Was the pioneer crossover doomed from the start?
Prelude to a category that’s currently one of the hottest sectors in the business, the Chrysler Pacifica, along with the Pontiac Aztek and the Buick Rendezvous, was among the first vehicles introduced that could have been called a “Crossover Utility Vehicle.” Yet Chrysler’s parent at the time, Daimler, launched a flawed product, priced it above what the public’s perception of what Chryslers should cost, and never really followed through with the marketing and support for this breakthrough vehicle. Back in the autumn of 2003, the German-American car company Daimler Chrysler was set to introduce a relatively new “segment buster.” The idea was to marry the usefulness of a people carrier with a go-anywhere Sport Utility Vehicle, offering better fuel mileage and a better highway ride. Unfortunately, as with all compromises, the Pacifica never really lived up to any of the promises. Yet the good idea, gone very badly, inadvertently started the new larger Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV) trend. Aiming to blend traits of cars, SUVs, and minivans, the four-door Pacifica offered three rows of seats for six-passenger capacity, a suspension designed to provide car-like road manners, and available all-wheel drive. The Pacifica is taller than a car but lower than most SUVs. It also has an exceptionally wide body and is nearly as long as Chrysler’s Town & Country minivan. The sole powertrain–at least for the first few years–was a 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 and four-speed automatic transmission with manual shift gate. The Pacifica offers front-wheel drive with optional traction control (or all-wheel drive without low-range gearing), four-wheel disc brakes, 17-inch wheels, and a load-leveling rear suspension as some of its standard features, with seating that consists of buckets in the first and second rows and a third-row split bench. The second and third rows fold but don’t remove. The Pacifica was one of the first vehicles to provide head-protecting curtain side airbags that cover all three rows. Other notable features include power-adjustable pedals and a tire-pressure monitor, standard on all-wheel-drive models but optional on front-drive models. You could choose leather upholstery, heated first- and second-row seats, sunroof, power lift-gate, navigation and DVD entertainment systems, and Sirius satellite radio. All in all, a very well equipped vehicle. Compared to other crossover wagons, the Chrysler Pacifica is a relatively upscale model, offering an array of creature comforts wrapped in elegantly chiseled sheet metal. Clever styling tricks make it look smaller than it actually is. Unfortunately, the Pacifica doesn’t possess particularly great interior packaging. While the first two rows are spacious for occupants, the third row is acceptable only for children and leaves very little space for cargo behind it when upright. The rearmost seat does fold flat into the floor in convenient 50/50 sections, however. The interior was one of the best ever from Chrysler, receiving universal praise for both its materials and the features that were offered, especially the optional navigation system with its pictogram display within the instrument cluster. Early Pacificas featured a mediocre powerplant in a price bracket where potent and refined powertrains were the norm. The 3.5-liter V-6 was borrowed from the Chrysler LH family of front-wheel-drive sedans (the Chrysler Concorde, LHS, New Yorker, and the Dodge Intrepid), transversely mounted in this application. Not helping matters were the large wagon’s hefty weight and relatively unsophisticated four-speed automatic transmission, both of which took their toll on fuel economy. A significant update for 2007, however, included a new V-6 engine, a new six-speed automatic for most models, and updated styling. For the 2005 model year, the Chrysler Pacifica was offered in three trim levels: LX, Touring, and Limited, each of which is available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. During the 2006 model year, the base LX front-wheel-drive Pacifica was powered by a modest, 200-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 (borrowed from the base Chrysler Town & Country minivan) connected to a four-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control. All other Pacifica models are motivated by a more sophisticated and powerful 4.0-liter V-6 capable of 255 horsepower. The latter engine comes with a six-speed automatic with manual shift control. All Pacificas are rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds. Base models feature two-row, five-passenger seating, while the Touring and Limited models boast the original six-passenger seating configuration. Sales of these compromised crossovers never reached expectations. Why? Along with the Crossfire, Chrysler optimistically priced these offerings far above customer expectations. They were simply too expensive for the Chrysler name. The de-contented LX model, introduced during the 2005 model year, made little difference. Chrysler didn’t market the vehicle correctly, didn’t add value to this first-ever crossover, nor did it try to widen the appeal past its minivan roots. But what doomed the value of the Chrysler crossovers came during the summer of 2005, when Chrysler joined GM and Ford in what has become the devaluation of the Detroit brand, offering employee pricing for everyone and artificially creating demand. The Pacifica also had another thing against it: the fact that it didn’t share interior furnishings with any other Chrysler, Dodge, or Jeep vehicle. The window switches, audio and video entertainment options, seats, center console, even the instrument panel were not interchangeable with any other vehicle. The optional navigation system display was incorporated into the speedometer, visible only to the driver. The power-seat switches, along with optional seat-warmer switches, were on the door in a nod to its Daimler parent but never shared with any other Chrysler. The only major components shared with other Chryslers were the engine and the transmission, as even the gear selector was unique. This didn’t help bring costs down, thereby making the break-even point more difficult to reach. It has been reported that Chrysler lost money on every single Pacifica sold. The Pacifica also had a poor reputation as far as reliability during the introductory 2004 model year. While electrical gremlins persisted throughout its entire production cycle, the 2004 models suffered from engine problems, transmission woes, and quality control issues. Chrysler did not handle these problems as well as they should have, which only compounded the problems during the car’s launch. It has been written that this was one of the worst new car introductions for Chrysler, what with poor positioning due to its first-in-the-segment status, hardly any pre-production publicity, and very little dealer training. Customer satisfaction scores from J.D. Power and Consumer Reports were dismal. So, is the Pacifica worth purchasing if you’re looking for a relatively affordable CUV? If you find a leftover 2008 that may still be available at an out-of-the-way Chrysler dealer, you should get quite a bargain. If you are looking for a used Pacifica, look for a low mileage Touring or Limited version after the 2005 model year. They should be real cheap, because their residuals have never held up. Look for one that is certified by a five-star retailer, because it comes with extra warranties. Since the Pacifica’s introduction, however, better alternatives have become available: the Subaru Tribeca, the GM Lambda offerings (Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook, Chevy Traverse), the Honda Pilot, the Acura MDX, the Volvo XC90, and the Ford Freestyle/Taurus X/Flex. The Pacifica may have been first, but it never had a chance to be a success. Read more of my Recently Deceased and Retrospective Posts at Automotive Traveler.