DETROIT -- When designing the interior of a new vehicle, stylists often focus on the driver's seat, the one spot where someone will always be sitting.
But when the vehicle is a minivan, such as the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica that arrives in dealerships this spring, the attention is on the second and third rows.
Indeed, the Pacifica's rear seating is more like a mobile living room than a traditional minivan. That's due to features such as fully independent, high-definition infotainment systems with integrated games, more luxurious and configurable seating and even an onboard vacuum cleaner.
The idea behind investing in the Pacifica's rear cabin is simple: If back-seat passengers -- read kids -- are happy and occupied, there's a better chance the front-seat passengers -- the minivan-buying adults -- will have a safe and enjoyable driving experience.
"The minivan needs to be a purpose-built tool for the parenting trade," said AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan. "If the rear seat is a miss in this segment, it loses the entire reason why someone would choose a minivan over a crossover. Not every kid is a road warrior. If you can take away the pain points for kids with traveling, it takes a lot of stress off the driver."
On the Pacifica, FCA is rolling out Uconnect Theater, a new version of its Uconnect infotainment system. Supplied by Delphi Automotive, it features two independently operating, high-definition, flip-up 10.1-inch touch screens, each embedded into the backrest of a front-row seat. Pricing for the optional Uconnect Theater system has not been announced.
The two screens can show the same program via a built-in Blu-ray player in the front-row instrument cluster, or can show separate programs using USB or high-definition multimedia interface inputs on the seat backs just below the screens. Two sets of wireless headphones are included in the Uconnect Theater system, as well as input jacks for wired headsets.
Each screen contains a series of eight familiar traveling games, including tic-tac-toe, back-seat bingo, checkers and a map-based touch version of license plate bingo. The screens come with a remote control that has a gesture area, allowing users to control the touch screen if they are, say, restricted by the five-point harness of a child safety seat.
A new app -- called "Are We There Yet?" -- ties into the Pacifica's navigation system to provide location and time-until-arrival information to back-seat passengers.
With the high-definition inputs, the available 120-volt electrical outlets and FCA's onboard wireless connectivity, back-seat passengers can play gaming systems such as Microsoft's Xbox One, said Aamir Ahmed, FCA's Uconnect marketing manager. In its Pacifica displays at the Detroit and Chicago auto shows, Chrysler demonstrated Uconnect Theater with an Xbox One.
"What's nice is that, with the Stow 'n Go seating, you can actually put the game system down in the [seat] storage area so that it's out of the way," Ahmed said.
Chrysler's engineers also redesigned the Pacifica's Stow 'n Go seats, making them easier to stow and improving entry to the third row.
The new stowing mechanism, supplied by Magna, uses a button on the interior B-pillar to automatically push forward the front-row seat. That allows the second-row seat to collapse into the storage well with a gentle one-handed assist.
The redesign also incorporates a pivoting mechanism that allows the second-row seat to tilt forward for easier access to the third row, even if a child seat is attached. In the Pacifica's predecessor, the 2016 Chrysler Town & Country, moving into the third row would require removing the safety seat or climbing over it.
Chrysler, which invented the minivan segment 33 years ago, has never stopped experimenting with its people mover. In the last decade, it tried swivel second-row seats coupled with an available table that would allow rear passengers to play games together while traveling. It also did an innovative deal with satellite TV providers that beamed certain live TV into the rear cabin. Both efforts were abandoned, however.
Production of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is scheduled to begin at FCA's Windsor Assembly plant next week. Pricing has not yet been announced.