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Chrysler has introduced an all-new vehicle for 2004 called the Pacifica. Pacifica is not a minivan. It's not an SUV nor is it a station wagon. Chrysler is calling it a "sport tourer." We don't know what to call it, other than terrific.
Pacifica combines the best elements of Chrysler's sporty sedans and pioneering minivans and borrows heavily from Mercedes-Benz to create an entirely new kind of six-seat family conveyance. Pacifica takes its name from Chrysler's Pacifica design studio in Southern California, where it was conceived several years ago.
Pacifica doesn't look like other crossovers. It's comfortable, easy to get in and out, and offers a large cargo capacity and three rows of seats. A 250-horsepower V6 from the sporty Chrysler 300M sedan delivers plenty of thrust and the automatic shifts smoothly. On the road, Pacifica is smooth and quiet, with a rear suspension that comes from a Mercedes E-Class sedan. Available all-wheel drive provides all-weather traction and handling. The ride is smooth and supple and the four-wheel antilock disc brakes do a good job of bringing Pacifica to a smooth and undramatic stop.
The Pacifica we drove was a loaded-up version with the big stereo system, Sirius satellite radio, the in-dash navigation system, and all-wheel drive. We were lucky enough to have our driving experience in Northern California, where the paving is excellent, the roads are twisty and interesting, and the traffic is relatively light. This enabled us to really push the Pacifica hard, much harder than the average buyer ever will, and we came away impressed.
The engine, while powerful and torquey, doesn't sound very powerful when you stand on the gas, a function of the induction system and the exhaust system. Chrysler is already working on that. But no matter how it sounds, the engine delivers. This 3.5-liter V6 also powers the upmarket Chrysler 300M and is rated at 250 horsepower.
The four-speed automatic is smooth and quiet in operation. The AutoStick feature for manual shifting is fun to use, and the all-wheel-drive system is transparent. We were a little disappointed that the Pacifica didn't come with a more flexible five-speed automatic, however.
Under normal conditions, the all-wheel-drive system sends all of the power to the front wheels. But it can transfer up to 90 percent of the power to the rear wheels. It does this whenever the front wheels lose grip (under hard acceleration, for example). This feature helps the Pacifica sail through corners like a sports sedan, rain or shine. The all-wheel-drive uses a viscous coupling in the center differential and an open differential at the rear.
While the steering system is not race-car communicative or direct, it's better than many, and the steering wheel feels good in the hands. We found the suspension a willing partner in the vehicle's performance, smooth and supple while controlling lean and wallow. The isolated front and rear subframes, the long wheelbase and wide stance really help to deliver a quality ride. As a bonus, the interior is very quiet at cruising speeds.
Overcoming the substantial weight of the Pacifica and its contents seemed easy for the combination of the Michelin all-weather tires and four-wheel disc brakes. The brakes got a workout from us, and they responded every time without fade or smell or any sign of distress. ABS comes standard, allowing the drive to maintain steering control under panic braking.
Chrysler Pacifica turns and accelerates well in the dry weather of the California wine country, and we're itching to find out how it goes in a blinding rainstorm or on top of 12 inches of snow.
Whether this really is a whole new kind of family transportation device or not, a "segment buster" in Chrysler's words, it's a lot of very versatile vehicle for the money. Aside from the rather weak-sounding engine and some very familiar, shiny plastic components in the center stack, we found a lot to like in this Pacifica sport-tourer.