In 2011, Green Car Reports launched an award for the new car, or family of cars, that represented the best green vehicle introduced for the model year.
The Nissan Leaf won that year because it was the sole affordable battery-electric vehicle on the market.
Over the next seven years, more than two dozen vehicles that plug in to the grid to recharge a battery that powers them have entered the market.
DON’T MISS: 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid – full review
This year, the Green Car Reports Best Car To Buy 2018 is the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid plug-in minivan.
One of a kind
It wins because it’s a one-of-a-kind vehicle: the sole seven-seat minivan with a plug-in hybrid powertrain sold in the U.S. this year.
Not only does it offer all the virtues of the well-received Chrysler Pacifica, it offers substantial real-world electric range—30 miles or more in most cases—and much better fuel economy when operating as a hybrid.
Only a couple of small five-door hatchback plug-in hybrids have higher ranges.
Now, for the first time, there’s an affordable vehicle for suburban families who carry up to seven people and their gear in everyday travel.
The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, which despite its name also plugs in to recharge its 16-kilowatt-hour battery pack, is EPA-rated at 33 miles of range in electric mode and 32 mpg combined in gasoline model.
Chrysler has chosen to market the vehicle largely as a conventional hybrid, though some of the ads explain the benefits of operating on electric power alone.
It’s offered this year in Touring Plus, Touring L, and Limited trim levels, starting at a base price around $43,000.
While it’s pricier than the Pacifica powered only by a gasoline V-6 engine, buyers are eligible for a federal income-tax credit of $7,500 and California buyers receive a $1,500 purchase rebate.
Three different finalists
Assessing our three finalists this year required us to compare very different approaches to making personal cars greener.
They included not only the Pacifica Hybrid plug-in minivan, a model with three powertrain options—hybrid, battery-electric, and soon plug-in hybrid—for a single car (the Hyundai Ioniq), and a battery-electric model (the 2018 Nissan Leaf).
The Pacifica Hybrid got the highest rating of the three from The Car Connection, our sister site, and it offers carrying capacity and flexibility neither of the other two finalists could, because both are small five-door hatchbacks.
The virtues of the basic Chrysler Pacifica are well-documented: it’s stylish, with an interior design far more elegant than you’d expect, plus excellent controls and interactive displays and more family-friendly features than we have space to cover.
Adding a plug-in hybrid powertrain to that package, at a price that’s essentially offset by the full federal income-tax credit, makes a very good vehicle exceptional.
Our only quibbles are remarkably minor: you can’t order the eighth seat of the regular Pacifica, and the third-row seat is noisier than it should be, perhaps due to noise from the low-rolling resistance tires.
We were impressed by the Chrysler Pacifica when it launched in late 2016, but the plug-in hybrid model missed our deadline for the 2017 Best Car To Buy award by a single day.
Returning to the Pacifica Hybrid a year later, we remain awed by the excellence of the basic vehicle and the smoothness and real-world electric power and range of the plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Not only that, the plug-in Pacifica takes electric drive into a new category, leapfrogging Chrysler into the lead in an emerging segment of large but affordable family vehicles that plug in for part of their travel.
For all those reasons, Green Car Reports names the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid as our Best Car To Buy for the year.
Congratulations to Chrysler, to its technology partner LG, and to the teams that built it. Like last year’s Chevy Bolt EV, the plug-in hybrid Pacifica is a new milestone for green cars.