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by Greg Wilson
Photos by Grant Yoxon
Comfortable and luxurious, but heavy
Chrysler’s new Pacifica, built in Windsor, Ontario, is a six-passenger luxury wagon described by Chrysler as a ‘sports tourer’ and by the media as a ‘crossover’ vehicle. Crossover vehicles, by definition, are a bridge between a traditional sedan or station wagon and taller SUVs and minivans. The Pacifica is probably closer to a big station wagon than it is to an SUV, but it certainly has some of the characteristics of all four types of vehicles.
While it’s not obvious from the photographs here, the Pacifica is a big vehicle. It’s wider than a Town & Country minivan and almost as long. And with a height of 1688 mm/66.5 in., it’s taller than most cars and about two inches lower than the Town & Country. It’s also heavier than a typical station wagon. My Pacifica AWD test vehicle weighed 2121 kg (4675 lb.) – that’s even heavier than a Town & Country AWD minivan.
Inside, the Pacifica has three rows of seats, two front buckets, two centre buckets, and a smaller two-person split rear bench seat. The second and third row seatbacks fold down to form a flat, carpeted loading surface, and the rear lift-up hatchback provides easy access to the versatile cargo area.
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With a starting price of $43,395 for the front-wheel-drive model, and $45,995 for the all-wheel-drive model, the Pacifica is not just a family wagon: it’s an upscale family wagon. But it does come with lots of standard goodies, including leather seats, dual zone climate control, power seats and windows, keyless remote, 17 inch tires with alloys, a 250 horsepower V6 engine, 4-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick, and disc brakes with ABS.
My fully loaded test vehicle came with the optional DVD rear entertainment system, navigation system, Infinity sound system, 6-disc in-dash CD/DVD player, power liftgate, sunroof, and high intensity discharge headlamps for an as-tested price of $56,250 including Freight.
Built in Windsor
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The Pacifica is built in the same Windsor plant as Chrysler’s minivans on a flexible assembly line that can handle more than one type of vehicle. The Pacifica has a unique platform but shares some components with the minivans.
The Pacifica’s exterior is well-finished. The silver metallic clear coat finish on my test vehicle looked great, and the overall fit and finish was excellent. Exterior details like chrome trim on the bumpers and thin chrome strips around the windows projected a classy appearance.
However, despite its aerodynamic appearance, the Pacifica has a rather high drag coefficient of 0.35
6-passenger interior is versatile
With four large doors, a tall roof, and a low step-in height, it’s easy to get in and out of the Pacifica. Getting in to the third row seat is another story, but more on that later.
The Pacifica’s driving position is higher than a car, but not quite as high as a minivan. The driver’s seat position can be adjusted to suit just about any body size – the multi-adjustable power driver’s seat includes a height adjustable seat cushion, power rake and lumbar support, 3-position memory, and inboard folding armrests. As well, there’s a tilt steering wheel and power adjustable foot pedals. Controls for the power driver and passenger seats are located on the doors, similar to those in Mercedes-Benz automobiles. Both front and second row bucket seats have seat heaters with two temperature settings.
The Pacifica’s classy, backlit gauges look great, but the digits are a bit small. There’s also a bright digital readout in the instrument cluster for the compass and trip computer functions, and the transmission gear selector. The attractive dashboard includes a combination of materials including aluminum, two-tone plastic, wood trim, and a matte-black centre control panel – it all looks very nice. A small white-faced clock adds to the classy look.
Features to note are standard separate driver and passenger temperature controls, and a separate rear fan control. The AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo includes volume and Seek buttons on the back of the steering wheel spokes – these can be adjusted while driving without taking your hands off the steering wheel.
My test car had the optional navigation system – the screen is located in the middle of the speedometer directly ahead of the driver – however the screen is smaller than traditional screens found in the centre dashboard. Still, I found it easy to read – the symbols and letters are large and the colours are bright.
Like other navigation systems, you begin by inputting your destination and it guides you there via arrows and instructions on the screen accompanied by audible instructions to “In one kilometre, turn right” or “left turn ahead” and so on. The Pacifica’s navigation system features a ‘birds-eye’ view map, which can be viewed in different scales. A cursor allows you to scroll across the map and find your destination: pressing a button inputs your destination automatically. I found this much easier than typing in a destination. As well, Chrysler’s navigation system includes locations of gas stations, hotels and restaurants – useful if you’re in an unfamiliar area. Your current location, including a street address, is constantly updated on the screen.
With its long 2954 mm (116.3 in.) wheelbase, the Pacifica offers plenty of legroom for second row passengers. The second row bucket seats have inboard armrests, and there’s plenty of headroom, kneeroom and footroom underneath the raised front seats for a six-footer. To increase legroom, the second row buckets can slide forwards and backwards. When there are passengers in the third row seats, moving the second row seats forwards can create needed legroom for third row passengers.
Between the second row bucket seats is a storage console, a rear fan control, two covered cupholders, a power outlet, and open storage area. There are also big door pockets for storing magazines and snacks.
My test car had the optional rear DVD entertainment system ($1,140) which consists of a roof-mounted flip-down screen, a dash-mounted DVD player, two pairs or wireless headphones, and a remote control. It’s a great feature if you’re on a long drive and need to keep your school-age children occupied.
Accessing the third-row seats is a two-step process: the second row backrest is folded flat, then tumbled forwards to provide entry to the third row. Getting in is awkward, and the two third row seats are designed for children or small adults – full-size adults will find headroom and legroom cramped. The two rear seats have three point seatbelts, but not head restraints.
Both split third row seats and second row seats can be folded flat creating a large cargo area. The split seats allow versatility in how you fold down the seats – for example, one side can be folded down for long objects while passengers sit on the other side.
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However, if all six seats are occupied, luggage space is very limited behind the third row seats. And it’s worth remembering that the second row seats only two people – if you have three rear passengers, one will need to climb in to the third row.
At the rear, is a strut-assisted hatchback that’s easy to lift. My test car had the optional power liftgate – by pressing a button on the overhead console or the remote key fob, the liftgate will open and close automatically. I liked this feature because the hatch can be opened before reaching the car, saving the trouble of fumbling for keys while holding grocery bags or what-have-you. Before opening, the liftgate emits three ‘beeps’ to warn people to step out of the way. The cargo floor height of 726 mm (28.6 in.) is low enough to load most items with ease, and there is some under-floor storage.
Pacifica’s come with an above-average amount of safety equipment, including side curtain airbags that protect all three rows of passengers in the event of a side impact or rollover; a knee blocker airbag for the driver which helps reduce leg injuries, and multi-stage driver and passenger airbags which deploy at three different rates depending on the severity of the crash. In the event of airbag deployment, the interior lights turn on and the doors unlock.
The Pacifica also includes three-point seatbelts for all six seats, head restraints for the first and second row seats, front seat belt pretensioners and constant force retractors, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
In recent frontal and side impact crash tests conducted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Pacifica earned the highest rating: 5-stars.
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Though big and heavy, the Pacifica doesn’t feel underpowered or cumbersome. Its 3.5 litre V6, borrowed from the 300M, pumps out 250 horsepower at 6400 rpm and a decent 250 lb-ft of torque at 3950 rpm. Off the line acceleration is brisk, and highway passing is also brisk although the engine sounds very busy and a little noisy. I didn’t drive the Pacifica with six people on board, but I suspect that the extra weight may be too much for its 250 horsepower engine. According to Chrysler, the Pacifica can tow trailers weighing up to 1600 kg (3500 lb.)
On the freeway, the Pacifica cruises quietly and comfortably. At a steady 100 km/h, the engine does just 2200 rpm, and at 120 km/h, it does only 2800 rpm – very comfortable engine cruising speeds.
Fuel consumption, however, is not great – not surprising considering the vehicle’s curb weight of 2121 kg (4675 lb.). City mileage is 14.2 l/100 km (20 mpg), and highway mileage is 9.8 l/100 km (29 mpg).
The Pacifica’s standard 4-speed automatic transmission changes smoothly and responds well to kick-down, but I detected a faint transmission whine on the highway – perhaps it was coming from the centre differential for the all-wheel-drive system. The transmission has Chrysler’s Autostick manual mode which allows you to change gears manually without a clutch. The all-wheel-drive system consists of a centre viscous coupling which can transfer up to 90% of the engine’s power to the front or rear wheels if one end slips.
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Handling through gentle bends is stable and comfortable, but the Pacifica feels more top-heavy and less nimble than say, a Chrysler Intrepid. There’s some lean in the corners, but I found that its independent front and rear suspension (front Iso struts and rear multi-link) soaked up the bumps quite well, and the big Michelin MXV4 Plus 235/65R-17 inch tires proved grippy in the wet, and quiet on the freeway. Steering, a rack and pinion variable-assist system, offered responsive turn-in, low effort, and excellent high-speed tracking, but the turning diameter of 12.1 metres (39.8 ft) is rather wide.
My biggest complaint was rear visibility. The car’s high beltline and the thick rear side pillars restrict the right-rear view and the rear view. I found backing up and lane-changing to be challenging.
Overall, I found the Pacifica AWD to be a comfortable luxury vehicle for typical city and freeway use, but it’s not a performance vehicle or an off-road vehicle, unlike some of the high-performance crossover vehicles like the Porsche Cayenne.
The only other luxury ‘crossover’ vehicle on the market right now with three rows of seats is the Volvo XC90 2.5T ($54,995), but it will soon be followed the VW Touareg, Cadillac SRX and Ford Freestyle.
The XC90 is more performance-oriented than the Pacifica, which I would describe as a luxury wagon. The two vehicles have different characters – one a sumptuous North American luxury vehicle; the other a bold, purposeful, noisier performance wagon with European driving dynamics. The Pacifica comes fully loaded for about the same price as a base XC90, and so offers better value.
A comfortable, quiet, well-appointed 6-passenger luxury wagon, the new Chrysler Pacifica is a practical choice for well-to-do families, but its poor rear visibility and thirsty fuel consumption are disappointing.
Technical Data: 2004 Chrysler Pacifica AWD
|Base price (FWD)||$43,395|
|Base price (AWD)||$45,995|
|Options||$8,995 (Leather seats $1115; heated seats $640; Infinity stereo $900; sunroof $955; navigation system $1885; power liftgate $475; HID headlamps $770; 6-disc CD/DVD player $540; chrome alloy wheels $540; rear seat video $1140; smoker’s group $35)|
|Price as tested||$56,250|
|Type||4-door, 6 passenger mid-size wagon|
|Layout||transverse front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.5 litre V6, SOHC, 24 valve|
|Horsepower||250 @ 6400 rpm|
|Torque||250 lb-ft. @ 3950 rpm|
|Transmission||4-speed automatic Autostick|
|Tires||Michelin MXV4 Energy 235/65R-17 all-season performance tires|
|Curb weight||2121 kg (4675 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2954 mm (116.3 in.)|
|Length||5052 mm (198.9 in.)|
|Width||2013 mm ( 79.3 in.)|
|Height||1688 mm (66.5 in.)|
|Cargo area||369 litres (behind 3rd row seats)|
|1230 litres (behind 2nd row seats)|
|2250 litres (2nd, 3rd row seats folded)|
|Fuel type||Regular acceptable; mid-grade preferred|
|Fuel consumption||City: 14.2 l/100 km (20 mpg)|
|Hwy: 9.8 l/100 km (29 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain Warranty||7 yrs/115,000 km|