- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

Chrysler's 2004 Pacifica is a family vehicle with a modern design, luxury amenities and seating for six.

Classified as a "sports tourer" by its maker, Pacifica has not a shred of minivan DNA or SUV clumsiness. Its streamlined shape, combined with high-tech gadgetry and high-end accommodations, throw a long shadow over that family vehicle of old the station wagon.

Pacifica is one of two major new vehicle introductions to come out of Auburn Hills for the 2004 model year. Along with Crossfire, a funky hatchback sports coupe, Pacifica is part of DaimlerChrysler's attempt to "revolutionize" the market just as the PT Cruiser turned heads in the small-car segment in 2001.

This is somewhat familiar ground for Chrysler, which of course changed the meaning of "family car" when it brought the minivan to American 20 years ago. Now, the challenge is to get SUV-loving families to trade their trucklike people carriers in for a vehicle with similar dimensions, but a very different flavor.

Pacifica is as big or bigger than many sport utes and "multipurpose vehicles" (such as the Volvo XC90 and Nissan Murano). In fact, this all-new model is about the same width and almost as long as large SUVs such as the Toyota Sequoia and Lincoln Navigator. What's different is what Chrysler does with those proportions.

A long nose and raked windshield stretch back elegantly into a rising beltline and curved rear end, giving Pacifica a shape more like a German sport wagon than an American sport ute. The grille is wide and prominent, capped by sharp trapezoidal headlamps. Fog lamps are set below, in the contrast-color front fender that extends along the body sides and into the rear bumper.

Seventeen-inch cast-aluminum wheels are standard. Roof rails are standard and can be ordered with optional crossbars. The antenna is integrated into the side window.

The standard, and only, powertrain is a 3.5-liter SOHC V-6 making 250 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 250 foot-pounds of torque at 3,950 revs. This engine is matched to a four-speed automatic with Autostick manual shift mode and either on-demand all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive, with traction control. Maximum towing capacity is 3,500; EPA estimated fuel economy is 17 miles per gallon city, 22 highway.

Inside, Pacifica has seating for six in three rows, with center consoles between first- and second-row captain's chairs. Lower to the ground than most SUVs, Pacifica is easy to get in and out of (no climbing up into the cabin), and all four captain's chairs sit high enough to give good visibility. Leather trim and heated seats are available as options for the first two rows.

The instrument panel features a flush design that is smooth and modern-looking, with wood and chrome accents. The ignition switch is mounted in the instrument panel instead of the steering column. Standard features include power locks, windows and heated exterior mirrors, four power outlets and an AM/FM/CD stereo (Infinity Intermezzo Digital Surround Sound System) also are available.

An optional navigation system is integrated directly into the instrument cluster, which is an industry first, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system is available. Other available technologies include Sirius satellite radio and the "Uconnect" communications system, which uses Bluetooth technology to link cell-phone calls with the car's audio system. Drivers using a cell phone in the car can leave their phone anywhere in the car and carry on a conversation with the other person's voice coming through the radio speakers.

Overall, cargo room is ample in Pacifica. Behind the third row of seats, 13 cubic feet of space is available through the liftback. With both rows folded, space increases to 79.5 cubic feet.

Road handling is managed by an independent rear suspension with self-leveling shock absorbers and rack-and-pinion steering. Four-wheel disc brakes come standard with ABS; front discs are vented.

Pacifica was originally code-named "The Protector" at Chrysler, which implies that it was designed with safety in mind. Front, side and side-curtain airbags are standard, along with a "knee-blocker" airbag just below the steering column. Pacifica also comes equipped with three-point seat belts for all seating positions, energy-absorbing steering column and the Enhanced Accident Response System (EARS), which turns on interior lights and unlocks doors after a crash.

As big as an SUV and as smooth as a European sport wagon, Pacifica brings together two very different automotive worlds into one package. It is a family vehicle, to be sure, but it doesn't skimp on style. If this is the wave of the family automotive future, keeping up with the Joneses is going to be a lot of fun.

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