If the windshield stood vertical rather than slanting back into the roofline, it would be a wagon.

If the side doors slid open rather than swinging out, it would be a van.

If it had a trunk rather than a cargo hold, it would be a sedan.

The ’03 Chrysler Pacifica is a bit of several machines wrapped into the designation of crossover, a nondescript term used to categorize a new generation of multipurpose vehicles.

Mike Donoughe, vice president of Chrysler’s family vehicle product team, has his own way of describing Pacifica: “It’s a totally unique cocktail, part van, part SUV, part sports sedan with the best features of all those vehicles incorporated into one–the people and cargo capacity of a van, the ride and handling of a sedan, the all-wheel-drive capability of a sport-ute. But at the end of the day, we call it a sports tourer.”

As if sports tourer has any clearer meaning than crossover!

Pacifica is offered in full-time all-wheel-drive or front-wheel-drive. We tested the AWD model, an all-climate performer with no dials or transfer cases to fiddle with.

Dimensions are similar to those on an extended-length Dodge Caravan, only about 2 inches shorter, 1 inch wider and with a 2-inch lower roofline than the minivan.

By being lower, the center of gravity is similar to that in a sedan so that even when you opt for AWD, you don’t wobble in corners as in some taller and higher AWD sport-utility vehicles.

Another advantage is that unlike many AWD SUVs that require a step up to get into the cabin, the low-slung Pacifica allows you to slip inside. You don’t sit as high as in an SUV, but the large windshield offers a panoramic view.

The added width provides not only spacious cabin room (try reaching from the driver’s seat to open the glove box), but the wide track and wide-profile, 17-inch, all-season, radial tires give you more stable ride and handling than in a minivan or SUV. Very little road harshness filters back into the cabin. And it’s easy to maneuver into and out of tight parking spots.

Pacifica seats six 2 by 2 by 2. A console between second-row seats for cupholders, stowage and heat/air controls rules out a seventh seat.

To get to the third row, the second seat flips and folds to expose a small aisle. For a larger aisle you must remove the headrest from the second-row seat before flipping. Considering knee and melon room is tight in the third seat, you don’t need all that wide an aisle to get there. Save that seat for the kids.

Second- and third-row seat backs fold flat to increase cargo capacity, which is good because there’s not a lot of room behind the third-row seat. While easy to fold the third seat when reaching in from the rear liftgate, you have to stretch considerably to reach the handle to get it upright again.

To keep the second-row console from hampering cargo space, the back of the second r ow seat on the driver’s side has a built-in cover that flips over to cover the console to create a flat floor. Neat touch.

Pacifica is powered by a 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower, 24-valve V-6. Decent power, and it managed Wisconsin hills without strain. But the V-6 has to propel a 4,700-pound vehicle and when loaded with passengers, you sometimes have to press the pedal firmly to merge onto the interstate. Mileage for a six-passenger hauler with full-time AWD is good at 17 m.p.g. city/22 m.p.g. highway.

Like the Chrysler minivans, Pacifica offers a power retractable hatchlid ($400). Press the key fob or the overhead console opener and the lid opens and closes automatically. Like the van, if anything stands in the way, such as a person, the lid bops, stops and retracts. Several times we inserted shoulder in the path of the closing lid and each time it bopped–gently–stopped and retracted.

Other nice touches: power adjustable gas/brake pedals that motor to you so you don’t have to move the seat closer to the steering wheel; a small covered compartment in the cargo-hold floor to hide items; power outlets in the dash and the cargo hold; grocery-bag holders attached to the front seat backs; fold-down coat hooks along the side doors; and the ability to program headlamps to go on with the wipers as well as program the driver’s seat to motor back for easier exit when you remove the ignition key.

Also, there are ample cup, juice-box and water-bottle holders. And the analog clock in the center of the dash is attractive and easy to see.

And while they don’t have them now, the front seat backs are designed to hold fold-down tray tops. “We don’t talk about future product, but that’s a feature we’ve considered,” Donoughe said.

However, there is room for refinement. Outside mirrors are small; optional leather seats are stiff and the driver’s side could use a longer bottom for better thigh support; the V-6 isn’t whisper quiet; and the “B” pillar, where the front and side doors meet, is very big and creates a blind spot when cars are passing.

And, since Pacifica stands 2 inches lower than a van, prepare to lower your head by at least 2 inches when entering.

One other complaint came from second-seat passengers on a lengthy trip who insisted the seats were too low and made them feel as if sitting in a hole. We spent time in those seats and didn’t experience the problem.

Base price for the AWD model is $32,300. The FWD model, which comes with traction control, starts at $31,230.

Standard equipment includes power seats, dual-zone temperature control, side-curtain air bags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, power windows/locks, speed control, tilt steering, rear-window defroster/washer/wiper, solar glass, power heated mirrors and AM/FM radio with CD changer.

Be cautious with options, which can quickly run up the price, such as $1,070 for a DVD entertainment system; $1,595 for navigation system; $895 for power sunroof; $890 for leather seats; $500 for heated first- and second-row seats; $395 for six-disc in-dash CD/DVD changer; $750 for chrome wheels; $275 for hands-free phone and $299 for Sirius satellite radio (plus $12.95 a month usage fee).

In real estate it’s location, in the auto industry it’s timing and unveiling a new vehicle in the war in Iraq will challenge Chrysler.

But Donoughe takes comfort in the fact that at least Chrysler has a crossover and neither Chevrolet nor Ford does. The earliest either will is the ’05 model year, when Ford will introduce the Freestyle.

“We certainly don’t take the war lightly, but two years ago when planning Pacifica, no one thought about a war. Sometimes you’ve just gotta make lemonade out of lemons. About 2.7 million people rotate each year between vans, sport-utes and sedans and when things are normal, t hat’s where our buyers will come from,” Donoughe said.

He estimates 70 percent of the 100,000 Pacificas sold annually will be AWD models.

2004 Chrysler Pacifica AWD

Wheelbase: 116.3 inches

Length: 198.9 inches

Engine: 3.5-liter, 250-h.p. 24-valve V-6

Transmission: 4-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 17 m.p.g. city/22 m.p.g. highway

Base price: $32,300

Price as tested: $36,830. Includes $500 for heated front and rear seats; $895 for power sunroof; $395 for six-disc in-dash CD/DVD changer; $890 for leather seats; $700 for Infinity sound system; $750 for 17-inch chrome aluminum wheels; and $400 for power liftgate with bop/stop/retract feature. Add $680 for freight.

Pluses: Full-time AWD. Spacious seating for six in extra wide cabin. Second/third row seats fold for more cargo room. Power retractable liftgate. Lot of neat items such as grocery bag holders and coat hooks. DVD entertainment system ($1,070) available.

Minuses: The V-6 must deal with 4,700 pounds. Small outside mirrors. Low roof line so duck when getting in. Third-row head and leg room. Lots of costly options.

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