What's New for 2004
The Pacifica is an all-new six-passenger vehicle that combines the attributes of a wagon, minivan and SUV.
When all-American Chrysler "merged" with German conglomerate Daimler, it seemed an unlikely combination. So it shouldn't be much of surprise that the first product to emerge from this strange brew is itself an improbable mix of minivan, wagon and sport-utility. Chrysler calls the Pacifica a "sports tourer," and while this may be just another example of the endlessly fertile minds of Chrysler's marketing team, the Pacifica does have a distinctly different personality compared to your average minivan or SUV. Its sleek lines certainly don't scream "mommy-mobile," but look inside and there are more than enough seats to qualify for carpool duty. Juxtapose this with the Pacifica's luxuriously appointed interior and high-end options, and it's easy to see why this vehicle is so hard to wedge into any one specific category. Although base front-wheel-drive models start at just over $31,000, loaded all-wheel-drive versions can exceed $40,000. While the base price places it against mainstream vehicles like the Honda Pilot and Buick Rendezvous, more heavily optioned models run squarely against luxury-branded vehicles like Acura's MDX and the Lexus RX 330 -- a challenge Chrysler feels that its new upscale crossover is up to. Power is provided by a 250-horsepower version of the 3.5-liter V6 previously seen in the Chrysler 300M and Concorde. Acceleration is a little soft from a standstill, but once the V6 gets its wind, the vehicle moves out quickly. The ride is quiet and comfortable, and handling, while not exactly athletic, is certainly nimble for a large vehicle. Inside, the Pacifica has an attractive two-tone color scheme accented by faux wood and aluminum. Second-row captain's chairs provide nearly as much comfort as the front seats and an equally accommodating entry height. Satellite climate controls and an optional rear DVD entertainment system further contribute to the first-class feel in back. There are a few details that parents may find frustrating. Attending to a small child from the front is quite a stretch, and without a bench seat, you don't have the option of plopping yourself down between two kids in back on longer trips. Besides that, space in the third row is tight, making it suitable for small children only. Finally, there's only 13 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rearmost seats -- not much at all for a utility vehicle. At least all the rear seats can be folded into the floor when you need more space. The real question, of course, is what kind of ratings buyers will give the Pacifica. We've found it hard not to like its combination of upscale amenities, sharp handling and non-traditional styling. Add to that an elevated driving position, supremely comfortable seats and top-notch safety scores and it's easy to see why Chrysler believes that it has created a whole new category. "Sports tourer" might be a little optimistic, but if the worst aspect of the Pacifica is its pretentious title, then we would consider it a vehicle well done.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Pacifica is available in two models -- front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. Both offer features such as 17-inch alloy wheels, power-adjustable pedals, power driver and front-passenger seats, dual-zone climate control, a CD player, second-row captain's chairs, auto-down windows and auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors. Options include leather upholstery, a power sunroof, power rear liftgate, heated first- and second-row seats and chrome wheels. Entertainment options include an upgraded 385-watt Infinity Intermezzo audio system, Sirius Satellite Radio and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. An innovative DVD-based navigation system is offered with the screen mounted in the instrument cluster for easy viewing by the driver. Chrysler has chosen the Pacifica to showcase its first hands-free communication system, "UConnect."
Powertrains and Performance
Both front- and all-wheel-drive versions come with Chrysler's 3.5-liter V6, which makes 250 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. AWD models use a viscous coupling center differential, and the system has the ability to send up to 90 percent of the power to the front or rear wheels if driving conditions warrant such activity. All Pacificas come with a four-speed automatic transmission with automanual functionality.
Safety features include an Enhanced Accident Response System (EARS) that automatically unlocks all doors and turns on interior lights after the airbags have been deployed. Other safety enhancements include side curtain airbags for all three rows, three-point belts for all six seating positions, a knee airbag for the driver and a tire-pressure monitoring system. The Pacifica has also earned a perfect five-star sweep in front- and side-impact crash tests conducted by the NHTSA.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Pacifica can seat up to six people, but the seats are arranged in three rows of two. The second- and third-row chairs can be tumbled easily to fold flat into the floor, maximizing level loading space with an extra storage bin under the cargo area. This cabin setup enables the rear seats to be configured with only one seat folded down in each row, allowing the Pacifica to make a Home Depot run for a lumber pickup, while also carrying a passenger in each of the second and third rows. Lack of legroom in the third row should limit it to occasional use only.
The Pacifica delivers a confident, over-the-road feel that most minivans, and SUVs for that matter, would find hard to match. The steering provides solid feedback, and the suspension imparts a sense of surefooted control that borders on fun. We're not going to go too far out on a limb and call it "sporty," but for a vehicle that's specifically designed for family duty, it's surprisingly entertaining. While power from the V6 is adequate, the Pacifica can feel sluggish at times, especially when it's carrying passengers and/or cargo up a steep grade.
Chrysler has a history of whipping up rides that defy categorization. Its 1983 minivan inspired the segment whose vehicles have risen to become the official mode of transportation for harried moms and their offspring. And its PT Cruiser, introduced as a 2001 model, blurred segment lines (hot rod? station wagon? small van? mini-SUV? a little bit of all of these, actually) to carve its own singular niche.
So it's hardly surprising that the manufacturer has concocted yet another vehicle whose individuality makes it difficult to label; Chrysler's Pacifica concept stirs in elements of sport wagons, minivans and SUVs to cook up a hauler that's truly in a class of its own. Egged on, no doubt, by the mammoth success of the nothing-if-not-original Cruiser, Chrysler recently announced plans to bring the Pacifica concept to production. The production version of the Pacifica will be nearly identical to the concept that was unveiled in January 2002 at the North American International Auto Show.
The Pacifica's sheetmetal is solid-looking and imposing. In front, the car's heritage is announced via a spanking-new rendition of Chrysler's chrome-winged badge gracing its grille (overall, the Pacifica's snout is a more muscular version than its sibling's, the 300M). Satin silver molding highlights its beltline. In back, the car boasts an integrated black spoiler that extends its roofline in a subtle, aerodynamic way. Nineteen-inch wheels dressed in meaty 255/50 Michelin tires add heft to the vehicle's stature.
Inside, a glass skylight spans the entire length of the Pacifica's roof. Wood and satin silver accents state unmistakably that, yes, this is high-end transportation. An integrated navigation system is contained in the car's instrument cluster; rear-seat passengers benefit from a flip-down roof-mounted DVD screen. Other helpful features include power adjustable pedals, a tire-monitoring system, a hands-free cellular phone, a power liftgate, dual-zone automatic climate control with odor-particulate filtration, satellite radio and Infinity surround-sound audio.
The Pacifica's versatile layout features three rows of seats (naturally, they're leather-trimmed and, as an added bonus, both the front and second-row seats are heated); second- and third-row seats fold down to allow maximum room for cargo-hauling, should the need arise. All three rows of seats boast side-curtain airbags.
Powering the Pacifica is the 300M's 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V6; the vehicle comes outfitted with a four-speed automatic tranny that allows drivers to indulge in manual-style shifting. Buyers may choose between front- and all-wheel-drive configurations. Chrysler claims that the vehicle was created to feature a low center of gravity, which, it says, graces the Pacifica with car-like handling.
As would be expected, Chrysler is all but bursting with pride and high hopes regarding its latest progeny. "Chrysler Pacifica will be to the $25,000-plus market what the PT Cruiser is the $25,000-minus market — while PT Cruiser is too cool to classify, Chrysler Pacifica is simply cool and classy," opines Tom Marinelli, vice president, Chrysler/Jeep Global Brand Center. With its stylish looks and highly functional mixed-breed profile, the Pacifica could very well deliver on the manufacturer's expectations.