MSRP
$28,845 - $32,300

Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

First look at all-new sport-touring vehicle.

Introduction

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. 

Lineup

All Pacifica models use the same powertrain: Chrysler's 3.5-liter V6 engine rated at the 250 horsepower. Pacifica comes with a four-speed automatic and is available with a computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system. 

The 2004 Chrysler Pacifica will be available in three models: There's a front-drive version ($31,230), and a fully loaded all-wheel-drive version ($32,980). A budget model will be offered later in the year (expected to retail below $30,000). 

The list of standard equipment even on the basic front-drive model is quite substantial, from all the usual power assists to a tilt wheel, power pedals with memory, a universal garage door opener, a total of four 12-volt outlets around the cabin, and a lot of other family amenities that buyers will like. 

The option list includes leather trim, heated first- and second-row seats, a 385-watt Infinity Intermezzo sound system with eight speakers ($700); Chrysler's new Uconnect wireless hands-free communication system with Bluetooth technology ($275); a navigation system ($1595); a DVD video rear-seat entertainment system ($1070); CD/DVD changer ($395); Sirius satellite radio ($35 plus $11.95 per month for the service); high-intensity discharge headlamps ($500); a huge power sunroof ($895); a cargo convenience package, and 17-inch chrome six-spoke alloy wheels. An optional power liftgate ($400) is available that should be very popular. 

Walkaround

The vice-president on this program worked for almost three years in Stuttgart and Berlin on the Mercedes-Benz GST, or Grand Sport Tourer, before being reassigned to the Pacifica program here in the United States, and the vehicle is rife with borrowed Mercedes-Benz parts and technologies, including the complete rear suspension system borrowed from the Mercedes E-Class sedan. 

Styling is always going to be subjective, but we think the Chrysler guys have hit a home run. Pacifica doesn't look like anything else on the road. It's less radical and less expensive than the Nissan Murano and Infiniti FX45 crossovers, its glass-to-steel proportions are new and different, yet by its grille, the Pacifica couldn't be anything but a Chrysler. 

Pacifica is as much as 18 inches longer and 6 inches wider than some of its crossover competitors. Yet it is almost 3 inches lower to the ground than a typical minivan, which makes it easier to climb inside. 

While the Pacifica is in the lower part of the E-Class price range, it is still a Chrysler, as evidenced by its homegrown powertrain, the biggest, most powerful V6 Chrysler has ever made, more than enough to haul typical family loads, and rated to tow as much as 3500 pounds. 

Interior

Climbing into the Chrysler Pacifica is easy because it is relatively low to the ground. The first impression inside the Pacifica is one of spaciousness and luxurious appointments. 

The bucket seats are thick and deep with enormous side bolsters that may not be comfortable for some larger frames, but fit this 6-foot, 4-inch tester like the proverbial glove. 

The leather-wrapped steering wheel is a thick, chunky, small-diameter wheel giving the impression you're directing the movement of something substantial. Redundant controls are mounted on the steering wheel for the cruise control and sound system. There's just enough brushed nickel-plating inside, on the shifter surround, the ventilators, and the door handles, to brighten up the interior without it looking gaudy. 

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, and right in the center of the speedometer, there's the small navigation screen, exactly where it should be for safest use. The DVD-based nav system is set up and run by a circular switch panel to the right of the steering wheel. Chrysler's new system is one of the easiest we've encountered, far simpler than the Mercedes-Benz system. 

Third-row seats fold down 50/50 and disappear for large cargoes. Second-row seats can be split into two sections and folded over to handle still larger cargoes. The second-row seats, split by the standard console, are as handsome as the front seats, but they do have to fold over for cargo, so they're not quite as cushy as the fronts. All the seat-folding symbols and directions were easy to follow the first time out. 

Driving Impression

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. 

Summary

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. 

Model Lineup

Pacifica fwd ($31,230); Pacifica awd ($32,980). 

Assembled In

Windsor, Ontario, Canada. 

Options As Tested

Navigation ($1595), Infinity stereo ($700), power liftgate ($400), sunroof ($895), Sirius satellite radio ($300 plus monthly fee). 

Model Tested

Chrysler Pacifica awd ($32,980). 

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