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Car reviews: 2007-2008 Chrysler Pacifica

by David Zatz

Even in 2007, the Chrysler Pacifica was almost a secret among SUV shoppers, despite its three years on the market. 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.

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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, the scant handful of added horsepower is no preparation for the drive.

The 3.5 liter V6 engine powering the previous generation Pacifica was a fine powerplant in the big LH cars, but in the heavy Pacifica a rev-happy motor was a little out of place; the base 3.8 liter V6, though it produced less horsepower, felt about as good in most driving, albeit not under hard acceleration.

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The 2007 Pacifica overcompensates for both, adding a half-liter of extra displacement to the reliable 3.5 V6 (bringing it to 4.0 liters) and, as if that were not enough, 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 shows under hard acceleration. The 4.0 V6 is a much more satisfying engine, despite its "mere" 253 horsepower, with gobs of torque from right off the line.

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. On the highway, the six-speed automatic kicks down easily and without fuss, and the Pacifica responds instantly to demands for more speed. This is quite probably the smoothest transmission we have ever encountered, including rides in Lexus cars and trucks.

On the highway, the EPA rating of 24 mpg seems reasonable given that at 65 you're ticking along at 1,500 rpm. We couldn't get over 16 mpg in city driving.

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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.

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The suspension is well tuned, with handling that is better than quite a few cars, and a comfortable ride that soaks up major bumps and road problems without sacrificing much road feel. 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; but it also means that the car seems to be accelerating less quickly when set to the English system, with 80 mph just 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.

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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, 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 include a vehicle information center with compass, gas mileage, and other displays and a universal garage door opener.

The tire pressure monitor 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 only alerts to tires under 25 psi and over 45 psi. Some models get an 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.

The navigation system is the first to be right in the instrument panel, under the speedometer. The system is controlled by buttons, not a touch screen; the stereo is completely separate and easy to use. It's easier to monitor the map without losing sight of the road. The buttons are different shapes, which helps in tactile recognition - you don't have to look at them.

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The navigation system is able to find locations by category, phone number, address, intersection, or name, and can give step by step instructions by voice. All United States locations are on a single DVD. The system is easy to learn and use, and does not get in the way of driving. It was washed out in some lighting conditions.

New for 2007 is a rear view camera, which can be obtained in addition to the normal backup alert, which uses five sensors in the bumper; either one 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.

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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. 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 also provides readouts on gas mileage, distance to empty, compass directions, etc. One clever feature is having the gas and engine temperature labels turn amber when you overheat or come close to running out of gas. Another clever feature is being able to access stored engine fault codes yourself, without a code reader or a mechanic.

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Controls are generally convenient and easy to use. An infra-red sensor adjusts the thermostat for both front and rear passengers.

A useful radio feature is having 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 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).

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.

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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. Seats on the Limited 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.

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The rear seats fold forward, creating a flat surface for cargo, but on the all wheel drive Pacifica are uncomfortable for normal-sized adults. 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; 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).

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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, but compared with truck-based SUVs, it is sporty, comfortable, efficient, inexpensive, and, now, quick and responsive. The reasonable height makes getting in and out easy, and the extra gas mileage should offset the expense of midgrade fuel.

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 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 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.

See the main Chrysler Pacifica information page.

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