Hooniverse Parting Shot: The Chrysler Pacifica; The Blueprint for the Crossover Utility Vehicle.

The 2002 Chrysler Pacifica Concept. The Pacifica went into production with few changes!

Was the pioneer crossover doomed from the start?

The 2007 Chrysler Pacifica LX. A Stripped Pacifica!

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.
The Interior of a 2007 Pacifica Limited. Almost everything pictured, from switchgear to seats and instrumentation, wasn't shared with any other Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep 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.
With the third row erect, there wasn't a lot of room left for luggage.

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.

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  1. M44Power Avatar

    I've always been fond of these, even though I am fully aware of its underpinnings. It served the need of about all SUV buyers of the time: it was big enough inside, comfortable enough for a cross-country drive, and looked like it could possible go off road. With continued development, this coulda been a contender.

  2. muthalovin Avatar

    I was pleased to hear you mention the start of the Detroit Death Spiral that started with Employee Pricing. That seemed to be quite a contributing factor to the downfall of Detroit. The prostitution of platforms begot many similar vehicles under the same company, thereby creating excess inventory. That inventory needed to be sold, so why lower prices. Very interesting.

  3. lilwillie Avatar

    I've worked on a few of these. Horrible, horrible build quality. Lack of space inside and the vehicle I thought was the answer to a question no one asked. To large to get very good mileage and to small to be useful. Most past owners I know traded up to something bigger. Either a Minivan or a larger SUV.

  4. Alff Avatar

    All of the blandness of a Caravan with none of the utility.

  5. aSoundofSleep Avatar

    Working for a very large national used vehicle retailer I get to see all kinds of vehicles, small to large. I've been there for roughly a year now and out of everything that I normally sell I probably sell more Pacificas than anything else. This is mostly due to the fact that they are a bargain right now. You can get a minivan layout, better fuel economy, better ride quality, and a decent slew of options all for around $18k (06-07 Touring model with 30-50k on the clock). I always make sure the customer buying the vehicle knows that they are essentially buying a failed Mercedes and to make sure they get the extended service plan, because build quality was a huge issue on these things. But in that price range there isn't anything else that can even hold a flame to it option per option. All in all these things are a bargain used. Hating Chrysler as much as I do I would never buy one for myself but for a lot of families they do exactly what they are intended to.
    On an aside, weren't they built from Mercedes' R class scrap pile?

    1. aSoundofSleep Avatar

      On another aside, the Pacifica did do one thing that was just entirely mind boggling. If you look at the third picture from the top you'll see the center console stack. In that stack is a separate slot at the bottom that says DVD and has the AV inputs. These vehicles, from the factory, came with a dvd player but no monitor in which to watch them from. They expected the customer to go buy a mobile screen with AV inputs. To this day that just blows my mind that they would allow you to play DVDs but not see them. Woot, Chrysler.

      1. dculberson Avatar

        Okay, that right there is hilarious. I'd love to have been in on that product planning meeting. (or not…)

        1. Mike_the_Dog Avatar

          Or the one where HDTV manufacturers decided that they didn't have to supply tuners with their $6000 plasma sets.

    2. Maymar Avatar

      Being a transversely engined FWDish vehicle, I don't think it'd have much in common with the R Class – it's more tarted up minivan.

  6. engineerd Avatar

    Chrysler, as a company, is no stranger for creating segments — minivans being the most obvious. However, they seemed unwilling or incapable of learning from their past successes and finding what works to repeat it. I don't know how much of it was bungled from Daimler's end, but Chrysler should have been able to look back at what worked so well with the minivan and learned from it. They didn't and that had a huge effect on the success of the Pacifica.

  7. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    IIRC these things were crazy expensive when they came out, too. Expensive in a way that only a crazy person would've bought one over the Durango parked next to it.
    You'd have to place a huge premium on something being not and SUV or not a Minivan to make this purchase, because the other two offer a lot more utility for equal or lesser money.

    1. aSoundofSleep Avatar

      That's almost the beauty of the Pacifica, though. It isn't a minivan or an SUV, and that's why people want them. Not all soccer moms have succumbed to a slow death in a Toyota Sienna and a lot of them are also concerned with fuel mileage. Enter: Pacifica. I'm the last person you'll ever see defending Chrysler but I'll be the first to admit the Pacifica wasn't a bad crossover. New, they were pricey. Now used, they are a bargain.

  8. Maymar Avatar

    If Chrysler learned one thing from the Pacifica, it shows in the base Dodge Journey (which starts at like $18.5k in Canada).

    1. blueplate Avatar

      There are a few things they didn't learn. I recently learned that the first-model-year Journey didn't have remote keyless entry. Y'know, that keyfob thing that opens the doors? And.. just one keyhole, on the driver's side.
      (Source: Marty Blog on The Car Connection, so you know I was hard up for entertainment. I think I stopped reading TCC around the same time I last used a driver's door keyhole.)

      1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

        The lack of passenger-side keyholes is regrettable, in my eyes. Right down there with the loss of window cranks and throttle cables.

  9. 900pilot Avatar

    Despite my hatred for crossovers, the Pacifica is actually (dare I say) a little bit handsome. I always thought they should have made them a little less "luxury" and a little more utilitarian, because the things make killer taxi cabs. I know there are some Pacifica taxis out there, but I think they had potential to grab a much bigger market share.

  10. OG Schm-san Avatar
    OG Schm-san

    I rented one of these once (for about 6 hours total), but still, I was quite surprised with it. It wasn't half bad at all. I'd still buy a Jeep or something else though.

  11. blueplate Avatar

    BTW, I love this series. There are so many nameplates that have come and gone in the 2000s (I forget how many, but I think the U.S. market is pushing 200-300 nameplates on sale right now) .. it's good to stop and recollect.

  12. paul niedermeyer Avatar
    paul niedermeyer

    The pioneering CUV?? Umm, The Lexus RX 300 wants its title back.

    1. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell

      Pioneering big-ass CUV, perhaps?
      In all seriousness, the others were effectively tall station wagons for people looking for a big sedan. The Pacifica (et al) was meant to replace a minivan or larger SUV with its 3 row setup. This was the first to attempt to address the 3-kid problem.

  13. Charles_Barrett Avatar

    I have always assumed that the Chrysler Pacifica and the Mercedes R-Class luxury wagons shared a lot of their DNA and hardware, but this writeup doesn't address that relationship. Does it in fact exist?

    1. UDman Avatar

      Charles, The Pacifica shares its platform with the short wheelbase minivans from Chrysler. The Mercedes Benz "R" actually shares its floorpan and chassis components with the current ML Class of SUV, so they are in fact different vehicles.
      It was coincidence that both of these "equals" would come up with the same answer to a question no one asked. They looked the same, but were in fact very different.

      1. Mike_the_Dog Avatar

        Kind of like the Windstar and Villager. Similar in appearance and mission, but totally different platforms.

  14. Mike_the_Dog Avatar

    Am I the only one who sees the grandchild of the AMC Eagle wagon here?

    1. Maymar Avatar

      I see more of the Eagle in the AWD Dodge Magnum, and its delinquent black sheep brother, the Caliber. More similar proportions, and both closer to the car end of the scale.

  15. Katelynn Guisbert Avatar

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  17. Norbert Sadoski Avatar

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  18. […] Hooniverse Parting Shot: The Chrysler Pacifica; The Blueprint for … […]

  19. orlando car insurance Avatar

    Chrysler 200? All you need to know is that they still plan on offering a 4 speed transmission. And, how can they be talking of “improved ride, improved suspension geometry, new tires”, etc. if this is a new car? Aren’t they admitting that this is just a rebadging of the Sebring? I bet it’s a snoozer.