The station wagon is dead, long live the station wagon. Try as we might, it just can't be avoided -- a family needs a family-sized vehicle. You can't haul the toddlers to day camp in your roadster. The 2007 Chrysler Pacifica Touring FWD takes its place in a long line of contenders for the throne of family transport. With a base price of $27,300 ($32,705 as tested), the 2007 Chrysler Pacifica comes with a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty and an EPA fuel economy estimate of 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway. Load up the kids and their gear, we're going for a ride to grandmother's house.
My parents live about 200 miles north of me, way out in the country on California's Central Coast. There are some great roads between us, and I love to drive up there with my wife and our dog, Layla. It's nearly the perfect test drive -- we go from sticky urban stop-and-go traffic to wide open interstate to windy mountain road with changes of elevation and back again, flirting with the beautiful Pacific coastline all the way.
The Pacifica seemed perfectly matched to the drive. For starters, it's a lovely vehicle. It's a true crossover vehicle, sharing traits with both traditional sedans and SUVs. Don't call it a minivan -- Chrysler hates that.
Isn't that winged chrome Chrysler logo the greatest retro touch? It always reminds me of that icon of the deco age, the Chrysler Building in New York City. Pacifica wears a bold splash of chrome front and rear. Clean body lines are inspired by streamlining, and the hood has channels in it that, another deco touch that conveys speed and aerodynamics. The Pacifica greenhouse slopes inward at each side, resulting in a trapezoidal cabin shape. Pacifica looks like a station wagon as seen through the eyes of Jack Kirby, the Golden Age cartoonist.
Fit, finish and paint quality were excellent on my test vehicle, which wore a bold coat of Linen Gold Metallic Pearl paint (a $150 option). Gaps and seams were even and uniform, a mark of quality construction.
In the Driver's Seat
Instead of putting the nav screen in the center stack, like most manufacturers do, Chrysler put it in the center of the instrument panel, right above the steering wheel.Photo © Jason Fogelson
Whizzing along the Pacific Coast in the Pacifica, I had a good chance to examine the cabin. My test vehicle was equipped with the Navigation/Rear Back-Up Camera Group of options ($1,995). Instead of putting the nav screen in the center stack, like most manufacturers do, Chrysler put it in the center of the instrument panel, right above the steering wheel. It's a bit of a tradeoff, because there's less room in that position, so you get a smaller screen, but the placement makes a lot of sense. It's much easier to glance down at the nav screen without diverting all of your attention from the road ahead. The dash-mounted controls are a little awkward -- they'd make more sense on the steering wheel somehow. The rest of the dash is fine, if a little disappointing in terms of material choices. Here I go, complaining about the fake wood again.
The Touring edition of Pacifica comes standard with leather seating surfaces in the first two rows. The seats themselves are very comfortable. Pacifica is set up to seat six, and it will handle that with ease. The second row captain's chairs easily fold and tumble forward with one hand. The third row is adequate for smaller adults. There's just 13 cubic feet of storage space behind the third row, so if you're traveling with a full load of passengers, you're going to have to travel light. My dog loved riding behind the second row with the third row folded flat. Low window sills and shoulder height gave her a good clear view out of the big windows. She was happy all the way to grandma's house.
On the Road
If you're going to be traveling in a straight line on level ground at a constant rate of speed, you'll be very happy with the Pacifica's performance. Of course, you live in Kansas, where everyone is happy anyway. Out here in California, we demand a little more out of our vehicles. Pacifica's 4.0 liter 24 valve single-overhead-cam V6 produces 255 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque, which is sufficient to propel the 4458 lb vehicle with authority. I found the six-speed automatic a little bit busy on inclines and in high demand situations -- it seemed to hunt a bit too much for the right gear, making it a challenge to maintain a constant speed. Using the AutoStick for manual gear selection smoothed out the power.
Tossing the Pacifica into the twisties along the San Marcos Pass (Route 154) by Lake Cachuma sent my dog flying around the cargo compartment. She gets resentful when that happens. She likes four-wheel independent suspension and front and rear sway bars, which the Pacifica has, but she prefers a bit less body roll. When she complained too much, I tried out the binders -- four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist are standard -- and tossed her against the back of the second row seats. That shut her up for a while.
Overall, Pacifica is a very nice road trip companion. As a driver, I could only wish for more power (I always want more power) and a telescoping steering wheel (Pacifica's only adjusts for tilt) to make the ride a little more enjoyable.
If you just can't bring yourself to drive that minivan, Pacifica may be the compromise that you're looking for.
If you're going to build a crossover, you're necessarily going to have to make some compromises. You can't expect the ride of a sedan and the off-road ability of an SUV to survive unscathed in the process -- you just hope for the best. Pacifica is definitely tailored more to the sedan side of the equation, and is really less of an SUV than it is a minivan alternative. If you just can't bring yourself to drive that minivan, Pacifica may be the compromise that you're looking for.
There are several other crossovers that are walking the same tightrope. Ford's Freestyle is a close competitor -- I'd be hard-pressed to choose between the two vehicles. Toyota's Highlander is a car-based SUV that leans more toward the SUV side of the equation, especially in terms of appearance. Honda's Pilot is a little bigger, a little more assertive, but still in the same ballpark. Subaru's B9 Tribeca is just plain wacky. There's a new crop of crossovers on the way from GM -- the Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave, that are well worth a drive. And don't forget the Suzuki XL-7, the sleeper of the bunch. For more luxury (and a higher pricetag), check out the Mercedes-Benz R-class and the Cadillac SRT.
For my ride up the Pacific Coast and back, the Chrysler Pacifica did just fine. I'd ask my dog -- but she's not talking until I promise to take it easy in the twisties.
Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy