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The Chrysler Pacifica helped launch a trend that those in the car business call crossover vehicles. Crossovers are supposed to combine the best attributes of sport-utility vehicles, sedans and minivans, and the Pacifica still does that as well as any, at very attractive prices. This year, it does it better than it ever has.
For 2007, the Pacifica benefits from fairly substantial changes, starting with a smoother, more powerful V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. Its styling has been subtly updated, and previously optional safety equipment, including side-curtain head protection airbags and electronic stability control, is now standard on all models. Perhaps best of all, prices have actually been lowered.
Pacifica has four sedan-like doors and the wide rear liftgate you'd expect on a sport-utility vehicle or minivan. Inside it's roomy and comfortable, whether upholstered in fabric or leather. Getting in and out is easy. It rides like a sedan and handles well for a vehicle of its heft, and it's more enjoyable to drive through suburbia than just about any truck-based SUV. On the highway, it's smooth and quiet.
The Pacifica line offers a range of models, from well-equipped to luxury-class with all the bells and whistles, and it's available with two or three rows of seating. The five-passenger base model has two bucket seats in front with a split folding bench in the second row that seats up to three. Six-passenger models swap the middle-row bench for two folding bucket seats, and add a 50/50 split bench in the rear. Either changes from people mover to cargo hauler in a matter of seconds, and in both cases maximum cargo capacity exceeds that in the typical mid-size SUV.
The Pacifica has earned outstanding scores in government crash tests. All-wheel drive is available, making it a good choice for snow country. Towing capacity is 3500 pounds, which is more than enough for personal water craft, dirt bikes or a camping trailer. And despite its versatility, no one will be embarrassed driving a Pacifica to black-tie event and leaving it with the valet. It's stylish and handsome, and it doesn't fit easily in any particular mold.
Bottom line: The Pacifica is roomy, versatile, pleasant to drive and nice to look at. Our test model had all the essential safety equipment, all-wheel drive, a powerful, great-sounding stereo and rear-seat DVD video, and it still didn't break $30,000. However you see it and whatever you call it, we think the Pacifica makes a terrific family vehicle.
The 2007 Chrysler Pacifica is available in three trim levels, all of which offer front-wheel drive or full-time all-wheel drive. All come with a V6 engine and automatic transmission.
The base Pacifica FWD ($24,460) is powered by a 3.8-liter overhead-valve V6, delivering 200 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque through a four-speed automatic. This model seats five, with a three-place, folding second-row bench seat, and comes with 17-inch steel wheels and hubcaps. Standard features include sunscreen glass, dual-zone temperature control, rear window wiper/washer, power locks and windows, eight-way power driver's seat, AM/FM audio with CD, Infinity speakers and steering-wheel controls, multiple 12-volt power outlets and cruise control.
The Pacifica AWD ($27,550) adds an engine upgrade and all-wheel drive. It's 4.0-liter overhead-cam V6 delivers 255 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, with a six-speed automatic. Chrysler's all-wheel drive system varies power delivery front to rear to maximize traction.
Touring FWD ($27,600) and Touring AWD ($30,250) get the 4.0 V6 and six-speed automatic. Touring models come with seating for six, in a 2/2/2 bucket-seat layout, and add more features. Standard equipment includes automatic dual-zone temperature control with cabin air filtration, a Vehicle Information Center video display, leather-wrapped steering wheel, HomeLink universal door opener, a power front passenger seat, 17-inch alloy wheels and body color door handles.
Option packages for the base Pacifica and Touring models include a Leather Seating Value Group ($1,935), with leather heated seats and a roof rack, and an Entertainment Group ($865) that adds a MP3 capability and a rear-seat DVD system with eight-inch screen and remote. Stand-alone options include heated first- and second-row seats ($550), ParkSense rear parking assist ($285), a power moonroof ($895), 385-watt Infiniti Intermezzo audio upgrade ($700), Sirius satellite radio ($195), UConnect hands-free communication ($360), High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights ($550) and 17-inch ($785) or 19-inch chromed aluminum wheels ($1,235).
The Pacifica Limited FWD ($33,775) and Limited AWD ($35,825) are the luxury models. They feature the 2/2/2 seating and nearly all the amenities, including leather seats with position memory for the driver, heated front and second-row seats, power adjustable pedals, power-liftgate, six-CD changer, automatic headlights, power moonroof, auto-dimming mirrors, ParkSense rear back-up system and 19-inch chromed wheels.
Safety equipment has been significantly upgraded for 2007. In addition to multi-stage front airbags, all Pacificas come standard with curtain-style head protection airbags for all outboard seats, Electronic Stability Program (ESP) skid-management system, emergency brake assist for the antilock brakes (ABS), and traction control. These features were previously optional on some models. A ParkView rear back-up camera ($595) is now optional. The Pacifica has done very well in government crash tests, earning a five-star rating for front and side impact from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and four stars for rollover protection.
The Chrysler Pacifica was one of the first of the so-called crossover vehicles, and we consider it both well conceived and well executed. In function, measured by ease of use, layout and features, the Pacifica is essentially a minivan. Yet it has a more rugged, appealing (and less socially branding) appearance than most minivans. In overall styling, it lines up more on the sport-utility vehicle side.
Pacifica is loaded with parts and technologies from Mercedes-Benz, including a complete rear suspension system borrowed from the Mercedes E-Class sedan. It's a well-engineered vehicle.
The Pacifica doesn't look like anything else on the road. Its design is less radical than crossovers such as the Nissan Murano or Mazda CX-9, and its glass-to-steel proportions are unique. Though revised for 2007, the styling has been with us for a few years and it doesn't look as fresh when compared with the latest vehicles, such as the new GMC Acadia.
The Pacifica looks distinctive, however, and unmistakably like a Chrysler, with a grille and other design cues unique to the brand. That family resemblance has been strengthened with styling tweaks for 2007: In front, the Pacifica looks a bit squarer, flatter, than before. It sports a full-width chrome strip and a new, more prominent three-bar grille, flanked by wing-like, twin-beam headlights in the theme of the Chrysler 300 sedan. The Pacifica also features hood strakes introduced on the Chrysler Crossfire sports car. These creases are evenly spaced across the hood, running rearward from the grille toward the base of the windshield; some of us like the strakes on the Pacifica, some of us are still deciding.
While Pacifica doesn't look so big from the outside, it's as much as 18 inches longer and 6 inches wider than some of its crossover competitors. At the same time, the Pacifica is almost 3 inches lower to the ground than a typical minivan. It's more like a sedan in this regard, and easier to climb in and out of. That should also make it a good dog car.
In side view, the Pacifica is marked by a distinctive character line that begins at the front wheel and ramps upward as it moves toward the rear. The line helps create something of a wedge look, even in a vehicle so large. The expanse of sheet metal aft of the rear side doors and a big, broad rear gate add visual mass that looks a bit ungainly from some angles, but this isn't reflected in Pacifica's handling or driving characteristics.
The Pacifica Limited model is the best looking model, thanks to its prominent fog lights, monochromatic paint scheme and big 19-inch chrome wheels.
Anyone considering the Chrysler Pacifica will have to choose between a 2/3, five-seat interior package or a 2/2/2 six-seat configuration. It's not as simple as adding an extra seat, however, because the six-seat package drops maximum cargo capacity nearly 14 cubic feet, which roughly equals the amount of space in the trunk of a good-sized sedan. And while the five-seat arrangement is available only on the base model, option choices allow the base Pacifica to be equipped with nearly all the goodies offered on the higher-trim models.
The Pacifica benefits from some interior upgrades for 2007. These are subtle, but welcome, and tend to make the interior feel richer or more upscale. The most obvious is a Mercedes-style, two-tone color scheme for the dashboard and door panels, with a darker color above a lighter base. There's a lot of vinyl and plastic inside a vehicle the size of Pacifica, and the two-tone theme brightens things nicely compared to darker monotones.
The seat positioning is one of Pacifica's most appealing assets. Climbing in and out is easy because Pacifica sits relatively low to the ground, more like a sedan, and its door sills are low. Yet the seats are positioned high, seemingly at conventional table-chair height, so the driver sits much higher than he or she would in the typical sedan. This presumably offers the sense of security many seek in a sport-utility vehicle. It certainly improves forward visibility, in that fewer vehicles on the road ahead will obscure the Pacifica driver's view.
From the driver's seat, the first impression is one of spaciousness. There's plenty of headroom, despite the high seat bottoms, and the window sills rise almost to shoulder height. The high-waist design means the sills are too high for comfortable arm resting, but it will likely enhance the secure feeling for many.
The cloth upholstery in the five-passenger base model looks more expensive than we expected, and for 2007 it is branded by Yes Essentials. That means its more stain and odor resistant, and treated to control static. Appointments become more luxurious with each step to the Touring and Limited models. Wood, brushed aluminum and quality soft-touch materials create generally attractive accommodations.
The front bucket seats are thick, deep and supportive, and fit even a lean, 6-foot, 4-inch adult like the proverbial glove. On the other hand, we'd guess the side bolsters might be a little too narrowly spaced for really wide frames. The center console between the seats is spacious and trimmed in a soft-touch material. There's a pair of cup holders conveniently located immediately aft of the gear selector, and they work well. All four doors feature molded-in bins and cup holders at the bottom.
The chunky steering wheel has a relatively small diameter. It gives the impression that you're directing the movement of something substantial. Redundant controls for the sound system are conveniently integrated into the steering-wheel spokes.
The instrument panel is shaped as one continuous enclosure that swoops from the back of the left front door across the center and around to the back of the right front door. Under that sweeping hood there's an improved set of instruments. The speedometer and tach graphics have been revised for 2007, and they are both more attractive and easier to read than the previous gauges.
We like the heating and air conditioning controls, and especially the automatic system, which includes Auto Hi and Auto Lo options. Either allows the climate controls to work automatically, but Auto Lo keeps the maximum fan speed low. That's perfect when you don't want the fan blasting away at full speed, but don't want to shut it off completely. Yet it's also easy for the driver to set the temperature, select the desired vents, and control the fan speed manually.
The analog clock is handsome, and great for quickly reading the time. All p
In any trim level, the Chrysler Pacifica makes a very versatile vehicle. We consider it an excellent choice as the sole or primary vehicle for growing families. It handles more like a car than the typical sport-utility vehicle, and it makes a comfortable daily driver for hauling people or stuff to soccer practice or home from the building store. The Pacifica accelerates with gusto, thanks to a torquey new V6 engine, and available all-wheel drive adds security in snow country. It also has enough towing capability for a small trailer or camper
The 4.0-liter V6, used in all but the base front-drive model, is new for 2007. This single cam engine delivers only an incremental increase in horsepower and torque (it's now rated 255 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque). But the new engine is much, much smoother for 2007 and more pleasant to operate than the engine it replaces. Moreover, it's matched to a new six-speed automatic transmission, which improves performance in all respects. The gear ratios in the six-speed improve acceleration at low speed, yet reduce rpm at high speed, decreasing interior noise and improving highway fuel economy (up from 22 to 24 mpg on all wheel-drive models, according to the EPA).
With the new engine, the 2007 Pacifica feels more responsive than previous models, and its substantial curb weight is less obvious. The transmission shifts down a gear smoothly and quickly, making quick merges or left-turns across traffic a no-sweat proposition. Moreover, the Pacifica cruises quietly at high speed, with no indication that the V6 is working hard to keep up.
The all-wheel-drive system works transparently, and it helps the Pacifica sail through corners rain or shine with the secure feeling of a good sedan. Under normal conditions, the 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 whenever the front wheels lose grip, whether it's because the road is wet or because the driver has floored the accelerator.
We found the Pacifica AWD delivered confident handling in the dry weather of California's wine country, swooping into curves with the accelerator floored. It also made quick work of slush and snow during winter in the upper Midwest. All a driver has to do is keep a light, steady foot on the gas pedal. The all-wheel drive and its control system take care of the rest, sending power to the tires that are gripping best and keeping the Pacifica rolling forward through the muck.
We were impressed with the handling, particularly in Northern California, where the paving is excellent, the roads are twisty and interesting, and the traffic is relatively light. The steering is not race-car communicative or direct, but it's better than the steering in many minivans and SUVs. The thick steering wheel feels good in the hands, and the suspension is tuned just right for a family vehicle: supple enough for a smooth, compliant ride, yet firm enough to control excessive lean or wallow. The isolated front and rear subframes, the long wheelbase and wide stance all work toward a comfortable, stable ride, and they limit the amount of road jolting that vibrates up through the chassis and into the passenger cabin.
The four-wheel disc brakes are large enough to handle the Pacifica's substantial weight, delivering sure, fairly short stops. We gave them a workout, and they responded every time without fade or smell or any sign of distress. ABS is standard on all models, and it's now comes with Brake Assist. This electronic system can tell when the brakes are applied full force, and it keeps them on full force even if the driver lightens pressure on the pedal as events develop ahead.
The Chrysler Pacifica is an excellent all-purpose vehicle. It can fill just about any roll, but it's good looking and doesn't scream Soccer Squirts On Board! It accelerates quickly and corners reasonably well, which makes it pleasant to drive. The Pacifica Limited is luxurious, equipped with nearly all the bells and whistles. The base model is practical, and with essential safety equipment, family features and all-wheel drive, it still sells well below $30,000.
NewCarTestDrive correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Northern California, with J.P. Vettraino reporting from Detroit.