Saturday, September 20, 2003

Pacifica fills void not there

By Carol Traeger
Enquirer contributor

Chrysler Pacifica

Wheels rating: (out of 5)
5 wheels

Vital Statistics

What I drove: 2004 Chrysler Pacifica AWD, four-door, six-passenger "sport tourer"

Base Price Range: $32,980

Price as tested: $41,365 (including destination)

Options on test vehicle: Heated front- and second-row seats, Infinity Intermezzo Surround Sound system, roof racks, cargo net, cigar lighter, ashtrays front and rear, power sunroof, navigation system with GPS, power liftgate, HID headlamps, in-dash CD/DVD changer, full-size spare tire, 17-inch aluminum/chrome wheels, and rear-seat video system with wireless headphones.

Drivetrain layout: Front engine, all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive

Engine: 3.5-liter, 24-valve V6 producing 250 hp and 250 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 4-speed automatic with Auto-Stick

Wheelbase: 116.3 inches

Length: 198.9 inches

Width: 79.3 inches

Height: 66.5 inches

Weight: 4,393-4,675 pounds

EPA mpg, city/highway: 17/22

Warranty: Basic: 3 years/36,000 miles; powertrain: 7 years/70,000 miles; roadside assist: 3 years/36,000 miles

Safety features: Standard multistage front airbags, driver's knee airbag, head-protection curtain airbags for all three rows, LATCH child seat anchorage system, antilock brakes.

Cool: Navigation screen located in speedometer face, power adjustable brake pedals, smooth controlled ride.

Uncool: Sluggish acceleration, poor rear visibility, too little cargo space.

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Car Talk
The Scene: Inside an analyst's office. A Chrysler Pacifica is recumbent on a couch speaking to an auto "analyst" seated in a chair across from him.

Analyst: So, Mr. Pacifica, before we begin, let's briefly review your patient-information sheet. It says here you're a four-door, six-passenger, front- or all-wheel-drive vehicle aimed at young families who don't want a minivan or SUV. You have three rows of seats and cost about $35,000. If you don't mind my asking, what exactly are you?

Pacifica: Good question, Doctor, and that's partly why I'm here. My parents designed me to be this new type of vehicle - one that combines the best attributes and none of the negatives of minivans, SUVs and wagons. They're calling me a "sports tourer," but what I really am is a wagon with three rows of seats. Anyway, I'm supposed to launch this revolutionary new crossover segment.

Analyst: A very compelling idea. According to my records, your parents launched the minivan in 1984, so apparently they know what they're doing.

Pacifica: Yeah, but this time they're trying to fill a void that doesn't exist. The niche for vehicles with car-like handling and lots of utility is being met by car-based sport-utes like the Acura MDX and Lexus RX 330.

Analyst: I see.

Pacifica: Anyway, I feel very pressured to live up to my parents' expectations. They aimed for me to sell at a rate of 80,000 per year, but from March through August I've only sold 27,200. Now they're offering $1,000 rebates just to get people to buy me. It's humiliating. I feel so cheap!

Analyst: I've read so many good things about you in the automotive press. Which reminds me, how did it go with that journalist last week?

Pacifica: Ugh! That Carol Traeger was pretty brutal. She left her notebook on my front seat, and I couldn't help but read it.

Analyst: What did she say?

Pacifica: She said I'm kind of handsome - in a wagon-on-steroids kind of way. From the front 3/4-angle, I look PT Cruiser-ish. From the side I look like a tall wagon, from the rear I look like an SUV. She liked the fact I sit lower than an SUV. She said I'm easy to climb in, and my seats are comfortable. She liked the way my second- and third-row seats flip forward for a nearly flat cargo floor. But she said the raised edge of my cargo floor made it hard to slide in heavy objects, whereas the Volvo XC90's flush tailgate is easy to slide stuff into.

Analyst: Hmmmmm.

Pacifica: Then she wrote in her notebook: "lacks the utility and kid-friendliness of a minivan."

Analyst: Ouch! And that's based on . . . . ?

Pacifica: She said there's no walk-though space between my second-row seats, which makes it hard to get to the third-row seats. She didn't mention that my second-row seats flip forward so people can climb back there. Oh, and then she complained that I don't have enough cargo space behind my third-row seats. I have 13 cubic feet. Is that bad?

Analyst: Hmmmmm.

Pacifica: She did like my navigation display screen, though, which is located right in front of the driver in my speedometer's arch. Her notes said I was loaded with surprising amenities like adjustable pedals, heated rear seats and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, but that these options quickly put me over the $40,000 mark, right up there with the MDX, XC90 and other premium sport-utes with three rows.

Analyst: How did she like driving you?

Pacifica: She said I'm tighter than a minivan and softer than a truck. I feel smooth but not sharp. My steering lacks a strong "on-center feel," whatever that means. She said my 250-horsepower V6 and four-speed automatic felt overworked and panicky when she accelerated from a standstill up to freeway speeds. But once there, I was quiet and comfortable, even for third-row passengers.

Her notes said I've got poor rearward visibility, and I need larger side-view mirrors and a bigger rear window and/or a back-up camera.

Analyst (looking in file folder): This report says you earned perfect five-star ratings in the government's front and side-impact crash tests. That's big!

Pacifica: Careful, Doctor, you're showing some enthusiasm. Yes, I'm very safety-conscious. I come standard with multistage front airbags, head curtain airbags for all three rows, and an inflatable driver's knee cushion. Plus, I'm long and low, which makes me feel more grounded than other SUVs, and my all-wheel drive gives me great all-weather capability.

Analyst: See? You've got a lot of positive qualities. Maybe you're not as utilitarian as you could be, but you're comfortable, safe, and roomy enough to do carpool duty. Plus, you're different-looking enough to turn heads. Not many minivans can say that.

Pacifica: I guess you're right. But I still don't feel good enough to live up to the success of my big brother, Mr. Minivan. If only I were just a two-vehicle crossbreed, life would be so much simpler. I feel tremendous pressure trying to be three different vehicles in one.

Analyst: Let me tell you something: Most consumers don't know or even care that you're a tri-breed. You want my advice?

Pacifica: Sure.

Analyst: Forget labels. Let go of parental expectations. Just go out there and move people as best you can.

Pacifica: Do you think I'll make it, Doc?

Analyst: Only time will tell. Speaking of which, our time's up.

Contact Carol Traeger by e-mail at

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