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2004 Chrysler Pacifica 4 Dr Sport Utility

Overall rating:  Product Rating: 4.5

Reviewed by 3 Epinions users

Handling And Control:
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A unique blend of luxury and utility, but needs to go on a diet

by mkaresh:      Jul 14, 2003 - Updated Apr 6, 2006

Product Rating: 4.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: Styling, upscale interior, comfort in first two rows, versatility, firm steering and brakes, safety
Cons: Marginal acceleration, feels heavy, little control feedback, cramped third row, price
The Bottom Line: Those into image and comfort over long distances will be well satisfied. Those who enjoy a curving back road will not be.

As automakers stop worrying about traditional product classifications and start producing products more precisely tuned to people’s sets of needs, we’re starting to see some unique vehicles. For example, there are likely a number of people out there who want a large amount of cargo capacity, three rows of seating, don’t ever plan to tow anything or go off-road, and yet do not want a minivan or station wagon for image reasons. The first generation of vehicles to serve this market were car-based SUVs like the Acura MDX and Honda Pilot. (Hyperlinks like these go to my reviews of these other vehicles.) These weren’t meant for going off-road, but still possessed a generous amount of ground clearance so they would look like real SUVs. Unfortunately, this ground clearance harmed handling and the ease of getting in and out of the vehicle. So we’re also starting to see similar vehicles that ride closer to the ground. GM was arguably first with this sort of vehicle with the Buick Rendezvous. For 2004 Chrysler introduces a still more car-like “crossover” vehicle, the Pacifica. For 2005 Ford will sell a similar vehicle called the Freestyle.

Some auto journalists argue that by calling vehicles like the Pacifica “segment busters” and “sport tourers” the auto companies are hoping people won’t call them what they really are, which is station wagons. After all, station wagons are uncool, right? While I personally don’t think station wagons are so uncool—there are a few I’d personally like to have—I also don’t think the Pacifica truly qualifies as a station wagon. At 66.8” in height, it’s about eight inches taller than the tallest conventional cars. At the same time, it’s about two inches lower than a minivan, and about half a foot lower than a conventional midsize SUV. More than anything, it’s a sport version of a minivan much like a coupe is a sport version of a sedan. The exterior size is close to that of a long wheelbase minivan, but interior room and functionality have been traded for a longer, higher hood and snazzier styling.

This review is nearly the same as the one I have listed under the other two Chrysler Pacifica listings. Epinions recently created multiple listings for many vehicles, the Pacifica among them. Unlike me, they do not see this as a problem and are not planning to do anything about it, so I am posting my reviews under all appropriate listings. The three reviews say much the same thing. There is no substantial reason to read more than one of them.

Chrysler Pacifica Reliability

Want better reliability information? Want to really know what difference it will make if you buy a Chrysler Pacifica rather than something else? It's coming in the form of "times in the shop" and "days in the shop" stats. From these you might learn that your first choice, compared to your second choice, is likely to make 2.7 extra trips to the shop in its first five years. You might decide its advantages compensate for this, or you might not. Either way, you'll be able to make a much better informed decision.

To gain access to this information you have a choice: sign up to help provide the data now or pay $24.95 later. For the details, visit my website, www.truedelta.com.

Styling and accommodations

Is the styling snazzy enough to make up for the loss in function? When GM made a similar bet with the Pontiac Aztek, it lost, though it did a bit better with the related Buick Rendezvous. With the Pacifica, Chrysler shows what can be done when nothing is carried over from a minivan’s structure that will harm the styling. (At first Chrysler tried to base the Pacifica heavily on its minivans, but in the end they had little in common.) When I first saw the Pacifica at the 2002 Detroit auto show, I thought it was a great looking vehicle. The proportions are spot on, combining with a mix of edges and curves and a huge grille to convey a blend of muscularity and elegance. I see some BMW X5 in the lines, but this is a longer, lower vehicle. A few tricks like blacked out D-pillars have been used to disguise the length of this vehicle. (GM uses a similar treatment on the GMC Envoy.

A bit more on that huge grille. Back in the late 1990s Chrysler put a large grille on its big LHS sedan but a small one on the related 300M. This stylistic confusion has come to an end. It seems Chrysler is going to be attaching a similar grille to every one of its cars. On those to which it was retrofitted, like the Sebring, it looks strange. With the Pacifica, though, it fits, likely because the entire vehicle was designed with this grille in mind. It similarly works well on Chrysler future large 300C sedan.

Inside the styling isn’t as innovative. This is not a bad thing. Avant-garde interiors rarely work out well. They either feel dated quickly, do not feel welcoming, or both. If the materials are not absolutely top-notch, they’re more likely to appear cheap. (Check out the GM vehicles for examples.)

The interior of the Pacifica is stylish, yet in a conventional manner. The center stack of the instrument panel curves outward just a just a bit. This together with a prominent, cleanly integrated center console create a somewhat cockpit-like atmosphere that conveys the vehicle’s sporty mission.

People in the front seats will feel they are in a near-luxury sport sedan. Materials are not quite luxury car quality, but they’re a significant step up from past Chryslers in line with DaimlerChrysler’s goal of making Chrysler more of an upscale brand. Nothing seemed cheap. Most controls have a premium feel to them. The fake wood looks real enough. A friend who came along for the test drive was impressed with the sports-luxury ambiance.

Could Nissan have hired away all of the interiors people who used to work for Chrysler?

My main beef with the interior styling is the instruments. As with recent Mercedes, the speedometer is very large so that an information center can be nestled within it. In fact, the screen for the optional navigation system goes in there. While this might be a good place for the nav system map, I don’t care for such a large speedometer, and I especially dislike the effect on the tachometer, which must be small as a result. With a conventional automatic one might argue that a tach is of little use anyway. The Pacifica, however, comes standard with Chrysler’s “Autostick,” which enables the automatic to be shifted somewhat like a clutch-less manual. If people really use the Autostick, they’re going to want an easily viewable tach.

The feel of the interior continues into the second row, where a pair of reclinable buckets are separated by a fixed center console. This console includes storage compartments and climate controls. The vehicle I drove had the optional entertainment system, a good feature for those who will be traveling with children. Heck, I wouldn’t mind being in the second row with a good movie on a trip.

The bucket seats in the first and second rows are supportive and comfortable. Think first class on an airliner. Room is generous, and no one has to rub elbows. The fold-down armrests could be a bit wider, but that's about it. These seats include modestly sized side bolsters reflecting the Pacifica’s sporty image. Both rows can be heated with the optional leather, and were on the loaded example I drove.

The driving position is very good. Despite the high beltline (base of windows), which Chrysler employed to lend a sense of tank-like security, the view forward and to the sides is open enough. A standard ten-way power driver’s seat and power-adjustable pedals help. The wheel tilts, but does not telescope. Since the pedals are adjustable, it doesn’t much need to. The view rear is not as good owing to very wide rear roof pillars.

My friend complained about the size of the door openings. He had to make an effort not to hit his head getting into the front seats. I didn’t have this problem myself.

There is no second class seating in the Pacifica. The third row is strictly third class. This is where the Pacifica falls short of similarly sized minivans. The third row bench is very cramped in terms of both leg and head room, much like those in the Acura MDX, Honda Pilot, and Ford Explorer. Only smallish children will be happy back there. Access is also not as easy as in a minivan, as the swinging doors do not provide as large an opening as a minivan’s sliders. As if the cramped styling weren’t enough, the large rear pillars also provide a limited view out for people in the way back.

Because of the second row console and narrow third row, passenger capacity is six. Even though the Honda Pilot is ten inches shorter in length and two inches narrower in width, it seats eight.

Cargo capacity is very good compared to an midsize SUV, but not so good compared to a minivan. With the second and third row seats folded cargo volume is about eighty cubic feet. This is equivalent to the typical midsize SUV and Acura’s MDX, but only half the maximum available in Chrysler’s Town and Country minivan. Honda’s Pilot holds ten more cubic feet. Versatility is excellent, though. As mentioned, the seats fold flat. (They also do in the Pilot.) A well-conceived flap even flops over from the back of the left seat to cover the second-row console. In Chrysler’s minivans, the seats must be removed to get a flat load floor.

Interior storage, with spaces in all four doors and that long center console, is excellent.

Chrysler is emphasizing the Pacifica’s safety features. Not only was the vehicle styled to look and feel very safe, but it has standard side curtain airbags for all three rows, side airbags in the front row, and a knee-bag for the driver. ABS is also standard. High-intensity (HID) headlamps are a $500 option. Together with the size and mass of the vehicle, these features should render it quite safe. Notably missing is the option of a stability control system.

On the road

The Pacifica looks sporty, but does it drive sporty? I had the most ignorant salesperson I’ve experienced in some time. He explained that the Pacifica uses the same 250 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 found in Chrysler’s large cars, which it does, but that this engine was mounted transversely in the Pacifica for more stable handling. Sorry, but it’s transversely mounted because they started with a minivan platform and for packaging reasons. Still, 250 horsepower sounds strong. It’s ten more than you’ll find in the Pilot, for example. But ten fewer than in the Acura.

But then the salesman got something else wrong. He explained that most vehicles as large as the Pacifica weigh 4800 pounds, but through the use of high-tech alloys the Pacifica weighs 30 percent less than that. Sorry, but the spec sheet shows that the Pacifica weighs about 4700 pounds. I wish it weighed 30 percent less, because that’s a lot of mass for 250 horses to move.

Worse, Chrysler’s 3.5 liter engine has never felt 250 horsepower strong to me even in its 3500-pound cars. Part of the problem is that this engine is much peakier than the 3.5s in competing vehicles. Its power peaks at 6400 RPM, compared to 5300 in the Acura MDX and 5800 in the Nissan Murano. The torque peaks similarly differ, at 3900, 3000, and 3600 RPM.

The other part of the problem is that this peakier engine is paired with a four speed automatic, while the Acura has a five-speed and the Nissan has a CVT. A fifth ratio permits a shorter first gear and less of a drop-off with each shift. With a CVT, the initial ratio can be very short and there is no shifting--the engine can be kept right at its power peak for maximum acceleration. With a peaky engine you want to get the revs up quickly and keep them there, and the Chrysler's transmission is the worst of the bunch at these tasks.

The end result? Acceleration is generally adequate, but hardly sporting. Figure a zero to sixty time approaching ten seconds. A Honda Odyssey minivan will waste this puppy. The Pilot and MDX are also much quicker. Less weight and an extra gear make a difference. (The Nissan Murano is also much quicker, but isn't really in the same class as it lacks a third row.) Off the line the Chrysler’s punch isn’t bad, but when passing its engine sounds and feels a bit strained.

For a four-valve-per cylinder unit the 3.5 has never sounded all that sweet to me, either. In fact, it doesn't sound much better than GM and Ford’s more conventional pushrod V6s. Though not quite coarse, far too pedestrian.

At least the transmission shifts smoothly. A decade ago this transmission had reliability issues, but my understanding is that Chrysler finally put these to bed a few years ago. I did not try the Autostick, but have used it in the 300M. It’s no substitute for a real manual, but should have its limited uses when the driver wants to hold onto a lower gear.

The Pacifica I drove was all-wheel-drive. This should aid stability and performance on slick roads. The extra weight harms acceleration, though. Front-wheel-drive might be the better alternative for those concerned with acceleration. I did not drive that version, so I cannot say whether it suffers from torque steer. Chrysler’s minivans tend to have a minimal amount of torque steer, so I suspect the front-wheel-drive Pacifica also does not have an objectionable amount. For many people it will be a better value.

Handling is sorta kinda sporty. The control efforts of the steering wheel and brakes are pleasantly firm, neither too light nor too heavy. The steering is nicely weighted and precise. What is missing is any feedback. The steering and brakes are firm without providing any feel. The steering despite its positive qualities feels dead. It communicates little about what is going on where the rubber meets the road. The brakes after their initial firmness feel a touch mushy.

Unlike Chrysler’s minivans, the Pacifica is fitted with an independent rear suspension, and a sophisticated one based on that in the Mercedes E-Class at that. For a vehicle of its height the Pacifica corners relatively flat and generally feels very balanced despite its nose-heavy weight distribution. Overall, handling is significantly more sporty than a minivan’s or an SUV’s (much sportier than that of the Pilot, for instance).

However, the Pacifica still doesn’t beg to be tossed around. It feels planted, but partly because it feels very heavy. Some heavy vehicles feel lighter than they are. Not this one. Through the wheel and seat of my pants I sensed every one of those 4700 pounds. The front-wheel-drive version might feel a bit lighter on its feet. It might, however, not feel quite as balanced. Without a test drive, I cannot say. Overall, the Pacifica has an edge over Acura’s MDX in handling, but as with that vehicle I felt that the handling was not nearly as entertaining as the brochures promise. Both are best suited for fairly relaxed touring rather than aggressive driving.

The Pacifica's ride generally feels smooth and luxurious, further supporting a touring mission. Engine, wind, and road noise are all very low while cruising. This should be a very comfortable vehicle to travel in.


The Pacifica is arguably the safest vehicle that can be purchased for under $30,000.

As I see it, safety has three components: accident avoidance, crash test scores (which judge how well a vehicle will perform against a similarly heavy vehicle), and sheer mass. With all-wheel-drive the Pacifica weighs nearly 4,800 pounds. While some large SUVs are another half-ton heavier, this still places the Pacifica among the heaviest vehicles you can buy.

The Pacifica makes up for not being the heaviest vehicle you can buy with much better handling than the typical two-and-a-half-tonner and a lower center-of-gravity. The latter should reduce rollover risk relative to a conventional SUV. Other contributors to accident avoidance include ABS and all-wheel-drive. HID headlamps are an option. One notable weakness: stability control is not available, and traction control is only available on the front-drive model.

The Pacifica was designed with outstanding passive safety in mind. It has a very strong structure, side curtain airbags for all three rows (optional on the front-drive model), and even an extra airbag for the driver’s knees. It lacks torso-level side airbags, but these are much less important than the head-protecting curtains. Thanks to these features, the Pacifica has earned top scores in both the government and IIHS crash tests.


Chrysler will be paying Celine Dion fourteen million dollars to sing and appear in their ads for the next few years. I guess she has many fans, but not among anyone I know. Perhaps her fan base is women in their forties and fifties, and this is the market they're after. (I can't imagine many men are crazy about Celine Dion. Except for perhaps a senior exec or two at DCX.) Even so, it doesn't seem like money well spent to me. My wife and I are personally more likely to not buy a Chrysler because someone so "pop" is in all the ads.

Chrysler used to be such an edgy company. Celine sends the signal that they want to go mainstream again. Since the Pacifica isn't a mainstream vehicle, and many of Chrysler's future products won't be either, this seems an odd match.

Update (12-03): A few Chrysler execs lost their jobs in part because of the idiocy of the Celine Dion deal. Ms. Dion will not be appearing in as many ads as originally planned.


For quick, up-to-date pricing, and especially user-specified price comparisons, check out the website I created: www.truedelta.com. Why yet another vehicle pricing website? Well, I personally lacked the patience to keep using the others. They were too slow and required too much effort, especially when trying to compare prices. So I taught myself some programming and created a site where there is no need to dig through option packages, prerequisites, and the like one by one -- the TrueDelta algorithm figures these out for you in one swift pass.

Chrysler wanted to begin a move upscale with the Pacifica, and the vehicle’s sticker price reflects this. Overall, the Pacifica was priced too high. DaimlerChrysler wrongly judged it could instantly charge a premium price for Chrysler products with upgraded materials. Unfortunately for them, consumer perceptions always lag product upgrades, such that it will likely take a few years for consumers to be willing to pay for the cost of the upgraded materials in Chrysler's 2004 and later redesigns. In my original review I stated, "I expect dealer discounting and rebates to soon make the price quite reasonable..." This has happened. Even a base Pacifica can be bought for about $6000 below MSRP.

This will be bad for the brand. Chrysler hopes that the Pacifica will lead the brand's move upmarket, but like other non-Japanese companies it lacks the long-term view to price low at introduction and then raise prices only after the brand's image improves. If they'd priced this vehicle to initially sell at sticker and be in slightly short supply the word-of-mouth would have been tremendous. Instead, dealer discounts and rebates will reinforce Chrysler's old image, and thus delay Chrysler's ability to charge higher prices.

Auto companies need to pay more attention to Lexus's strategy. When the LS 400 was introduced, it was priced at $35,000. The word quickly got out that this was an amazing car for much less money than the Germans. After the car's reputation was established--which did not take long--Lexus ratcheted up prices. Only four year's later the same basic car had a base price of $50,000. Lexus forewent some profits those first few years, but the image gained was well worth it. Prices must reflect the current image, not the desired future image.

Last words

The Pacifica is a unique vehicle, with distinct plusses and minuses compared to a minivan or SUV. Although not as practical as a minivan, the styling is much sportier and the handling somewhat better. Ride and comfort are very good. Versatility and utility are equivalent to a midsize SUV like the Pilot, MDX, or Explorer. However, the level of performance does not match up to the styling. That big grille and wide stance promise more than the powertrain and chassis can deliver. Those into image and comfort over long distances will be well satisfied. Those who enjoy a curving back road will not be.

I have given the Pacifica four stars. If, however, one can be bought for invoice less a $1,000 rebate (i.e. about $30,000 with just leather and all-wheel-drive), I'd add a star, for a total of five.]

Update (12-03): With the rebate up to $3,000 I've added a fifth star.

To learn more about my reliability research and sign up to participate in it, or to perform thorough new car price comparisons, visit www.truedelta.com. A link to this website and alphabetized links to my other vehicle reviews can be found on my profile page.

For detailed discussions by owners, visit the forums at allpar.com.
Amount Paid (US$): 40,400
Model and Options: Loaded AWD
Product Rating: 4.0
Recommended: Yes 

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