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2008 Chrysler Pacifica Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2008 Chrysler Pacifica

New Car Test Drive
© 2008

The Chrysler Pacifica helped launch a trend known in the industry as crossover vehicles. Crossovers are designed to combine the best attributes of sport-utility vehicles, sedans, and minivans. The Pacifica drives more like a minivan than an SUV or sedan, but doesn?t have the sliding doors or uncool stigma of a minivan.

Pacifica has four sedan-like doors and the wide rear liftgate you'd expect on a sport-utility vehicle. Inside it's roomy and comfortable, whether upholstered in fabric or leather. Getting in and out is easy. It rides like a sedan and handles well for a vehicle of its heft, and it's more enjoyable to drive through suburbia than just about any truck-based SUV. On the highway, it's smooth and quiet.

The Pacifica line offers a range of models, from well-equipped to luxury-class with all the bells and whistles, and it's available with two or three rows of seating. The five-passenger base model has two bucket seats in front with a split folding bench in the second row that seats up to three. Six-passenger models swap the middle-row bench for two folding bucket seats, and add a 50/50 split bench in the rear. Either changes from people mover to cargo hauler in a matter of seconds, and in both cases maximum cargo capacity exceeds that of the typical mid-size SUV.

The Pacifica earned outstanding scores in government crash tests. All-wheel drive is available, making it a good choice for snow country. Towing capacity is 2600 pounds, which is enough for personal watercraft, dirt bikes or camping trailers. It's stylish and handsome, and it doesn't fit easily in any particular mold.

After changes aimed at power and refinement for 2007, 2008 models are little changed. Base models are now called LX, and content is slightly altered model by model.

Model Lineup

Chrysler Pacifica LX FWD ($24,635); LX AWD ($27,225); Touring FWD ($28,265); Touring AWD ($30,310); Limited FWD ($34,150); Limited AWD ($36,195)

Walk Around

The Chrysler Pacifica was one of the first of the so-called crossover vehicles, and we consider it both well conceived and well executed. In function, measured by ease of use, layout and features, the Pacifica is essentially a minivan. Yet it has a more rugged, appealing (and less socially branding) appearance than most minivans. In overall styling, it lines up more on the sport-utility vehicle side.

Pacifica is loaded with parts and technologies from Mercedes-Benz, including a complete rear suspension system borrowed from the Mercedes E-Class sedan. It's a well-engineered vehicle.

The Pacifica doesn't look like anything else on the road. Its design is less radical than crossovers such as the Nissan Murano or Mazda CX-9, and its glass-to-steel proportions are unique. Though revised for 2007, the styling has been with us for a few years and it doesn't look as fresh when compared with the latest vehicles, such as the new GMC Acadia.

The Pacifica looks distinctive, however, and unmistakably like a Chrysler, with a grille and other design cues unique to the brand. In front, it sports a prominent three-bar grille, flanked by wing-like, twin-beam headlights in the theme of the Chrysler 300 sedan. The Pacifica also features hood strakes introduced on the Chrysler Crossfire sports car. These creases are evenly spaced across the hood, running rearward from the grille toward the base of the windshield; some of us like the strakes on the Pacifica, some of us are still deciding.

While Pacifica doesn't look so big from the outside, it's as much as 18 inches longer and six inches wider than some of its crossover competitors. At the same time, the Pacifica is almost three inches lower to the ground than a typical minivan. It's more like a sedan in this regard, and easier to climb in and out of. That should also make it a good dog car.

In side view, the Pacifica is marked by a distinctive character line that begins at the front wheel and ramps upward as it moves toward the rear. The line helps create something of a wedge look, even in a vehicle so large. The expanse of sheet metal aft of the rear side doors and a big, broad rear gate add visual mass that looks a bit ungainly from some angles, but this isn't reflected in Pacifica's handling or driving characteristics.

The Pacifica Limited model is the best looking model, thanks to its prominent fog lights, monochromatic paint scheme and big 19-inch chrome wheels.


Anyone considering the Chrysler Pacifica will have to choose between a 2/3, five-seat interior package or a 2/2/2 six-seat configuration. It's not as simple as adding an extra seat, however, because the six-seat package drops maximum cargo capacity nearly 14 cubic feet, which roughly equals the amount of space in the trunk of a good-sized sedan. And while the five-seat arrangement is available only on the base model, option choices allow the base Pacifica to be equipped with nearly all the goodies offered on the higher-trim models.

The seat positioning is one of Pacifica's most appealing assets. Climbing in and out is easy because Pacifica sits relatively low to the ground, more like a sedan, and its door sills are low. Yet the seats are positioned high, seemingly at conventional table-chair height, so the driver sits much higher than he or she would in the typical sedan. This presumably offers the sense of security many seek in a sport-utility vehicle. It certainly improves forward visibility, in that fewer vehicles on the road ahead will obscure the Pacifica driver's view.

From the driver's seat, the first impression is one of spaciousness. There's plenty of headroom, despite the high seat bottoms, and the window sills rise almost to shoulder height. The high-waist design means the sills are too high for comfortable arm resting, but it will likely enhance the secure feeling for many.

The cloth upholstery in the five-passenger base model looks more expensive than we expected. The Yes Essentials fabric is stain and odor resistant, and treated to control static. Appointments become more luxurious with each step to the Touring and Limited models. Wood, brushed aluminum and plastic mixed with quality soft-touch materials create generally attractive accommodations.

The front bucket seats are thick, deep and supportive, and fit even a lean, 6-foot, 4-inch adult like the proverbial glove. On the other hand, we'd guess the side bolsters might be a little too narrowly spaced for really wide frames. The center console between the seats is spacious and trimmed in a soft-touch material. There's a pair of cup holders conveniently located immediately aft of the gear selector, and they work well. All four doors feature molded-in bins and cup holders at the bottom.

The chunky steering wheel has a relatively small diameter. It gives the impression that you're directing the movement of something substantial. Redundant controls for the sound system are conveniently integrated into the steering-wheel spokes.

The instrument panel is shaped as one continuous enclosure that swoops from the back of the left front door across the center and around to the back of the right front door. Under that sweeping hood there's an improved set of instruments. The speedometer and tach graphics are easy to read.

We like the heating and air conditioning controls, and especially the automatic system, which includes Auto Hi and Auto Lo options. Either allows the climate controls to work automatically, but Auto Lo keeps the maximum fan speed low. That's perfect when you don't want the fan blasting away at full speed, but don't want to shut it off completely. Yet it's also easy for the driver to set the temperature, select the desired vents, and control the fan speed manually.

The analog clock is handsome, and great for quickly reading the time. All power windows can be lowered at once by pressing one button, a nice feature on hot days. The Pacifica owner can program convenience functions such as auto-locking, auto-headlights, lock notification (horn, lights, nothing), door lighting and so on to tailor the car to particular tastes. It's about as easy as it gets circa 2008. Some vehicles require a trip to the dealer to reprogram these settings, and some don't allow reprogramming at all, so we love this feature.

The second-row bucket seats in Touring and Limited models are as handsome

Driving Impressions

In any trim level, the Chrysler Pacifica makes a very versatile vehicle. We consider it an excellent choice as the sole or primary vehicle for growing families. It handles more like a minivan than the typical sport-utility vehicle, and it makes a comfortable daily driver for hauling people or stuff to soccer practice or home from the building store. The available 4.0-liter V6 provides decent acceleration, and available all-wheel drive adds security in snow country. It also has enough towing capability for a small trailer or camper

The 4.0-liter V6 is used in all but the base front-drive model. This single-cam engine delivers 253 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It is smoother and more pleasant to operate than the base 3.8-liter V6. Moreover, it's matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, which improves performance in all respects versus the 3.8?s four-speed automatic. The gear ratios in the six-speed improve acceleration at low speed, yet reduce rpm at high speed, decreasing interior nois. Fuel economy is about the same for the two engines. The 3.8 is EPA rated at 16 mpg in the city and 243 mpg in the highway. Front-wheel drive models with the 4.0 are rated at 15/23 and all-wheel drive models get 14/22.

With the 4.0, the Pacifica feels responsive. The transmission shifts down a gear smoothly and quickly, making quick merges or left-turns across traffic a no-sweat proposition. Moreover, the Pacifica cruises quietly at high speed, with no indication that the V6 is working hard to keep up.

The all-wheel-drive system works transparently, and it helps the Pacifica sail through corners rain or shine with the secure feeling of a sedan. Under normal conditions, the system sends all of the power to the front wheels. But it can transfer up to 90 percent of the power to the rear wheels whenever the front wheels lose grip, whether it's because the road is wet or because the driver has floored the accelerator.

We found the Pacifica AWD delivered confident handling in the dry weather of California's wine country, swooping into curves with the accelerator floored. It also made quick work of slush and snow during winter in the upper Midwest. All a driver has to do is keep a light, steady foot on the gas pedal. The all-wheel drive and its control system take care of the rest, sending power to the tires that are gripping best and keeping the Pacifica rolling forward through the muck.

We were impressed with the way the Pacifica drove, particularly in Northern California, where the paving is excellent, the roads are twisty and interesting, and the traffic is relatively light. The steering is not race-car communicative or direct, but it's better than the steering in many minivans and SUVs. The thick steering wheel feels good in the hands, and the suspension is tuned just right for a family vehicle: supple enough for a smooth, compliant ride, yet firm enough to control excessive lean or wallow. The isolated front and rear subframes, the long wheelbase and wide stance all work toward a comfortable, stable ride, and they limit the amount of road jolting that vibrates up through the chassis and into the passenger cabin.

The four-wheel disc brakes are large enough to handle the Pacifica's substantial weight, delivering sure, fairly short stops. We gave them a workout, and they responded every time without fade or smell or any sign of distress. ABS is standard on all models, and it comes with Brake Assist. This electronic system can tell when the brakes are applied full force, and it keeps them on full force even if the driver lightens pressure on the pedal as events develop ahead.

The Chrysler Pacifica is roomy, versatile, pleasant to drive and nice to look at. It accelerates quickly and corners reasonably well, which makes it pleasant to drive. The Pacifica Limited model is luxurious, equipped with nearly all the bells and whistles. The base model is practical, and with essential safety equipment, family features and all-wheel drive.

NewCarTestDrive correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Northern California, with J.P. Vettraino in Detroit, and Kirk Bell in Chicago.

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