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by Paul Williams
photos by Paul Williams
San Diego, California – “The new face of Chrysler.” It’s a term you’ll be hearing a lot, and it refers to more than the restyled grille and headlights that set the tone for future Chryslers. The company itself is adopting a “new face,” as it revises its product line and elevates itself into the premium segment, with help from partner Mercedes-Benz.
Indeed, DaimlerChrysler has been very busy, and several new Chrysler products are scheduled for launch over the next two years. First out of the gates? The Windsor, Ontario-built Pacifica Sports Tourer.
At a recent press preview here, Mike Donoughe, VP of Chrysler’s Family Vehicle Product Team, described the Pacifica as “a new category, a combination SUV, minivan and sedan with a sports car heritage, and the first expression of the co-operation between Daimler and Chrysler.”
It is a new category, or at least, a radical reinterpretation of an old one. For all intents and purposes, the vehicle is a lovingly massaged station wagon. But that description really doesn’t do the Pacifica justice. It’s definitely a 21st century vehicle, crammed with technology, safety and style.
And it’s big.
When you open the doors, you pretty much step sideways to get in. It’s also wide, wider than a Town & Country minivan, so inside there’s a feeling of roominess and space. It’s 25 cm longer than a Volvo XC90 and 40 cm longer than a Toyota Highlander, so there’s room for a third row of seats, tucked neatly behind the two pairs of luxury bucket seats in the front and middle rows.
There’s no shortage of luxury, either. Features like power adjustable pedals with memory, power seats, high-end audio, auto-dimming interior mirror, dual-zone climate control and 17″ alloy wheels come standard.
A recent specification for Canadian cars, both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, includes leather seats, heated first and second row seats, a power lift gate and a six-disc CD changer at no extra charge.
It’s also crammed with safety features. The body is thick – the doors themselves are about a foot deep. There’s a tire pressure monitoring system, and supplementing the multi-stage front airbags are full-length side curtain airbags that protect occupants in all three rows. A knee blocker airbag below the steering column is included for the driver.
The safety continues with anti-lock brakes that feature 31.75 cm (12.5″) rotors at all four wheels, all-wheel drive or front-drive with traction control, seatbelt pre-tensioners, and body stiffeners and reinforcements to provide additional protection in offset-type impacts.
The Pacifica is built on a new platform, not yet shared by any other Chrysler vehicle. A ratio of two-thirds body to one-third glass underpins the design. From the outside, it makes the car look shorter than its 1688 mm height. From the inside, the tops of the doors are higher than you’re used to, and give occupants a feeling of protection.
Chrysler designers have used character lines that curve up and over the front wheel, and continue back to the rear lights. Noteworthy are the bumper-mounted chrome inserts below the headlights and rear lights. These, too, serve to lengthen the car and add some flash at both ends. The sills are painted black, hiding them from your attention. All these devices conspire to give an appearance of sleekness to the Pacifica that works very well.
As mentioned above, the first two rows of seats consist of four buckets. A console separates the seats, which provide excellent accommodations for four adult occupants. The third row seating is occasional, but certainly functional.
Interior fit and finish is impeccable, utilizing tasteful plastics and fabrics in a pleasing design.
An optional $1885 navigation system with GPS is displayed within the instrument cluster, minimizing the amount of time required to check the map. Because of its location, the map is somewhat smaller than other displays, but it’s supplemented by voice instructions.
With the middle and rear seats folded the Pacifica’s cargo capacity is vast. The power lift gate is very handy.
In traffic, even in the city, the interior of the Pacifica is silent. Cornering and braking are notably sharp and direct, making the car feel smaller than it is, and very easy to drive. On the highway, the ride is remarkably smooth and quiet. Wind noise is minimal to non-existent. The new Mercedes-Benz inspired five-link rear suspension surely contributes to the excellent road feel of this vehicle.
But at 2121 kg (4675 lbs) this is not a lightweight car. In some situations, the engine is not operating effortlessly, even with its prodigious horsepower and torque numbers. Entering the highway, for instance, often caused the transmission to shift into second gear, and the smooth, quiet ride was interrupted with the sound of a busy motor, working hard to achieve highway speeds.
This shouldn’t detract from the Pacifica’s many attributes, but initial impressions were that less weight and a few more horses – and possibly an extra gear in the transmission – wouldn’t go astray. A longer road test in real-world driving situations will provide an opportunity to better evaluate this vehicle
For Canadian families trying to decide between a minivan, an SUV and a sedan, the Pacifica may be just the ticket. It offers attributes from all these vehicles, with lots of room, a focus on safety, sporty handling, and a degree of elegance and luxury that may be missing in the competition.
On sale this Spring, the 2004 Chrysler Pacifica will start at $43,395 for the front-wheel-drive model and $45,995 for the all-wheel-drive model.