A few years before automakers started jumping into the "hot" crossover market, Chrysler launched the Pacifica, which lay somewhere between a minivan and an SUV. Although not the first SUV to be built on a car platform, the Chrysler Pacifica is the forerunner to highly touted new cars such as the Mazda CX-7, the Acura RDX, and the Mercedes-Benz R-class. For our review, we had a 2007 Chrysler Pacifica Limited with seating for six. In a lot of ways, the car is like a big, luxurious wagon, with seats that can fold down to make room for cargo.
It's a good-looking vehicle both inside and out. It has a leaner, more aggressive look than a minivan and no sliding doors. But it's much more carlike than an SUV, with no attempt to look rugged. Our Pacifica came with suede seats and very nice blond wood insets around the dash and in the steering wheel. The car is fully loaded with cleverly integrated electronics, although we weren't impressed with the baseline stereo system.
A four-liter V-6 sits under the hood of the Pacifica, and it provides plenty of power to move this wagon along. It's mated to a six-speed automatic, which shifts smoothly. Our Limited trim model had all-wheel drive, but the car also comes with two-wheel drive.
Test the tech
As a new feature in CNET Car Tech reviews, we're performing a practical test with each car. Because our 2007 Chrysler Pacifica came with the rear-seat DVD option, we decided to use the car as a theater. For the test, editors Wayne Cunningham and Kevin Massy chose to screen the movie Jackie Brown while sitting in the middle-row seats of the car.
Jackie Brown is an excellent gangster film directed by Quentin Tarantino, based on a book by Elmore Leonard. Good so far, but with stars Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, and Robert Forster, it's a can't-miss hit. The middle-row seats proved quite comfortable for movie viewing, every bit as good as the front seats, with a convenient cupholder mounted in the console. The seats slide forward and backward, and they can recline, so we had no problem getting into a good viewing position.
The 8-inch screen proved large enough to make the movie viewable and left us with the impression of sitting in an airplane's business class section. Although the car came with two wireless headphones, we used the speakers to play the movie audio. We weren't impressed with this car's stereo system for music, but it worked very well for our movie. Dialog came through clearly and sound effects, such as gunshots, had the right impact.
The only way to control the DVD player is through a remote control. From the middle-row seats we could perform the usual commands, such as skip, play, and pause. Unfortunately, the remote doesn't control volume, and there are no rear-seat volume controls. When we started the movie, we had to squeeze through the front seats to reach the far-away volume control. By the ending credits, we were satisfied with the movie-watching experience in the Pacifica and could have gone for a double feature if we had the foresight to load an extra movie in the six-DVD changer.
In the cabin
Chrysler very successfully pulls off a luxury play with the cabin of the Pacifica. The wood insets are of good quality and tastefully placed. A rubberized material covers the dash, which has a much nicer feel than the hard plastic used by other automakers. Some of the plastics, such as those on the navigation control buttons and the center stack, do have a cheaper feel. The suede coverings on the seats have a very nice feel: soft, yet with the strength and the suppleness of leather. In a particularly interesting move, Chrysler borrows from its sister-company, Mercedes-Benz, by putting the power-seat controls on the doors of the Pacifica. The buttons are shaped like the seats, making them very intuitive to use.
Another unique feature is the placement of the navigation screen, which is located on the speedometer. This placement makes it easy for the driver to check route guidance or the map without having to look down and over, as with a stack-mounted display. But it also means that the passenger can't program a route while the driver concentrates on the road. And the size of the speedometer limits the size of the screen. That said, we did find it convenient to use, although under route guidance it wasn't big enough to show a split screen, with a map on one side and an upcoming turn on the other. The controls for it are simple, but somewhat awkwardly placed, forcing us to reach around the steering wheel to the dash. Because this navigation system isn't intended for use when you're underway, Chrysler designers probably didn't worry about the ergonomics too much.