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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."<p> </p>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.<p> </p>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.<p> </p>To help clear up — or perpetuate — the confusion, Chrysler introduced the Pacifica. <p> </p>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.<p> </p>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.<p> </p>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. <p> </p>The Pacifica attempts to hide its frilly minivan underpants in the guise of adventure vehicle.<p> </p><hr width="200" align="left" /> <font size="2" face="helvetica,arial"> CONFIGURATION</font><p> </p>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.<p> </p>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.<p> </p>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. <p> </p>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. <p> </p>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. <p> </p>"Some people mentioned it feels like a hearse," remarked one owner on the Internet. "The blind spots are huge."<p> </p>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.<p> </p>The Pacifica also borrows the 300M's AutoStick four-speed automatic transmission (one gear less than many vehicles in its class).<p> </p>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.<p> </p>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).<p> </p>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. <p> </p>The upscale Limited model wore 19-inch alloys. Side-curtain airbags were standard in the Limited and optional for others.<p> </p>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.<p> </p><hr width="200" align="left" /> <font size="2" face="helvetica,arial"> ON THE ROAD</font><p> </p>The Pacifica may have the highest Canadian content of any vehicle produced in Ontario, but it has a certain German zest for the autobahn.<p> </p>"It is an easy car to drive at 130 km/h for 12 hours without getting cramped," emailed one enthusiastic owner.<p> </p>Tipping the scales at well over two metric tonnes, you can call the Pacifica many things, but Twiggy isn't one of them.<p> </p>Its heft does provide presence and stability on the road, however. <p> </p>The sophisticated suspension soaks up the bumps well, and the steering is fairly crisp and linear, belying the truck's porkiness.<p> </p>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. <p> </p>The four-wheel antilock disc brakes require 56 metres to haul down from a speed of 112 km/h — decently strong. <p> </p>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.<p> </p><hr width="200" align="left" /> <font size="2" face="helvetica,arial"> WHAT OWNERS REPORTED</font><p> </p>"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.<p> </p>In other words, like virtually every other crossover and SUV, the Pacifica can't match the benefits of the best-selling minivans.<p> </p>Still, for many empty nesters and style-conscious motorists, the Pacifica offers a reprieve from the mundane.<p> </p>While generally reliable — better than some Chrysler models in the past — owners did provide a list of annoyances.<p> </p>Early 2004 models were known for their squealing belts, which were eventually cured. Electrical problems were commonplace, including rundown batteries and malfunctioning instrument displays.<p> </p>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.<p> </p>Most disconcerting is the number of reports of sudden stalling, sometimes in potentially dangerous situations. <p> </p>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.<p> </p>Overall, the Pacifica is an interesting ride for those looking for a little adventure — in more ways than one.<p> </p><hr width="90%" /><em>We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Subaru Legacy/Outback, Ford F-150 and Nissan Murano. Email: <a href="mailto:toljagic@ca.inter.net">toljagic@ca.inter.net</a>.<p> </p></em>