- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

Chrysler has introduced another “segment buster” with the all-new Pacifica for 2004. The Pacifica isn’t being called a minivan, a wagon, or an SUV, but rather a Sports Tourer. According to Tom Marinelli, Chrysler’s marketing vice president, “Quality is the best it’s ever been, based on owner feedback, though that perception may be lacking.”

With Pacifica, Route 66 meets the Autobahn, because it is the first real product to emerge from the Chrysler/Daimler marriage. It offers “disciplined pizzazz” and, without question, Pacifica marks a pivotal time in the 80-year history of the Chrysler brand. Mr. Marinelli further explained that Chrysler is about premium products — not luxury, mind you, but vehicles priced from the low to mid-$30,000 range.

The Pacifica is an exceptionally attractive craft whose form and function successfully transcend the gap between station wagon and minivan, while providing seating for six passengers in three rows (2+2+2). The second and third row individual seats fold to create a flat load floor with second-row seats adjustable fore and aft as well as reclining. The third-row seat is a 50/50 split bench. The forward seats feature metamorphic adjustment controls that are more Mercedes-like than Chrysler — in fact, there’s a lot about the Pacifica that reflects an influence from the Mercedes-Benz camp.

This is no coincidence, because development work was shared by engineers from both divisions on not only Pacifica, but the future Mercedes-Benz GST.

In terms of aesthetic appeal, Pacifica offers a long, low and sleek form over substantial five-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels and tires. The lines are crisp and flowing to suggest movement even when the Pacifica is parked.

The look of the rear end matches the styling of the front with integrated bumpers, fascia and bright trim accents. An upper rear spoiler is integrated as well. The Pacifica actually belies its name, in that it is very bold and distinctive, rather than passive in its design form.

Moving to the inside, attention to detail is harmonious with the exterior. Instrumentation and switchgear are driver-oriented, with plenty of comfort and convenience to keep passengers happy too.

Power comes from a 3.5-liter, SOHC V-6 engine also found in Chrysler’s popular 300M. The engine delivers 250 horsepower and a like amount in foot-pounds of torque.

Gear changes are handled smoothly by an electronic four-speed automatic transaxle featuring AutoStick, allowing manual changes if desired. Both front-wheel and all-wheel drive configurations are available.

The AWD test Pacifica sported a clear-coat Light Almond Pearl metallic exterior finish and a light Taupe interior with leather seating surfaces for the first and second rows. The base price of $32,300 included an impressive list of standard features and amenities, with the final tab reaching $37,510.

Extras included: premium leather low-back bucket seats; heated front and second-row seats; Infinity Intermezzo surround-sound audio system with eight speakers and CD/DVD changer; power sunroof and liftgate; chrome wheels; and destination charge.

The new Chrysler Pacifica is an outstanding vehicle, suitable for executive or family travel. In fact, load up with all the info-tainment options, and one may enjoy all the comforts of home — OK, there are no kitchen or bathroom facilities on board, but you can enjoy a movie or your favorite tunes via the DVD player upgraded audio system, and find your way almost anywhere with the IP integrated navigation system.

The steering is light and precise, shifting is smooth in either the manual or automatic mode, and acceleration is adequate. The engine is a tad noisy but not really objectionable when prodded hard, due primarily to the Pacifica’s nearly 2.5-ton mass. More displacement would require less work from the engine, thus quieter operation.

The ride quality is superb and the automatic rear load-leveling system aids in balance. There’s plenty of leg room front and rear — I was able to comfortably sit behind the driver’s position even when it was set up for my 6-foot, 4-inch frame.

Storage abounds with door pockets and a center console that runs through the second seat row, though those with large shoes may experience some difficulty in clearing the bulbous lower door pockets upon leaving the vehicle — nothing major. Adjustable pedals, seats and steering column make it easy to establish the ideal driving position.

The Pacifica is nimble and fun to drive with the added bonus of outstanding standard safety and security features. A cruising capability in the 400-mile range adds to Pacifica’s convenience package. The term “Sports Tourer” is a most appropriate one, as the Pacifica is more on the order of a luxury sports touring sedan than a crossover vehicle in terms of performance and handling characteristics, but with the versatility and flexibility of the latter.

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