America’s seemingly insatiable appetite for SUVs and SUV-like vehicles in the waning years of the 20th century and the emerging years of the 21st century spawned a number of interesting subspecies of automobiles.
There were tall wagons — essentially station wagons whose profiles were meant to evoke the image of a sport utility vehicle (Subaru’s Forester is a good example of this genre.) Crossover utility vehicles — whose primary attributes were their unibody construction and car-derived suspension systems, even though they shared the ride height of sport utility vehicles (Nissan’s Murano comes to mind here). And from Chrysler, the company that arguably re-established the minivan as a viable consumer automotive category, came something fairly original. Combining the attributes of a car, a station wagon, a minivan, and the SUV, Chrysler’s Pacifica, dubbed a “sports tourer” by its marketing department, was classified a mid-size crossover wagon when it was introduced in 2003 — as a 2004 model.
The Pacifica featured the standard ride height of passenger cars and minivans (making it easy to get in and out of), the rear hatch of a station wagon, the exterior profile and elevated seating position afforded by sport utility vehicles, along with the traction and security afforded by the SUVs all-wheel drive. And while it afforded its buyers some of the utility of a minivan, the Pacifica used four forward hinged doors rather than the sliding doors of a minivan. This strategy was employed in an effort to avoid the stigmatization minivans were starting to experience as a result of their unabashed success as family-friendly vehicles.
With Pacifica, Chrysler sought to capture the best elements of all those genres in a vehicle capable of being perceived as simultaneously stylish, luxurious and utilitarian. Jointly engineered with Mercedes-Benz, during the period when Daimler AG owned both companies, the Pacifica has a near sibling in the Mercedes-Benz R-Class.
Unfortunately, the Pacifica’s execution was flawed in a number of ways. Additionally, a great deal of turmoil was brewing in Chrysler’s headquarters during the Pacifica’s lifetime. As a result, the Chrysler only lasted through one model cycle. The Pacifica was discontinued after model year 2008.
The first Chrysler Pacifica model offered in 2004 came in one flavor only. Capable of seating six (although accessing the third row required a remarkable degree of dexterity) the 2004 Chrysler Pacifica did indeed seem fresh and new when it was launched. Its sleek lines and luxurious façade belied a genuine family-friendliness. Offered with a choice of front- and all-wheel drive, the 2004 Pacifica was powered by a 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6, which developed 250 ft-lbs of torque. The transmission was a four-speed automatic with a manual shift mode.
Interior seating was arranged in three rows of two seats each, with “captain’s” chairs in the middle row. The second and third row seats were capable of folding flat into the floor, endowing the Pacifica with considerable cargo carrying ability. Unfortunately though, if the third row was deployed, the Pacifica’s cargo carrying ability was next to nil. Another shortcoming (if you’ll pardon the pun) was the lack of useful legroom in the third row.
However negligible that third row of seats, the comfort and convenience features of the Pacifica were outstanding for the time. Headlining the crossover’s standard content-set were 17-inch alloy wheels, power-adjustable pedals, aluminum cabin accents, power driver and front-passenger seats, dual-zone climate control, a CD player, second-row captain's chairs, auto-down windows and auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors.
The options list flaunted leather upholstery, a power sunroof (combined with a glass skylight spanning the entire length of the roof), a power rear liftgate, heat for the seats in the first and second rows, as well as Chrysler’s ubiquitous chrome wheels. A 385-watt Infinity Intermezzo audio system amplified a Sirius Satellite Radio receiver as well as a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. The Pacifica’s DVD-based navigation system featured a readout screen in the instrument cluster with simplified directions, to ease viewing by the driver. By the way, Chrysler’s UConnect hands-free communication system debuted in the Pacifica.
On its passenger protection menu, the Pacifica automatically unlocked all doors and turned on its interior lights if the airbags deployed. Side curtain airbags covered all three rows and three-point belts secured all six seating positions. The driver was afforded a knee airbag. NHTSA awarded the 2004 Chrysler Pacifica a five-star sweep in front- and side-impact crash tests.
In response to concerns regarding the Pacifica’s price inhibiting its ability to hit sales targets, Chrysler introduced two new trim levels for 2005 (Touring and Limited). This enabled them to de-content the base Pacifica, making it more affordable, while still offering varying levels of equipment. The interior was also reworked to incorporate (more reasonably priced) faux wood trim in place of the aluminum from the ’04 model.
The Limited came with all of the options listed for the 2004 model, including all-wheel drive. However, navigation, Bluetooth and satellite radio remained options. Moving down the list to the Touring model, the DVD player, traction control, stability control and side curtain airbags became optional as well. The third row seats were pulled from the base model, and a bench seat replaced the second-row captain’s chairs, making it a five-seat proposition only.
After reworking the lineup for 2005, model year 2006 was a year of minor esthetic changes. The exterior trim was reworked a bit, tilt-down side mirrors were introduced as an option, and the glovebox was enlarged.
Responding to concerns the 3.5-liter V6 was being overly taxed by the Pacifica’s considerable heft, a 253-horsepower, 4.0-liter V6 was specified for the 2007 model year. However, this engine was fitted to all-wheel drive Base models only. The front-drive Base Pacifica got a less-powerful 200-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission.
Buyers who opted for Touring models could have the 4.0-liter engine with either front-drive or all-wheel drive. Limited models, of course, were all-wheel drive only. Paired with the new 4.0-liter V6 was a six-speed automatic.
Sonic park assist, Xenon headlights and a backup camera were added to the Pacifica’s options list for 2007.
For 2008, the Chrysler Pacifica Base model was renamed the LX model, while the other model designations remained unchanged. The Pacifica LX featured 17-inch steel wheels, five-passenger seating in two rows, dual-zone air-conditioning, remote keyless entry, full power accessories (including the front seats), and a CD-based stereo system with an auxiliary audio input jack. The next level up, the Touring model, acquired foglamps, six-passenger seating in three rows, automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, satellite radio, and an upgraded audio system.
Remarkably, what started out in 2004 as the Base (AKA the ONLY) Pacifica model, was by 2008 considered the top-of-the-line Limited model. That version wore 19-inch chromed aluminum wheels, body-color fascias, a power liftgate, a sunroof, a sonic rear parking assist system, laminated door glass, leather, heated front and second-row seats, wood trim, driver’s seat memory, and a six-disc CD changer.
To be fair, much of that kit was also available as options on the lesser Pacifica models. For its last year of production, the Chrysler Pacifica’s major options included a navigation system with a back-up camera, a DVD-based video entertainment system with rear video screen, an Infinity surround-sound audio system, Bluetooth hands-free technology and Xenon headlights.
The 2004 Chrysler Pacifica was an idea which today lives on as the Mercedes-Benz R350. Ironically, during the Pacifica’s lifetime, both companies vociferously denied any similarity between the two vehicles. This, even though the interior layout of the Pacifica was obviously cribbed from the Stuttgart-based manufacturer, (or actually, if you want to be technical about it, the other way around, as the Chrysler came to market first) right down to the controls on the doors for manipulating the Pacifica’s power seats.
Mercedes-Benz also developed the suspension system the Pacifica employed, which explains the agility afforded the large wagon. The fact the two vehicles appeared on the market within a year of one another is yet more evidence of the relationship between the Chrysler Pacifica and the Mercedes-Benz R-Class.
Unfortunately though, the Pacifica was hamstrung with a somewhat underpowered engine. Additionally, many car buyers had lost sight of the fact that Chrysler was indeed a luxury brand, so the Pacifica’s asking price was a bit of a deal breaker. Plus, the Chrysler “sport tourer” was being assembled in a factory, which was (politely put) less than diligent about maintaining the quality of its products. To all of that, you can also fold in the fact that by the time the Pacifica came along, Chrysler was well into its slide toward bankruptcy. In fact, machinations were already afoot behind the scenes to divorce Chrysler from Daimler AG. Further, the high price commanded by the Pacifica’s luxuries gave potential buyers cause to cross-shop the Chrysler against the acknowledged leader in the genre, the Lexus RX.
So, while the Pacifica was a reasonably good idea, there were simply too many mitigating factors aligned against its ever truly being a success. Long story short, the Chrysler’s circumstances left the Pacifica a tough row to hoe.
If you’re considering the purchase of one of these vehicles, the good news is you should be able to find them at amazingly good prices, particularly when you take their high level of equipment into consideration. You do need to watch out for spotty build quality though. Additionally, there were a number of recall notices issued for the Pacifica. You’ll want to research those as well. And, as always, make sure you subject any used automobile whose purchase you’re seriously considering to a very thorough pre-purchase inspection by a mechanic wholly familiar with your vehicle of choice.