- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2003

Tired of your minivan, your sport utility vehicle, your sedan?

Chrysler officials hope so, because they want to get you into something different — a wagonlike vehicle with six seats.

The 2004 Chrysler Pacifica has some attributes of a minivan, SUV and sedan, but it’s in a different package. The idea is reminiscent of the tall, four-wheel-drive, American Motors station wagons of the 1970s, albeit with a much more stylish exterior and a roomier interior.

Pacifica is “positioned to attract those looking for versatility and flexibility in an all-new proportion,” said Tom Marinelli, vice president of Chrysler marketing.

Initial pricing isn’t cheap. A base Pacifica with front-drive has a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $31,230.

Chrysler officials, however, promise a Pacifica will soon be offered with an under-$30,000 price tag.

The test Pacifica was the uplevel all-wheel-drive model and topped out at nearly $36,000 with power sunroof and leather seats.

It did not have Pacifica’s noteworthy navigation system, which incorporates its display in the center of the speedometer, rather than in a separate display screen somewhere in the dashboard between the driver and front passenger.

Chrysler officials noted that consolidating the navigation system into the instrument panel means it should be easier for a driver to keep eyes on the road. But to me, it also appears that Pacifica’s front-seat passenger can’t help with navigation duties because the screen is only clearly visible to the driver.

All Pacificas are powered by a 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter, single-overhead-cam V-6 that’s also used in the Chrysler 300M large sedan.

Torque is 250 foot-pounds at 3,950 rpm, and the Pacifica uses the 300Ms four-speed automatic transmission with shift-it-yourself AutoStick function.

But the lengthy Pacifica — at 16.5 feet long, just 1.7 inches shorter overall than a Town & Country minivan — weighs some 900 pounds more than the 300M.

So while acceleration in the all-wheel-drive Pacifica is pleasant and acceptable for many mainstream drivers, there’s no instantaneous power surge for sporty-minded drivers.

And the estimated fuel economy of the all-wheel-drive model matches the 17/22 miles per gallon rating of the Honda Pilot SUV.

I only heard the engine upon hard acceleration and scarcely heard nearby cars and trucks during the test drive because the Pacifica’s interior is impressively quiet. There wasn’t noticeable wind noise, either, though the tester did not have a roof rack.

Handling in the all-wheel-drive model was commendable, too, with the Pacifica’s body motions nicely managed and the vehicle feeling as if it’s much shorter and more nimble than expected. The ride doesn’t come across as firm, nor is it truckish or floaty. It’s somewhere in between all that.

The front suspension uses struts, while Chrysler officials said they installed a Mercedes E-Class-like multilink rear suspension on the Pacifica after studying the vehicle’s driving dynamics at a Mercedes driving simulator in Berlin. DaimlerBenz owns Chrysler. Note that self-leveling shock absorbers are standard at the rear.

Tires are 17-inchers and help give the Pacifica a substantial appearance.

The rack-and-pinion steering has decent on-center feel and most of the time even the all-wheel-drive Pacifica travels with power going primarily to the front wheels. When slippage is detected, power is automatically routed to the rear to help out.

Inside the Pacifica, get ready for something decidedly un-Chrysler-like. With the exception of the stereo faceplate and controls, which are the typical Chrysler shape and look of recent years, the interior has a European feel.

The front four bucket seats have sculpted backs and look ritzy in leather. As you sit down, you sink in just a bit.

Passengers ride higher than they might in a traditional carlike wagon but not as high up as in a truck-based SUV.

I didn’t have to pull myself up into the vehicle, but I did have to make sure I ducked my head to keep from hitting the lower roof edge.

The Pacifica’s luminescent gauges are Lexus-like, with bright red needles seeming to float, rather than connect mechanically, to the gauges.

The faux wood trim on the dashboard looks good. In fact, it’s better than the cheap-looking, satin-finish silver trim that’s at the top of the doors and around the door handles inside.

I couldn’t easily move across the second row, from one seat to the other, because a large, low, plastic piece is there, linking the center console from the front seats to the console between the second-row seats.

Just a couple quick lifts of levers gets second-row seats out of the way for access to the third row. But I wished the Pacifica’s four front-hinged doors opened wider.

Watch, too, as you back up in the Pacifica. The high back window may not afford a good view of low-to-the-ground items. Chrysler officials said they planned to add a rear park assist feature in the future.

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