Chrysler says its Pacifica can't be binned into any existing automotive category. Indeed, the Chrysler Pacifica can't be neatly classified as a minivan, SUV, or station wagon. Chrysler calls it a sports tourer, claiming the Pacifica is a segment buster. We aren't exactly sure of what to call it, other than terrific. It does represent a new kind of six-seat family conveyance.
Pacifica combines the best elements of Chrysler's sporty sedans and pioneering minivans and enhances them with Mercedes-Benz engineering. Pacifica was introduced as a totally new vehicle for 2004. For 2005, the price of entry has dropped with the addition of a new entry model: the five-seat front-wheel-drive model is aggressively priced below $25,000 MSRP.
Pacifica doesn't look like other crossovers, a term usually applied to vehicles that blur the lines between car and sport utility. The Pacifica is roomy and comfortable, whether upholstered in fabric or leather, easy to get in to and out of. In its three-seat configuration, it offers 79.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity; new five-passenger Pacifica offers 92.7 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded.
A 210-horsepower V6 powers the five-passenger model. Touring and Limited models get a 250-horsepower V6 from the sporty Chrysler 300M sedan. On the road, Pacifica is smooth and quiet, with a rear suspension that comes from a Mercedes E-Class sedan. All-wheel drive is available, making the Pacifica a good choice for the snow country. The ride is smooth and supple, and the four-wheel antilock disc brakes do a good job of bringing Pacifica to a smooth stop.
All three Pacifica models have a V6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission. The five-passenger model gets a 210-horsepower 3.8-liter V6, while Touring and Limited are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine rated at the 250 horsepower. Computer-controlled all-wheel-drive is available on the base and Touring models and comes standard on the Limited.
The 2005 Chrysler Pacifica will be available in five models: the new, five-passenger with front-wheel drive ($24,315, not including $680 destination) and all-wheel drive ($27,295); the Touring with front-wheel drive ($27,570) and all-wheel drive ($30,370); and the Limited, with all-wheel drive ($36,315).
The list of standard equipment even on the basic front-drive model is quite substantial, from dual-zone air conditioning, to all the usual power assists, cruise control, a tilt wheel, eight-way power driver seat and four-way power front passenger seat, a total of four 12-volt outlets around the cabin, and a lot of other family amenities that buyers will like. The Touring and Limited add as standard equipment such conveniences as automatic, dual-zone air conditioning; a dash-mounted, analog clock; a programmable garage door opener; a mini-trip computer; and 10-way power driver's seat.
Options for Touring and/or Limited models include heated first- and second-row seats ($550); a 385-watt Infinity Intermezzo sound system with eight speakers ($700); Chrysler's Uconnect wireless hands-free communication system with Bluetooth technology ($275); a navigation system ($1,695); a DVD video rear-seat entertainment system ($990); CD/DVD changer ($555); Sirius satellite radio ($195), which includes the first 12 months of service; high-intensity discharge headlamps ($550); a huge power sunroof ($895); a cargo convenience package with cargo net, rear scuff pad, tonneau cover and adjustable roof rail cross bars ($335). Chrome 17-inch wheels are available for base ($400) and Touring ($750) models and chrome 19-inch wheels are available for Touring ($1,225) and Limited (no charge) models. The power liftgate that's standard on the Limited is optional on the Touring ($400), as is rear park assist ($285). Available on the Touring only is a full-size spare ($195). The base Pacifica offers an options package with an in-dash 6-disc CD/DVD changer, fog lamps, power liftgate, the AM/FM/cassette/CD with changer control and leather trim ($1895). Another package adds to above package: five supplemental side curtain airbags; automatic headlamps; memory settings for outside mirrors, stereo presets, driver seat and pedals; auto-dim driver and inside mirror; heated and fold-away outside mirrors; and heated front and second row seats ($2280).
Standard safety features comprise dual, multi-stage frontal airbags; driver-side inflatable knee bolster; three-point seatbelts at all seating positions and front seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters; and child safety seat anchors. Side curtain airbags are standard on the Limited and optional ($595) on the base and Touring. Traction control is available only on the Touring fwd ($175). Tire pressure monitoring system is standard on the Limited and optional ($70) on the Touring.
The Chrysler Pacifica doesn't look like anything else on the road and we think it's a home run. Its design is less radical than that of the Nissan Murano and INFINITI FX45 crossovers, and its glass-to-steel proportions are new and different. Yet the Pacifica looks unmistakably like a Chrysler, a result of its grille and other design cues traceable to the Chrysler Town & Country.
The Pacifica doesn't look that big from the outside yet 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, and that makes it easier to climb inside. The expanse of sheet metal aft of the rear side doors adds visual mass that looks ungainly, but this isn't reflected in the Pacifica's handling.
The Chrysler Pacifica is rife with Mercedes-Benz parts and technologies, including a complete rear suspension system borrowed from the Mercedes E-Class sedan. Indeed, the vice-president on the Pacifica program worked for almost three years in Stuttgart and Berlin on the Mercedes-Benz GST, or Grand Sport Tourer, before being reassigned to the United States. While the pricier Pacifica Touring and Limited models edge into the lower part of the E-Class price range, the vehicle is still a Chrysler, as evidenced by its homegrown powertrains, boasting the biggest, most powerful V6 Chrysler has ever made, which offers a 3500-pound tow rating.
Climbing into the Pacifica is easy because it sits relatively low to the ground. Once ensconced, our first impression was one of spaciousness. The cloth upholstery in the new five-passenger model is nice and looks more expensive than expected. Stepping up to the Touring and then the Limited incrementally adds appointments approaching luxury level. Wood, brushed aluminum and quality soft-touch materials create an attractive ambiance.
The bucket seats are thick and deep and supportive with enormous side bolsters that may not be comfortable for some larger frames, but fit even 6-foot, 4-inch statures like the proverbial glove. Between them is a center console trimmed in a soft-touch material that gives it a quality feel. There's a pair of cup holders conveniently located immediately aft of the shifter and they work well; fortunately, the German influence only goes where it's beneficial. All four doors feature map pockets and cup holders. The high-waisted design means the window sills are too high for comfortable arm resting.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel is thick and chunky, a small-diameter interface with the car giving the impression you're directing the movement of something substantial. Redundant controls for the cruise control and sound system are conveniently integrated into the steering wheel spokes.
The instrument panel is done as one swooping enclosure that goes from the back of the left door around to the back of the right front door. The dash features a major hood and a minor hood to keep the sun off the instrument faces. Under the sweeping hood, there's an interesting-looking set of instruments and controls; when the optional navigation system is ordered, the display is positioned right in the center of the speedometer, exactly where it should be for safest use. The DVD-based navigation system is set up and run by a circular switch panel to the right of the steering wheel.
Heating and air conditioning controls seemed fussy at first, but we loved having the Auto Hi and Auto Lo switches for those times when we don't want the climate control blasting away at full fan speed. All power windows can be lowered at once by pressing one button. There's a nice analog clock for quickly telling time. And you can program convenience functions such as auto locking, lock notification (horn, lights, nothing), lighting when doors are opened and so on to tailor the car the way you want it to operate.
The second-row seats in Touring and Limited models are as handsome as the front seats. They're not quite as cushy as the front-row seats, but we found them roomy and comfortable. Between them is a center console similar to the one in front, with a similarly elegant center console with cup holders as the one in front. Fan controls and vents, a power plug and a tray for a bag are provided to keep back-seat passengers content. The second-row seats are split 50/50 in Touring and Limited models so one can be folded over to handle lengthy cargo while the other accommodates a third occupant. The five-passenger model's second-row seat is a bench-type and splits 65/35. We found it easy to fold the second-row seats down the first time out. The seatback tips down then the seat tumbles forward. This is accomplished by moving levers that are numbered to tell you the proper sequence. This increases cargo capacity, but it's not a perfectly flat cargo floor and, of course, there's a gap between the second-row bucket seats.
Third-row seats fold down 50/50 and disappear to create a flat floor for large cargoes. That's the best configuration because the third row is not a comfortable place to sit, particularly for adults. There's no headroom, no hip room, no shoulder room, no knee room. Access to the third-row seats, while not requiring extreme contortions, was best attempted by small-stature frames.
The Chrysler Pacifica handles more like a car than a sport utility. We were impressed with its handling in Northern California, where the paving is excellent, the roads are twisty and interesting, and the traffic is relatively light. It also impressed as a daily driver, hauling friends around and out on the town and making routine trips to the grocery store.
The 3.5-liter V6 is powerful and torquey. The four-speed automatic is smooth and quiet in operation, though we wish it was a five-speed. We enjoyed using the AutoStick feature for manual shifting: Pull it back to select the manual mode, then left to downshift, right to upshift.
The all-wheel-drive system works transparently and helps the Pacifica sail through corners like a sports sedan, rain or shine. 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). The all-wheel drive uses a viscous coupling in the center differential and an open differential at the rear. We found the all-wheel drive worked well in the dry weather of California's wine country and northern Central Valley, and our experience with all-wheel drive in other Chrysler products leaves us confident it'll not disappoint in a blinding rainstorm or in 12 inches of snow.
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 driver to maintain steering control under panic braking.
Chrysler Pacifica corners well and accelerates quickly. Whether the Pacifica really is a whole new kind of family transportation device or not, it's very versatile vehicle for the money. And the new, more-affordable, five-passenger model gives us even more to like about this sports tourer.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard is based in Northern California.