In the autumn of 2003, DaimlerChrysler introduced their first co-developed product: a “segment buster” called the Chrysler Pacifica. According to the official spin, the Pacifica married a minivan’s utility with an SUV’s machismo. In reality, the Pacifica was a six-seat station wagon on stilts, closest in concept to Audi’s slow-selling Allroad Quattro. While the Allroad pulled a Hasselhoff (more popular in Germany than its intended market), the Pacifica was born under a bad sign, raised with great expectations and expired stateside without fanfare or corporate hand-wringing. RIP Pacifica or good riddance to bad rubbish?
In many ways, the Pacifica was neither fish nor foul, starting with the proportions. It was taller than a car but lower than most SUVs. It had an exceptionally wide body and stretched nearly as long as Chrysler’s Town and Country minivan. But is still looked like what it was: a big-assed station wagon.
Chrysler designers used clever styling tricks to hide its heft. For example, the body sported multiple crease marks, near the window line, and again near the rocker panel. Like vertical stripes on clothing, the lines make the overall design seem longer and leaner. From the rear end, the Pacifica’s quarter panels taper dramatically inward from the rear wheels, thereby creating a thinner look. And the use of black molding on the roof give the vehicle the appearance of a sleek profile. The result was extremely color sensitive; dressed in white, you expected to see Captain Ahab pinned to the roof.
In keeping with Motown traditions, the first Pacificas hit dealer showrooms fully-loaded: all wheel-drive, load-leveling suspension, leather upholstery, heated first and second-row seats, sunroof, power liftgate, navigation (beautifully situated directly in front of the driver), dual zone climate control, DVD entertainment system and Sirius satellite radio. While the car’s upscale pretensions were obvious from the git-go, potential customers couldn’t see the price point. Initial Pacificas cost north of $35K. Even worse, the CUV’s build quality didn’t match the model’s “near luxury” aspirations. In-dash rattles, plastic panels that fell off, unpainted gas caps—the Pacifica (along with the new Crossfire Sports Car) was ground zero for dreams of Mercedes quality combined with Chrysler style.
Speaking of which, the Pacifica’s interior packaging sucked. The first two rows were spacious enough for four occupants, but the third row was suitable only for small, nimble, unloved children. When deployed, row three also left very little room for cargo, although it did fold flat when not in use. The Chrysler Pacifica posed the same question that the CUV genre still asks today: what IS the point? While modern CUVs answer with SUV-lite styling, the Pacifica looked like what it was: an expensive, big-assed station wagon.
Early Pacificas featured a mediocre engine (250hp 3.5-liter V6) and gear-challenged (four speed) transmission in a price bracket known for potent and refined powertrains. Thanks to the DaimlerChrysler’s vehicle’s heft and the ancient autobox, the Pacifica was both slow AND thirsty. The EPA rated its fuel economy at a less than desirable 15/20 mpg.
For the 2005 model year, Chrysler rectified the pricing problem (claiming it was their plan all along). The LX trim came equipped as a five-seater. In fact, the vehicle was thoroughly de-contented, including some very questionable seat materials, which undermined any chance of upmarket cachet. And did nothing much for sales.
DaimlerChrysler had a real dog on their hands. Not only did the vehicle fail to sell well, the company lost money on every one. The Pacifica sat on a modified minivan platform, but it didn’t share any interior furnishings with any other Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep product. The window switches, power seat controls (a nod to Daimler), audio and video entertainment options, seats, center console and the instrument panel weren’t interchangeable with any other vehicle.
Adding insult to injury, the Pacifica quickly developed a reputation for horrendous reliability. Straight out of the box, early models suffered from engine problems, transmission woes and the aforementioned quality control issues. Reflecting the analysis paralysis and cultural warfare bedeviling Auburn Hills, Chrysler failed to handle the Pacifica’s defects with speed or decisiveness. While some of early problems were eventually ironed-out, electrical gremlins plagued the Pacifica throughout its entire production cycle.
In sum, the Pacifica was one of the worst new car introductions in Chrysler’s history, with little or no advanced notice, hardly any pre-production publicity, and very little dealer training.
Since the Pacifica’s introduction, the CUV genre has exploded. Buyers looking for crossovers can choose from a wide range of vehicles that look like SUVs, burn gas like SUVs, won’t go off-road or tow like SUVs, and can’t carry more than five adults in comfort. But none of them—not one—looks like a bloated station wagon. There are brand new 2008 Pacificas sitting on ChryslerFiat dealers’ lots. Which tells you just about everything you need to know about the late, not-great Chrysler Pacifica.