Some classify minivans as yesterday's news, SUVs as passe, and feel that traditional sedans don't offer the configurability or safety features many families want. Here's the latest budding, blending segment, the Crossover, and its newest entry, Chrysler's Pacifica.
Unlike others of this genre, the Pacifica grafts a new limb to the family tree, a branch Chrysler calls the "sports tourer" (thank goodness, there's no three-letter acronym for it--yet). They'd like us to think of it as a mix of minivan configurability, sport/utility functionality, and sport-sedan agility with a dollop of luxury. It sounds like a strange combination, but it works--extremely well.
Designed from the ground up, the Pacifica's styling has a fresh look, blending European cues with a dash of Chrysler design heritage. While it resembles Audi's allroad, with its Germanic strong edges, the Pacifica's tall, sweeping beltline is more pronounced. The familiar Chrysler "face" (replete with slightly overdone chrome eyebrows and HID or Xenon headlamps) makes the Pacifica stand out.
The sport-sedanlike cockpit places essential controls within easy reach of the driver. We're especially impressed with the DVD-based navigation liquid-crystal display imbedded within the instrument pod. The five-inch-diagonal screen is surrounded by a LED-based transreflective gauge cluster, which literally projects the dials into the pod.
Front- and second-row heated bucket seats are wonderfully sculpted and trimmed in supple leather, and both rows get their own console. While many SUV third-row seats are reserved for small children, the Pacifica's stern bench is easily accessible via flip-and-fold second-row buckets. There's good leg/head/footroom for people up to six feet in height. This interior, too, has lots of creature comforts: aluminum and wood-trim accents, front/rear-climate controls, and storage cubbies.
The Pacifica proves a capable hauler. Fold the third-row seats down, and there's plenty of room for luggage for four, or drop the second row (creating a flat load floor) for most lumberyard needs. Similar to the Town & Country, the optional power rear liftgate is handy when arms are full of parcels.
The Pacifica offers a six-disc CD/DVD changer and Dolby 5.1 surround sound, a first in a production vehicle. A seven-inch rear-console-mounted screen eliminates common outward visibility problems associated with roof-mounted systems. To help keep the peace within the family, a single CD slot (and optional Sirius satellite radio) is provided so parents can listen to their own tunes while the kids watch the latest Disney flick, with or without the standard-issue infrared headphones. To say that this system kicks would be an understatement--it beats some home-theater units.
Powered by the same 250-horse SOHC V-6 found in the 300M, and coupled to a four-speed automatic transaxle with AutoStick, the Pacifica is a nimble performer in FWD or viscous-coupled AWD form. The engine is wholly up to the job, but the trans lags a bit on downshifts. And why only four and not five or six ratios? Struts handle the front underpinnings, while a load-leveling five-link (architecture borrowed from the Mercedes-Benz E-Class) handles the duties in back. Suspension tuning is taut without being overbearing and smooth with no hint of mushiness, creating an appropriately comfortable ride. How cush? A passenger fell asleep in our AWD tester.
From the onset, Chrysler designers wanted to create a safety capsule for the Pacifica's occupants. Multistage front airbags are standard, as well as pretensioners on front belts. A driver's Knee Blocker airbag helps deflect leg injuries in a frontal impact and reduces the tendency of knees to slide under the dash under hard deceleration. And, like Volvo's XC90, the Pacifica incorporates side-curtain airbags for all three rows of passengers. Crash ratings haven't been generated, but the engineers predict five stars for frontal impact.
Chrysler execs expect the Pacifica to be cross-shopped against luxury SUVs like the Acura MDX, Lexus RX 300, Volvo XC90, and Buick Rendezvous. We'd add the Audi allroad and Volvo Cross-Country wagons to that list. Pricing is yet to be determined, but we figure a base FWD model will start at $31,230, while an AWD will clear $32,980. Regardless of configuration, for the family seeking a do-it-all sport/utility /sedan/minivan/something-or-other, the Pacifica earns a look and a test drive.