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Second-Hand: Chrysler Pacifica

"Minivan" is becoming one of those taboo terms that can no longer be used in polite company, much like "tap water" or "inflight meal."

Published November 25, 2006
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"Minivan" is becoming one of those taboo terms that can no longer be used in polite company, much like "tap water" or "inflight meal."

Sadly, the minivan is losing its allure here in North America, displaced by the sport-utility vehicle as the most desirable shape to be seen in.

The minivan is pooh-poohed for being too frumpy, familial and suburban — not to be confused with the Chevrolet Suburban which is, of course, urbane.

To help clear up — or perpetuate — the confusion, Chrysler introduced the Pacifica.

Billed as a kind of SUV-lite, the "crossover" is a rapidly growing automotive segment that delivers sport-utility taste in a lighter, less gas-guzzling package.

The Pacifica, like the Buick Rendezvous and the Honda Pilot, is built on a heavily modified front-drive platform that rolls off the same Windsor assembly line as the Dodge Caravan.

While only 4 centimetres shorter than the Grand Caravan in length, the Pacifica's roofline is lower and the track is wider, resulting in a squat profile.

The Pacifica attempts to hide its frilly minivan underpants in the guise of adventure vehicle.


CONFIGURATION

The Pacifica arrived in mid-2003 as an '04 model. It came only one way: as a five-door wagon with hinged portals all around, lest anyone confuse it with, well, you know.

The cabin is spacious, but less so than the versatile Caravan. The roofline sweeps down at the back, like Donald Trump's hairdo, pinching space intended for the third-row seats and cargo.

Up front, the driver and passenger are treated like royalty, with big comfy thrones separated by a large console and a rich, button-filled dash before them.

Second-row passengers also get a console — a liability in some households since it takes away another chair or easy passage to the rearmost seats.

The standard split-folding third row seats are decent, but the space feels claustrophobic, due to the small, fixed windows and massive D-pillars that obscure the view out.

"Some people mentioned it feels like a hearse," remarked one owner on the Internet. "The blind spots are huge."

The Pacifica is powered by Chrysler's all-aluminum SOHC, 24-valve 3.5-litre V6 that last saw duty in the well-received 300M. To make the advertised 250 hp and 250 lb.-ft. of torque, the engine requires 89-octane fuel.

The Pacifica also borrows the 300M's AutoStick four-speed automatic transmission (one gear less than many vehicles in its class).

Power is directed to the front wheels, although upscale models offer optional all-wheel drive, a smart system that requires no participation on the part of the driver.

Much has been made of the Pacifica's Mercedes roots. In reality, there isn't much to it beyond the five-link rear suspension (which works marvellously) and the door-mounted power-seat controls (ditto).

To boost sales for 2005, Chrysler added an entry-level Pacifica and a full-zoot luxury edition. The new base model, powered by a 215-hp pushrod 3.8-litre V6, featured a second-row bench for five-passenger capacity only.

The upscale Limited model wore 19-inch alloys. Side-curtain airbags were standard in the Limited and optional for others.

For 2006, Chrysler dropped the 3.8-litre engine in the base model in favour of the more refined 3.5-litre V6 across the board.


ON THE ROAD

The Pacifica may have the highest Canadian content of any vehicle produced in Ontario, but it has a certain German zest for the autobahn.

"It is an easy car to drive at 130 km/h for 12 hours without getting cramped," emailed one enthusiastic owner.

Tipping the scales at well over two metric tonnes, you can call the Pacifica many things, but Twiggy isn't one of them.

Its heft does provide presence and stability on the road, however.

The sophisticated suspension soaks up the bumps well, and the steering is fairly crisp and linear, belying the truck's porkiness.

The 3.5-litre V6, a sweetie in the 300M, provides only adequate thrust in this big lug; 0-to-96 km/h comes up in 9.3 seconds in the AWD model, while front-drive models feel noticeably quicker.

The four-wheel antilock disc brakes require 56 metres to haul down from a speed of 112 km/h — decently strong.

Not so decent is fuel usage. AWD drivers reported city consumption approaching 18 litres/100 km; front-drive models were considerably better, but few reported mileage matching the EnerGuide sticker.


WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

"It's beautiful, it's luxurious, it feels very safe, but it's a pig. It carries fewer people and less stuff, but is wider and heavier than the Grand Caravan it replaced," summarized one owner on the Net.

In other words, like virtually every other crossover and SUV, the Pacifica can't match the benefits of the best-selling minivans.

Still, for many empty nesters and style-conscious motorists, the Pacifica offers a reprieve from the mundane.

While generally reliable — better than some Chrysler models in the past — owners did provide a list of annoyances.

Early 2004 models were known for their squealing belts, which were eventually cured. Electrical problems were commonplace, including rundown batteries and malfunctioning instrument displays.

The air conditioner may drip onto the floor under high-load conditions, warning lamps may light mysteriously, the front-end components may clunk and wear out early, and the transmission may shift poorly — although none of these is widespread.

Most disconcerting is the number of reports of sudden stalling, sometimes in potentially dangerous situations.

The 2004 Pacifica was recalled for a PCM software upgrade to address this. But the problem persisted for some owners; replacing the two fuel pumps has been another common fix.

Overall, the Pacifica is an interesting ride for those looking for a little adventure — in more ways than one.


We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Subaru Legacy/Outback, Ford F-150 and Nissan Murano. Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.