When it was introduced in 2003, the Chrysler Pacifica was a groundbreaking vehicle. It drew on minivan and SUV heritage, and was one of the first crossover utility vehicles to hit the market.
Three years into its run (although it seems like much longer), the Pacifica faces a much larger field than it did on its debut. American CUVs like the Ford Edge have popped up, and frequent Japanese redesigns of their crossover offerings have made the market extraordinarily competitive.
One might expect the Pacifica to have fallen behind, but it’s too focused a vehicle to suffer such a fate. Even with the explosion of crossovers of all stripes in the American market, the Pacifica still stands out as a singular vehicle with a particular mission. Plus, for 2007 there have been a host of changes with the apparent goal of staying current with the newly burgeoning field of competing vehicles.
At first glance, the Pacifica has received a subtle re-skinning. The headlamps have a more modern contour to them, and there is a new hood, grille, and front bumper. There are new wheel options, and many mechanical upgrades as well.
The most notable of these is a new drivetrain. Our tester, a Pacifica Touring AWD model, came with a 4.0L V6 mated to a six-speed automatic. This new top-of-the-line motor makes 253 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 262 lb.-ft of torque at 4200 rpm, an increase of 35 and 15 respectively over the Pacifica’s old 3.5L V6. Despite its newfound power and the Pacifica’s 4500-lb. curb weight, this powertrain still delivers respectable fuel economy, with a government rating of 16 city mpg/24 highway mpg.
The six-speed replaces the old four-speed, and brings with it all the changes you can expect with the addition of two extra gears. Lower rpm for the same vehicle speed means less noise, less vibration, and more flexibility and precision when accelerating and cruising. The new transmission can also accommodate more torque at launch – 30 per cent more than the four-speed, to be exact – so acceleration from a dead stop is miles ahead of Pacificas past.
All Pacificas are equipped with Chrysler’s AutoStick transmission, which can be shifted manually by dragging the shifter all the way down into the bottom of the gate, then tapping it right for upshifts, and left for downshifts. The AutoStick was among the first automatics to feature a manual shift function, so we respect its credibility. However, we think it might be time to retire the iconoclastic left-to-right shift pattern for a more conventional fore-and-aft pattern.
Chrysler says its typical Pacifica buyer is a married woman between thirty-five and fifty, with a household income over $85,000 and children living in the house that are older than ten years. This seems dead-on; the Pacifica is extremely family-friendly, yet not as good for small children (car seats, crying, and diapers) as a minivan would be. For this consumer, the Pacifica offers the utility of an SUV, the interior characteristics of a minivan, with performance that is focused on the road rather than the trail.
Our Pacifica in particular was a cruiser extraordinaire. It had two rows of captain’s chairs, decked out in better-quality leather than we expected. In a nod to the somewhat more mature children this car will be carrying, the Pacifica had a cool tunnel of stuff running through the first two rows, eschewing the flat, empty floors of minivans in favor of a more luxurious, accommodating cabin. The Pacifica also has a hidden compartment in the load floor behind the third row for added security, a feature found only on the industry’s top minivans.
In the second row of our well-equipped Pacifica, the tunnel held the heating and air conditioning controls, cup holders, and the headphones and remote control for the roof-mounted entertainment system. Right below the vents, there is an outlet for portable electronic devices. The first and second rows of seats are both heated, too, as part of the Customer Preferred Package that also included heated mirrors, adjustable pedals, a power lift gate, and a year of SIRIUS Satellite Radio among other things.
The Pacifica is built for a slightly mature family to cruise in maximum comfort and safety. The convenience features in our tester were just popping out of every nook and cranny. Chrysler thought of just about everything; even the rear windows were auto-down, and the fronts were auto-up as well.
There was a back-up camera to make things even more effortless, part of our navigation option that bundled the camera and navigation together. And this brings us to our only gripe with the Pacifica. The navigation screen is actually located inside the instrument panel, rather like the nav screen on the new Mini Cooper. It’s a neat touch, but it’s not without its downsides. The screen is actually a projection, and is reflected onto the plastic covering for the instrument panel. That compromises visibility in very bright light, and also means that the driver is the only person that can see the screen. It’s a very neat packaging touch, and we respect Chrysler’s daring in executing what is almost a heads-up navigation display, but we’d prefer a more traditional console-mounted screen, as the heads-up style precludes any touch-screen capability and makes it impossible for a passenger to control.
Otherwise, we were pleasantly surprised at all levels by the Pacifica. It’s a versatile vehicle, with loads of room and features. True to its family-friendly mission, it has been rated highly by the authorities. In 2006, it was awarded “best pick frontal” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The 2007 now has a five-star rating for front and side crash testing, thanks to its staggering level of standard safety equipment, including side curtain air bags for all rows, traction control, stability control, and ABS at all four corners.
Despite its passenger-centric focus, the Pacifica is a very handy vehicle for towing and hauling. Towing capacity for all Pacificas is 3,500 pounds, and the second and third rows of our Pacifica folded completely flat to make a totally flat load floor. How is this possible for a car equipped with a second row of captain’s chairs? In a neat little touch reminiscent one would normally associate with the Japanese, the left passenger’s captain’s chair has a carpeted panel on its back that swings outwards when the seats fold, to protect the center console and enhance the Pacifica’s hauling chops.
Chrysler has created a singular vehicle in the Pacifica, and thanks to a few updates inside and out, it’s able to stay competitive in a field that’s pushing the envelopes of technology, safety, and do-everything capability. Our Pacifica offered a multitude of options and features, all-wheel-drive, and the feeling of driving a bank vault for just $36,990 as tested. With a starting price of $29,950, the Pacifica presents an outstanding bargain for families seeking a true jack-of-all-trades. Minivans can’t compete with its ride, handling, style, and performance, and SUVs can’t match its ease of ingress and egress, fuel economy, and its generally friendly demeanor. The Pacifica may be somewhat quirky, but it truly represents the best of American ingenuity.