The Pacifica is the original crossover, launched by Chrysler before sky high gas prices turbocharged the entire genre. The Pacifica combines the utility of a minivan (without the stigma of actually having to drive one), the raised seating position of an SUV (without getting dirty looks from drivers with "Proud To Be Vegan" bumper stickers) and the handling of a sedan (without the fuel efficiency). While it may not have everything it needs to roust suburban schleppers from their SUV's, the station wagon stilts is still the original and best shot over the SUV's bow.
In keeping with its multi-tasking mission, the Pacifica doesn't look like anything else on the market. With its dramatic belt line diving from back to front, the forward-leaning Pacifica's sheet metal has all the style of a Sinatra fedora. The details are equally compelling. Unlike its minivan competitors, the crossover's 17" wheels fit the wheel wells. The door handles aren't refugees from a bottomless parts bin. The bright work is deployed sparingly and with taste. In short, the Pacifica is the first pentastar product in a long time that doesn't look like it was designed by committee.
Pacifica ads promise a luxurious sedan-like interior. In a stark break with industry tradition, it delivers. The Pacifica's cabin is simple and stylish; it's made from materials that wouldn't seem out of place in a mid-level Mercedes. In case you're not entirely convinced that a Chrysler can have class, the company's added a bit of technological whiz bang. In the flat world of navigation systems, the Pacifica's oversized display screen– sitting bang in the middle of the speedometer– is an ergonomic triumph. It's too bad Chrysler's sat nav software is easily disoriented and provides erroneous directions.
Our test Pacifica came equipped with four separate bucket seats (the base model has a minivan-esque rear bench). The fronts are more supportive than a third grade teacher, complete with fold down arm rests, power every which way (but loose) and memory. The rears are arranged theater-style. They slide fore and aft, recline and provide passengers easy access to separate controls for the air conditioning and optional DVD system (perfect for today's non-conversational kids). The seats in the way, WAY back are suitable only for children, dogs and in-laws. Although all the rear seats fold down, there's no way you can create a completely flat loading surface without an acetylene torch.
While the rear passengers enjoy terrific vistas all 'round, drivers will find that the Pacifica's rear window bears an uncanny resemblance to a mail slot. When you look in the rear view mirror the entire window fills the frame. The window wiper looks the size of a pencil. Visibility wouldn't be worse if the door was made out of solid steel.
Chrysler teamed up with Infinity to create one of the world's best and most complicated audio systems. It's a farrago of oddly shaped buttons, rockers, sliders and a big plastic knob. Underneath the CD-equipped head unit there's… another CD player. The overall design is so ergonomically compromised that Chrysler just plain gave up and added two multi-function ICE-control buttons to the back of the steering wheel. Luckily, the helm-based switches offer a simple and effective alternative to the head unit's RTFM Hell.
You might think that 250 horses would be enough to motivate a two-ton vehicle. And it is. Kind of. The Pacifica ambles to 60 in a little under ten seconds. Shifting manually with the AutoStick gives you something to do to while away the time, but the system does little to increase the beast's acceleration. Once the Pacifica's 3.5 liter V6 gets rolling, the picture brightens considerably. The big crossover cruises effortlessly at 90mph. When you call down to the engine room at slower speeds, the powerplant answers authoritatively. Unfortunately, sloth does not equal frugality. Chrysler and our chronically over-optimistic pals at the EPA claim the Pacifica gets 17/23 mpg. Our test Pacifica turned in just 16.2.
At least it burned its fuel with grace. With struts up front and a five-link self-leveling suspension in the rear, the Pacifica errs on the fun-to-drive side. It turns in sharply, changes directions well and generally slings itself through the corners with more polish than you'd expect from a vehicle this generously sized. The Pacifica may be nothing more than a rolling chicane to an MX5, but Chrysler's crossover is hardly an automotive penalty box.
Buying a Pacifica is one of those rare instances where you really can have it all (assuming you have a spare $30k): the comfort of a luxury sedan, the practicality of a minivan and the psychological security of an SUV. All the Pacifica needs to mount a comeback, to capitalize on the current SUV exodus, is better mileage. The moment DCX installs a more fuel efficient engine is the moment the Pacifica will get the attention it deserves.