Chrysler Pacifica

Richard Newton

So the Pacifica is built to a higher standard. Shut lines are among Chrysler's tightest ever, the vehicle is teeming with consumer electronics, and the styling is handsomer than most, never vulgar, and restrained in a refreshingly un-Chrysler way. Inside, the Pacifica is unusually quiet, owing to the specification of thicker, five-millimeter glass for its windows. It's a better sort of Chrysler.

Because it handles decently, the Pacifica goes straight into our books as a better sort of cross-over SUV, too. What you make of the 2+2+2 interior configuration, however, surely will depend on what row you're sitting in. As the Chrysler press materials note, there is "first-class seating in the first and second rows,"

Rear Cargo Space View

with four armchairs for passengers. Of course, the big problem with first class is second class, and, indeed, the third-row seats in the Pacifica are strictly steerage grade. So what we have here is an effective four-seater. Bright idea? Maybe. But a Toyota Avalon or a Ford Crown Victoria with optional front bench seating would accommodate as many people, some more comfortably. It would weigh less, probably would get better fuel economy, and likely would be faster. But that's crossover SUVs for you.

Viewed as executive transport for two couples, or two parents and their entertainment-starved children (with an occasional pair of youthful friends), the Pacifica comes into better focus. It is a veritable electronics amusement park, with a hands-free phone, a six-disc in-dash CD player, satellite navigation, power-adjustable pedals, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with drop-down screen and wireless headphones. This last option allows parents to listen to a CD up front while children silently enjoy DVDs in the rear. As anyone who has suffered lasting collateral damage from the background noise of 6000 screenings of Home Alone 2 will tell you, this feature should be considered for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Add to this arcade dual-zone climate control with odor and particulate filtration, an optional power liftgate, a standard power sunroof, and a built-in alarm system. And don't forget the ten-way power front seats, with Mercedes-like switches on the door panel. The seats themselves are very fine.

Full Rear View

The Pacifica sports a commendable number of safety doodads, with side curtain air bags for all three rows, a newfangled energy-absorbing steering column, and an inflatable knee blocker for the driver. The navigation display, unusually, resides within the speedometer dial, obviating any passenger involvement in the programming, a probable safety miscue, as drivers inevitably will try to program it themselves while driving. Let's hope they're not towing when they take their eyes off the road; the Pacifica will trailer up to 3500 pounds.

Luxury crossover SUVs are thick on the ground these days, and, thanks to the Chrysler Pacifica, the ground has gotten thicker. Its two-plus-two-plus-occasional-two seating does not a segment buster make, but it does a fine job of underscoring how hard it has become to bust open a new segment. Increasingly, it seems, there really is nothing new under the sun--which isn't Chrysler's fault. But, ourselves, we're waiting for the crossunder.

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