For months before the Pacifica was scheduled to go on sale — in March 2003 as an early 2004 model — Chrysler was giving its new sports tourer the full publicity treatment. Unveiled in concept form at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show in January 2002, the Pacifica appeared in production-ready guise at New York’s auto show three months later.
Blending the elements of several vehicle types in what’s called a brand-new sports tourer category, the Pacifica is “practical and beautiful,” said Jim Schroer, Chrysler’s executive vice president of global sales and marketing. Chrysler wanted it to be unlike anything else on the market, ready to become the next big thing in an all-new segment. Developers sought a vehicle that didn’t conform to the traditional proportions of a car, sport utility vehicle or minivan, yet featured their best attributes. Chrysler says the Pacifica is “simply cool and classy.”
Developers focused on five key points for the Pacifica: dimensions, design, driver control, luxury amenities and packaging. A 3.5-liter V-6 engine that is borrowed from Chrysler’s sporty 300M sedan goes beneath the hood. Pacificas can have an on-demand all-wheel-drive system or front-wheel drive that includes traction control.
Chrysler says the Pacifica is mounted on a brand-new platform and employs a “new proportion.” Marketers promote its carlike handling and first-class step-across seating. This means that passengers step directly into the Pacifica rather than up or down during entry or exit — as they would in an SUV or luxury sedan, respectively. Pacificas are manufactured in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Bold body creases serve as character lines to decorate the Pacifica’s sides. A wide stance makes the vehicle look low and stable, and horizontal lines serve to stretch its profile. Distinctive touches include triangular reverse D-pillars.
A large, familiar eggcrate grille with tapered sides holds a new rendition of Chrysler’s winged badge. Fog lamps sit low in deep holders on the lower front bumper, while the taillamps are borrowed from the 300M sedan. Standard alloy wheels hold 17-inch tires. Riding a 116.3-inch wheelbase, the Pacifica measures 198.9 inches long overall, stretches to 79.3 inches wide and stands 66.5 inches tall.
Engineers adapted the five-link independent rear suspension from the Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan, and that is augmented by automatic leveling. A power sunroof and power liftgate are available.
Six people can occupy three rows of what the manufacturer calls chair height seats. Chrysler promises “first-class” seating in the first and second rows, and the seats may be heated. Second-row buckets have fold-and-tumble capability and include a full-length center console and seat-mounted armrests. A 50/50-split, folding bench goes into the rear. Cloth upholstery is standard, and leather is optional.
Power-operated memory-adjustable pedals are installed. Standard equipment also includes dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 10-way power driver’s seat and a four-way power passenger seat. A navigation system with a small screen mounted in the instrument cluster, a video entertainment system with a 7-inch screen, Chrysler’s UConnect hands-free communication system and a Sirius Satellite Radio system are also available.
Under the Hood
The Pacifica’s 3.5-liter V-6 engine produces 250 horsepower and 250 pounds-feet of torque. A four-speed-automatic transmission incorporates AutoStick for manually selecting gear changes when desired.
Antilock brakes and an airbag in the driver-side knee blocker are standard. Side curtain-type airbags will protect occupants in all three rows of seats. A pressure-based tire monitor is standard.
Solidity and stability highlight the Pacifica, which takes fairly high-speed curves with only modest body lean. On good roads, at least, the ride is smooth and easy — close to minivanlike, with rarely a harsh moment, but delivering a sizable dose of tautness. The steering is accurate with a very good feel and a rather light touch, though it’s not as precise as an all-out sporty machine.
The Pacifica is exceptionally quiet most of the time, but it suffers some engine blare under hard acceleration. Acceleration is strong, but not as stirring as, say, the Infiniti FX35. Chrysler’s automatic transmission occasionally downshifts curtly when pushed at lower speeds. Otherwise, passing response is quite satisfying.
The seats are well contoured, nicely cushioned and seem virtually chair height, which adds to the minivan feel. The flowing-look instrument panel is appealing, but the huge speedometer with a red-tipped pointer isn’t the easiest to read at a glance. Chrysler’s in-cluster navigation-system screen is better than most because the driver’s eyes need not stray far from the road ahead.