Car reviews: 2007-2008 Chrysler Pacifica
The Chrysler Pacifica remains almost a secret among SUV shoppers, despite its three years on the market and moderately good sales. The styling draws admiration from SUV and minivan owners alike, while the interior is comfortable and attractive. Handling and ride are both good, with the main drawbacks being price and gas mileage - better than full size SUVs, but not as good as minivans.
The exterior boasts a long hood and a low-looking profile, which makes it look slim and sleek. The long hood, chrome accents, and car-style doors all convey a neat sense of style, and break away from the aggressive styling of many large SUVs. Inside, the interior is more Mercedes than Chrysler, with a modern luxury-car instrument panel, door-mounted seat controls (helpfully shown in the shape of the seat itself), and a center-mounted AutoStick gearshift.
The main changes for 2007 were under the hood; styling is quite similar, with the headlights adjusted for Chrysler-brand "scallops" and grooves added to the hood. The interior is largely unchanged. Only when you start driving do you see the massive change that has taken over the Pacifica; even if you knew about the new engine, seeing the horsepower increase (a scant handful of horsepower) is no preparation for the drive.
The 3.5 liter V6 engine powering the previous generation Pacifica was a fine powerplant in the 300M and other LHS cars for which it was designed, and no doubt it's a barnstormer in the Sebring and Avenger, but in the heavy Pacifica a rev-happy motor was out of place; the 3.8 liter V6 in the base model, though it produced less horsepower, felt about as good. The 2007 Pacifica overcompensates for complaints of less than stellar (still quite good) acceleration in the past models, with a half-liter of extra displacement added to the reliable 3.5 V6 (bringing it to 4.0 liters) and, as if that were not enough - and it was - a new six-speed automatic with greater efficiency and a very low first gear. Now, the problem isn't insufficient power; it's not having enough tires. It has become quite easy to chirp or squeal the front tires, even when starting out in second gear (via AutoStick), and torque steer is very much in evidence under hard acceleration. The 4.0 V6 is a tremendous engine despite its "mere" 253 horsepower, with gobs of torque from right off the line; and that six-speed automatic makes good use of the power. (Top gear is not far from where the four-speed left off). With this transmission, the 3.5 engine would probably have been quite satisfactory; and the 4.0 would have been fine with the four-speed. The combination is more than we asked for.
On the highway, the six-speed automatic kicks down easily and without fuss, and the Pacifica responds instantly to demands for more speed. Gas mileage on the highway is pretty good, with an EPA rating of 24 mpg that seems reasonable given that at 65 you're ticking along at 1,500 rpm, happily. On the other hand, we couldn't get over 16 mpg in city driving; all that displacement takes its toll. So does the weight, some of which was required to get five-star crash-test ratings from every directions.
The low first gear and close-ratio gearing combined mean that you can go through four gears by the time you hit 40 mph. Fortunately, the only way you'll know this most of the time is by listening to the engine; the transmission is so smooth it can give lessons to the Caliber's CVT. This is quite probably the smoothest transmission we have ever encountered, including rides in various Lexus cars and trucks.
We were surprised by the lack of wind noise. The analog clock and soothing green backlighting are somewhat inconsistent with the bright white on black instrument panel, but provide a link to other Chrysler vehicles. Woodgrain trim on both sets of doors and above the glove compartment combine with well-chosen colors and chromed trim to provide a luxury feel. The modern instrument panel is offset by the elegant clock, marred as it is by the use of stubby hands instead of the 300M's tapered pointers.
Top: rear view camera. Below: passenger door controls and speaker
The suspension is well tuned, providing handling that is actually better than quite a few cars, with a comfortable ride that soaks up major bumps and road problems without sacrificing much road feel. The combination of ride, handling, and overall feel are hard to beat in SUVs and minivans; it sticks to the road well, especially given its bulk, and doesn't protest around turns. The Pacifica also handles bumps and shocks with aplomb, not losing control in turns due to poor road surfaces.
The speedometer, which goes all the way to 160 mph, is a bit questionable. Pressing a single button moves it between miles and kilometers per hour, which is very handy for making a single model sold in both the US and everywhere else, and also for those who cross the border; but it also means that the car seems to be accelerating less quickly when set to the English system, with 80 mph (the fastest most people travel) halfway along the scale. We suspect they could have reduced the top speed shown to 130 kpm (80 mph) without hurting export sales too badly. Switching to kilometers per hour greatly increased perceptions of strong acceleration as the pointer swung up rapidly - as rapidly as it would have if the speedometer had gone up to a reasonable 100 mph.
Luxury features are included, such as power seats, AutoStick, SentryKey, an alarm whose controls are on the key itself, a load leveling suspension with height control built in, air filtering, dual-zone air conditioning, powerful stereo, one-touch power windows (on all four, so you can zoom all the windows down very quickly), front and rear consoles, and cruise control. Optional luxury features of note include a vehicle information center with compass, gas mileage, and other displays and a universal garage door opener (which sits in an overhead row of three buttons between the front dome lights, by the optional hatch opener button).
The base tire pressure monitor is designed to grab your attention and hold it without making it impossible to concentrate on the road. It sounds a chime and lights a red light when the car is started, then blinks the message center repeatedly, while still allowing you to temporarily use the compass and other features. The system is not a replacement for checking tire pressure, since it only measures underinflation under 25 psi and overinflation over 45 psi. It will tell you how many tires need to be checked. Models with the trip computer (vehicle information center) get an electronic indication of the air pressure in each tire.
We like having the ignition in the dash, where the Pacifica has it, rather than in the steering column, partly because it's easier to find, and partly because it means that if we ever need a new lock, we don't have to worry about the airbag.
The navigation system deserves a few words, partly because it is the first to be right in the instrument panel, under the speedometer. The system has a full sized display, and is controlled by real buttons instead of an annoying touch screen. The stereo is completely separate, avoiding the annoyance and safety issues of interacting with an overly complex system to change radio stations. On the down side, only the driver can really use this system. On the up side, it's easy to monitor the map without losing sight of the road. We also found that some features that seemed hard to reach - for example, changing the zoom level - were in fact designed to be relatively easy to get to without distraction. The buttons are different shapes, which helps in tactile recognition - you don't have to look at them.
The navigation system is powerful, able to find locations by category, phone number, address, intersection, or name. All United States locations are on a single DVD, so most drivers will not have to switch discs (as in some competing systems). It can give step by step instructions by voice, and has a variety of options including different views. The system is easy to learn and use, and does not get in the way of driving. When the navigation system is off (or not ordered), there is a large gap under the arch of the speedometer, only the end of the speedometer needle shows. The only problem we had with it was being washed out in some lighting conditions; we'd also prefer for the system, when in keyboard mode, not to wrap around to the other side if we overshoot.
New for 2007 is a new option - the rear view camera, a feature we first saw used by Lexus. You can get this in addition to the normal backup alert, which uses five sensors in the bumper to "feel out" how far away you are from solid objects; this can not only save time and trouble in parking, but can save lives by preventing backup-runover accidents (a huge number of children are killed or injured by people backing out of driveways.) The system alerts drivers with multiple LEDs positioned over the rear window (where you can see them in the mirror), and with beeping. The rear view camera appears in the navigation system screen, using a camera above the license plate; you get a wide-angle lens view up front, with lines to show you where the Pacifica will be if you keep going backward (that's a new one on us).
The trip computer includes a menu button which can be used to set preferences related to door locking, auto headlights, and other features which people have varying opinions on. We always find this handy, because the default is to have the doors automatically lock, but not automatically unlock - and when you have a toddler, this gets old very quickly. (There is also only one physical lock on the entire car, so you'd better make sure it gets maintained or that you have a spare remote). With the control center, it took less than one minute to change the preferences so the headlights went off after 30 seconds (instead of 90), the horn did not sound on locking, a single remote click unlocked all doors, and the doors all unlocked when shifting into Park. We left the automatic seat backup off but made the mirrors tilt down when reversing; they do it pretty quickly.
Underneath the gas and temperature gauge is a message center, which can provide helpful notes (PARK BRAKE ENGAGED, HATCH OPEN, etc) and which also provides readouts on gas mileage, distance to empty, compass directions, etc. We liked the way it went from DOOR OPEN to DOORS OPEN (or DOORS AND HATCH) and back again. On the right, underneath the tachometer, is the PRNDL, which now cleverly tells you what gear you are in when using the AutoStick. Normally, only P, R, N, and D are visible, but when going into AutoStick mode, a box with the gear number (1 through 6) lights up as well. Again, though, both the message center and the control center are oriented towards the driver, which is good when the driver is alone, but not so good when there is a passenger who wants to operate the system.
One clever feature is having the gas and engine temperature labels turn amber when you overheat or come close to running out of gas. It's a subtle warning system but it works. (We found out by running low on gas, not by overheating). Another clever feature is being able to access stored engine fault codes yourself, without a code reader or a mechanic.
Controls are generally convenient and easy to use. The right hand stalk has controls for both front and rear wipers and washers, while the left stalk has lighting controls. The center stack is logically divided, with the most complicated section is the climate control, with its dual ones plus rear fan override. There are two settings for automatic use, one where the fan is not allowed to be too noisy. An infra-red sensor is used to adjust the thermostat for both front and rear passengers. There are two power outlets below the stereo, one that provides constant power, and one that only activates when the car is running.
The new stereo has an awkward way of setting audio - not with a knob or slider, but by pressing Audio and then moving the Seek buttons up and down - but it's nothing we couldn't get used to. A new and useful feature which makes up for it are RCA input jacks (three of them if you get the video player), so you can plug in your iPod or a portable music device. The six-disc CD changer had an additional set of inputs. Even when the CD changer is ordered, the stereo has a CD slot for fast and easy operation on short trips. The sound is excellent, with unusually well styled front tweeters, integrated into the general design - a strip of chrome and woodgrain running from the back of the front doors across the entire dashboard, encompassing the tweeters, vents, seat and door lock controls, and memory buttons (where applicable).
The cruise control is on the steering wheel, close to the rim for thumb operation, with "feeler" ridges for convenience. The angle makes reaching for the cruise difficult to get used to, despite the feeler ridges. Stereo controls are behind the steering wheel and on the stereo itself; window and seat-heat controls are on the doors, in conventional locations.
Space is generous, with map pockets on all four doors, an overhead sunglass holder, a deep and well-designed (easily opened and sturdy) center console with an easy to use coin holder and CD holders, a small covered compartment in front of the gear shift, and another large compartment between the middle seats. The cup holders are not as clever as the ratcheting minivan type, but they do have rubber inserts that grab cups. Both front and middle row cupholders have covers for a cleaner look.
All four front seats have built in, swing-down armrests. The middle seats fold and tilt easily, allowing more interior space for cargo or making it easier to reach the rear two seats. They also come out easily and are light enough that removal is an option for most owners. Unlike many competing vehicles, the middle seats also slide back and forth. Middle-row passengers will find that the seat heaters (where equipped) and rear fan control are both well within reach - even if they're kids - and that their storage bin is useful, and their cupholders sensibly sized.
Seats on our Limited model with leather now have more ventilating holes for greater comfort, and suede side inserts so you don't slip and slide around when taking turns aggressively.
The rear seats fold forward, creating a flat surface for cargo (the front seats can also simply fold forward for that flat surface). Seat manipulation is easy and intuitive, with numbered levers and the ability for rear passengers to flip the middle seats without help. However, the rear seats on the all wheel drive model are uncomfortable for normal-sized adults, who will find that the roof lowers right where their head is; consider the rear seats to be either for kids or for emergencies (the front drive models seem to have fully usable rear seats). To get to them, since the doors are conventional and not minivan-style, you have to flip one of the seats down or step over the rear console, unless you want to flip a seat down and go in through the rear.
Cargo space with all six passengers is limited, but reasonable; with four passengers, it's generous. The interior is well lighted in all positions, with simple, clever press-to-switch lights. The newer, larger video system is well integrated with the vehicle's stereo (DVDs go right into the stereo, for example), and is easily viewed from all angles (it comes with wireless headphones and a remote).
The optional power rear liftgate is a clever idea which can be handy when you have hands full of boxes, or friends to impress. It beeps first, then slowly opens (or closes), controlled by a button up front or by the remote control. It stops immediately when the button is pressed again, or when it hits an obstacle, making it safe.
Visibility is somewhat constricted in the rear by excessively large roof supports and a high back window, but the rear wipers help in the rain, and the front wipers are highly effective, with a powerful misted washer and good coverage of the windshield. The front side windows de-mist quickly, and the headlights are powerful and well focused, and have an automatic control option. The interior is also well lit, including the rear seat / cargo area.
The Chrysler Pacifica remains an interesting entry. Compared with minivans, it is expensive (though now perhaps more efficient if you do more highway than city driving), but compared with truck-based SUVs, it is sporty, comfortable, efficient, inexpensive, and, now, quick and responsive. We think it's very competitive. The reasonable height, which makes getting in and out easy - and which also makes getting children in and out easy - should be a great relief to parents who settled for a Ford Ex-whatever, and the extra gas mileage should offset the expense of midgrade fuel.
We suggest that you give a Grand Caravan or Town & Country a chance, since they offer a better value with few drawbacks other than being perhaps out of fashion. Minivan gas mileage is better than any comparably sized vehicles, and most big-SUV buyers would be shocked at minivan handling, acceleration, and comfort.
Our Pacifica Limited, the top of the line, starts at $34,155 (with destination). Included in that price are side airbags in all rows, a driver's knee airbag, electronic stability system with four-wheel antilock disc brakes and traction control, the parking assist system (with the sensors and beeper, not the camera), cruise, theft alarm, automatic load leveling and height control, power adjustable pedals, two-driver memory for radio, pedals, seat, and mirrors, power liftgate, performance suspension, tire monitors for each tire, air filter, dual-zone automatic climate control, the vehicle information center, wood/leather steering wheel, Sirius satellite radio with in-dash six-disc CD changer, Infinity speakers, 200 watt amp, ten-way heated power driver's seat, heated passenger seats (even in the second row!), one-touch-down power windows for all doors, one-touch-up power windows in the front doors, power moonroof, power heated foldaway automatically-dimming mirrors, and a rear wiper/washer. That's a pretty astonishing equipment level at this price - even for a car. Our test car, though, had some frilly options - the navigation system with rear backup camera ($2,000), surround-sound stereo ($700), overhead video system ($990), SecureShield laminated front and rear door glass ($300), and UConnect hands-free cell phone system ($275). That boosted the total to a stiff $38,415 - still far less than the equivalent Cadillac, Lexus, or Acura SUV would cost, and in our opinion with far more value.
The base Pacifica is far more reasonably priced at $24,890. That includes the far more fuel efficient (but still peppy) 3.8 liter V6 coupled to a four-speed transmission, and front wheel drive. All wheel drive pushes you over to the 4.0 liter V6 and six-speed automatic. There is also a Touring version that fits between the base and Limited.
The Pacifica's comfort and convenience features eclipse some more-expensive SUVs, while the space and the ease of using the space come close to oversized SUVs. Despite the comparative lack of power, off-road capability, and cornering, we'd even rate it well against the Touareg, which has lovely features and a great drivetrain and suspension, but a third-rate user interface.
When we reviewed the first generation, we wrote:
We'd like to have the five-speed automatic from the Durango, better gas mileage (which might come from the five-speed), and a backup alarm system, but for the moment, the Chrysler Pacifica still stacks up well against the plentiful competition.
Well, we now have a six-speed automatic that's smooth as silk, slightly better gas mileage (according to the EPA, anyway), and a backup alarm system - and a rear view camera. The competition hasn't stayed still, but we can safely say that the Pacifica is now leading the class, especially since it now comes at a lower price and with more features. If you were looking at the Lexus and Acura big-utes, come back to Chrysler and be surprised.
Click here for our main Chrysler Pacifica information page, with more photos, specs, and information.