, a German inventor named Andreas Flocken created what is widely considered the first true electric car: the Flocken Elektrowagen.

It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that the internal combustion engine and its benefits began to outweigh those of the electric cars.

Now, into the second decade of the 2000s, with electric cars becoming more viable for the average consumer, they have become commonplace.

Pushed by U.S. government regulations, car manufacturers began a move towards lower-emissions vehicles with the apex goal of zero emissions. Ultimately, these zero-emissions vehicles, or ZEVs, would be the pinnacle of environmentally-friendly automotive engineering.

Electric vehicles work on a plug-in system, requiring regular charging. In recent years that has been a surge of charging stations placed strategically along high traffic routes. These fast-charge stations are planned to grow exponentially throughout the U.S.

The Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S are the two biggest sellers worldwide, with the Tesla filling a more upmarket segment. Many auto manufacturers have already added hybrid drive vehicles to their lineup and plan to introduce fully electric models in the coming years as well.

Pros and Cons of Hybrid Ownership

All cars have a battery for electrical functions within a car.  A hybrid has an additional battery pack that can power your engine.

Advantages of Owning a Hybrid

Hybrid owners are almost undoubtedly people who value the environment and put a high priority on sustainable and responsibly made products and vehicles. Knowing this, many auto manufacturers have integrated sustainable practices into their hybrid vehicles’ production, such as Toyota’s use of bioplastics in their Prius. Toyota also harvests rainwater and uses solar panels to power an estimated one-third of the power needed for its headquarters in Texas.

Hybrid vehicles offer a multitude of benefits for those looking to lessen their carbon footprint. The most obvious benefit is the big increase in fuel economy. The ability to use electric power allows the vehicle to use a smaller, more efficient internal combustion engine which can lower emissions and miles per gallon.

While eco-consciousness is a key factor in hybrid design, there are also fiscally advantageous reasons as well. The savings in fuel consumption can be a dramatic change for most drivers and this, paired with generous government incentives (up to $7,500 in tax incentives), certainly, help make hybrids so popular.

Possible Hybrid Disadvantages

Disadvantages associated with hybrids typically have to do with limited power and handling. While electric motors provide immediate torque, the added weight from the battery increases the weight of the minvan which limits the vehicle’s speed overall and can make the car handle in a less-than-ideal fashion depending on where the battery is located.

It’s also true that many hybrids cost more initially than their conventional counterparts. However, this can be mitigated through tax incentives and savings.

The Best Hybrid Minivan Alternatives

If you like the idea of a hybrid minivan but for whatever reason can’t make the jump, there are plenty of other options out there.

Mazda5

One of the most fuel-efficient minivans isn’t really a minivan at all— the Mazda5 was available on the U.S. market until 2015 when slowing sales numbers caused Mazda to pull it from their stateside lineup. With their sliding side-doors and ample cargo room, the Mazda5 is a compact with nearly all the practicality of a minivan. These compact MPVs, ‘Multi-Purpose Vehicles’, are still available on the used car market and are usually very reasonably priced. Fuel economy for the 2015 Mazda5 was rated at 21 city / 28 highway. Impressive!

Toyota RAV4

The RAV4 seems to be one of the most ubiquitous vehicles on the road, and that’s with good reason. The RAV4 has been around since the mid-1990’s and during that time it’s managed to simultaneously fill the role it was created for as well as evolve with the times and trends. Fuel economy for the 2020 RAV4 is rated at 27 city / 34 highway with a combined rating of 30.

The RAV4 is a consistent favorite due to its reliability, storage capacity, and affordable price.

While the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is currently the only choice for those interested in purchasing a hybrid minivan, this is a choice the buyer can be confident in making. The varied hybrid market has started to extend into other, larger vehicles that may be nearly as utilitarian as a minivan so it’s worth keeping an eye out for new arrivals. Additionally, there are other, less common, designs used in hybrid vehicles as well. The term ‘micro-hybrid’ was coined to describe a vehicle with an auto start-stop feature. A ‘mild hybrid’ is one that relies on regenerative braking as well as using start-stop technology. Be sure to look for these designations when you’re shopping for a new vehicle.

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