A few years before automakers started jumping into the "hot" crossover market, Chrysler launched the Pacifica, which lay somewhere between a minivan and an SUV. Although not the first SUV to be built on a car platform, the Chrysler Pacifica is the forerunner to highly touted new cars such as the Mazda CX-7, the Acura RDX, and the Mercedes-Benz R-class. For our review, we had a 2007 Chrysler Pacifica Limited with seating for six. In a lot of ways, the car is like a big, luxurious wagon, with seats that can fold down to make room for cargo.
It's a good-looking vehicle both inside and out. It has a leaner, more aggressive look than a minivan and no sliding doors. But it's much more carlike than an SUV, with no attempt to look rugged. Our Pacifica came with suede seats and very nice blond wood insets around the dash and in the steering wheel. The car is fully loaded with cleverly integrated electronics, although we weren't impressed with the baseline stereo system.
A four-liter V-6 sits under the hood of the Pacifica, and it provides plenty of power to move this wagon along. It's mated to a six-speed automatic, which shifts smoothly. Our Limited trim model had all-wheel drive, but the car also comes with two-wheel drive.
Test the tech
As a new feature in CNET Car Tech reviews, we're performing a practical test with each car. Because our 2007 Chrysler Pacifica came with the rear-seat DVD option, we decided to use the car as a theater. For the test, editors Wayne Cunningham and Kevin Massy chose to screen the movie Jackie Brown while sitting in the middle-row seats of the car.
Editors Kevin Massy and Wayne Cunningham settle in to watch a movie.
Jackie Brown is an excellent gangster film directed by Quentin Tarantino, based on a book by Elmore Leonard. Good so far, but with stars Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, and Robert Forster, it's a can't-miss hit. The middle-row seats proved quite comfortable for movie viewing, every bit as good as the front seats, with a convenient cupholder mounted in the console. The seats slide forward and backward, and they can recline, so we had no problem getting into a good viewing position.
The 8-inch screen proved large enough to make the movie viewable and left us with the impression of sitting in an airplane's business class section. Although the car came with two wireless headphones, we used the speakers to play the movie audio. We weren't impressed with this car's stereo system for music, but it worked very well for our movie. Dialog came through clearly and sound effects, such as gunshots, had the right impact.
The only way to control the DVD player is through a remote control. From the middle-row seats we could perform the usual commands, such as skip, play, and pause. Unfortunately, the remote doesn't control volume, and there are no rear-seat volume controls. When we started the movie, we had to squeeze through the front seats to reach the far-away volume control. By the ending credits, we were satisfied with the movie-watching experience in the Pacifica and could have gone for a double feature if we had the foresight to load an extra movie in the six-DVD changer.
In the cabin
Chrysler very successfully pulls off a luxury play with the cabin of the Pacifica. The wood insets are of good quality and tastefully placed. A rubberized material covers the dash, which has a much nicer feel than the hard plastic used by other automakers. Some of the plastics, such as those on the navigation control buttons and the center stack, do have a cheaper feel. The suede coverings on the seats have a very nice feel: soft, yet with the strength and the suppleness of leather. In a particularly interesting move, Chrysler borrows from its sister-company, Mercedes-Benz, by putting the power-seat controls on the doors of the Pacifica. The buttons are shaped like the seats, making them very intuitive to use.
Another unique feature is the placement of the navigation screen, which is located on the speedometer. This placement makes it easy for the driver to check route guidance or the map without having to look down and over, as with a stack-mounted display. But it also means that the passenger can't program a route while the driver concentrates on the road. And the size of the speedometer limits the size of the screen. That said, we did find it convenient to use, although under route guidance it wasn't big enough to show a split screen, with a map on one side and an upcoming turn on the other. The controls for it are simple, but somewhat awkwardly placed, forcing us to reach around the steering wheel to the dash. Because this navigation system isn't intended for use when you're underway, Chrysler designers probably didn't worry about the ergonomics too much.
Select points of interest on the display are set in the speedometer.
Our Pacifica also came with Chrysler's UConnect Bluetooth cell phone integration, which we generally like. UConnect doesn't make use of the car's LCD and is completely voice activated. The system paired up with our Motorola V551 phone very easily and even allowed us to enter a unique PIN. Calls came through clearly, and the voice recognition system heard all of our commands. This system doesn't copy over your phone's address book, but you can create a new address book in the car through the voice-command system. The button to activate UConnect is inconveniently placed on the rear-view mirror, requiring a reach to enter voice-command mode.
We had the standard stereo for the Limited trim version of the Pacifica, which includes a single-CD/DVD MP3-capable player and seven Infinity speakers. This stereo uses a standard single-line radio display, so it's not great for navigating MP3 discs or Sirius radio stations, an option included on our Pacifica. It does display ID3-tagging information at the press of a button, but it doesn't have a mode to continuously scroll tags. The audio quality wasn't great with this baseline system--a DVD-audio disc we used for testing had a muffled sound. This is definitely not a system for people who really enjoy music. There is an upgrade available for the Pacifica, a 385-watt 5.1 surround sound system.
A set of RCA jacks for stereo and composite video are mounted in the front of the radio, which work great with an MP3 player. The console hatch even has a convenient indentation in the lid for the cable. The composite video jack doesn't make sense for the stereo and may be a legacy from the parts bin, because the same three-jack part sits in the faceplate of another six-CD/DVD MP3-capable changer just below the single-disc player. This six-disc changer comes with the rear-seat DVD-entertainment system. Both CD/DVD drives can play music through the stereo system, although only the upper one displays ID3-tag information on the radio display. Likewise, only the bottom one is hooked up to the rear-seat DVD screen. The auxiliary audio and video jacks in the lower one make it possible to hook up a video iPod or gaming console, although cables would have to run to the back seat.
Another nicety in the cabin is a rear-view back-up camera, which uses the speedometer inset LCD display and has a simple overlay representing each side of the car. A tire pressure monitor shows up in the trip display area, to the left of the instrument cluster, with actual pounds per square inch (psi) for each wheel.
Under the hood
The Pacifica feels like a pretty big car, but its 4-liter V-6 puts out more than enough power to rocket this wagon forward. We were very pleased with its performance from a stop, where it showed no acceleration lag. This acceleration is surprising, considering the specifications on this engine don't sound too impressive, with 253 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 262 foot-pounds of torque at 4,200rpm, especially for a 4,720-pound car. Acceleration from speed is another matter, though, and here we found the Pacifica a bit lax. Passing acceleration on the freeway wasn't nearly as invigorating. The engine could probably benefit by using variable valve-timing technology to increase its efficiency over a greater range of operating speeds.
This V-6 propels the Pacifica forward quite well from a stop.
The six-speed automatic in the Pacifica does its job well, making seamless shifts when we wanted them. But it also contributed to the lax passing acceleration, seeming hesitant to kickdown a gear or two when we really wanted to move. It has a manual shift mode, primarily useful for switching to lower gears while going down hill. Our Pacifica was an all-wheel-drive model; it's also available in front-wheel drive. We took it around a hard corner or two, and while it didn't feel top heavy, the weight and size of the car made us ease off. Understeer is prominent when taking curves in the Pacifica
With an independent suspension and gas-charged shocks, the Pacifica handled rough roads with grace. Over bumps, the car felt surprisingly rigid, absorbing the initial jounce then damping out any follow-up well. Road-holding is helped out by an electronic stability program that also includes traction control.
The EPA rates the Pacifica at 16mpg city and 24mpg on the highway. In our testing we saw 16.4mpg in mixed city and freeway driving, dropping down to as low as 10mpg in heavy traffic. The car rates as a ULEV II, or ultra-low emissions vehicle, in California, a good achievement for a car of this size.
Our test car was a 2007 Chrysler Pacifica Limited with all-wheel drive, with a base price of $35,525. We added the UConnect Bluetooth system for $275, the navigation plus rear back-up camera for $1,995, and the rear-seat DVD system for $995. The total, with a $730 destination charge, comes out to $39,520.
For less than $40,000, we're pretty impressed with the 2007 Chrysler Pacifica. It compares well with the Mercedes-Benz R-class, offering similar space and amenities. The stereo upgrade is another $700, which would put it above the $40,000 mark, but given the mediocre nature of the baseline stereo, the upgrade must be considered.