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Test drive: 2005 Chrysler Pacifica FWD

The Pacifica family's underachiever

About.com Rating 2 Star Rating

By Jason Fogelson

2005 Chrysler Pacifica FWD

2005 Chrysler Pacifica FWD

© Jason Fogelson
SUV or minivan? The 2005 Chrysler Pacifica FWD is betting that you can't decide. You want the comfort and convenience of a minivan, but you want the macho ambiance of an SUV. Trying to do it all in one package, the 2005 Chrysler Pacifica FWD is full of promises and compromises at a base price of $24,315 ($25,740 as tested).

Chrysler backs the Pacifica with a 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty and a 7 year/70,000 mile powertrain warranty. Will that be enough time for you to make up your mind?

First Glance

From the outside, Chrysler seems to have hit upon something unique. The Pacifica's elegant lines give a sense of movement and sleekness. There's a hint of art deco streamlining in the design, which works well with the Chrysler logo and corporate grill. The Pacifica's dual projector headlight housings are arched and expressive, a little like the new BMW designs. In fact, the overall design bears some similarity to the BMW X5.

The Pacifica is a substantial vehicle, yet its proportions are human. At just over 66", the roofline is not particularly high, and at 5.9" ground clearance is automobile-like. The decidedly un-fussy exterior of the Pacifica displays excellent fit and finish, with nice paint quality and uniform gaps. I drove a Pacifica with "Linen Gold Metallic Pearl" paint (a $150 option), which looked fine. As I spotted other Pacificas in my neighborhood, I noticed that the vehicle looks even better in black or white. Which all begs the question: What is this thing?

As far as I can tell, the Pacifica is best defined by describing what it is not. It's too big to be a station wagon, too small to be an SUV. It's not a van, mini or otherwise. Is it a whole new category of vehicle? If so, I'm not quite sure what that category is.

In the Driver's Seat

2005 Chrysler Pacifica dashboard

2005 Chrysler Pacifica: Tiny markings make the gauges difficult to read

© Jason Fogelson
Once you slide into the driver's seat of the Pacifica, the mists begin to clear. I know this feeling, this driving position, these amenities. I'm in a minivan!

Don't panic, it still looks cool on the outside. Look around. At least you're in a nice minivan. Cabin materials are generally high quality and tastefully chosen. Simple climate controls feature separate temperature slides for driver and passenger, a nice luxury touch. The cool looking power seat controls are conveniently mounted on the doors and look like little seats, a nice touch and a welcome change from tiny levers jammed on the side of the seat where you can't reach them.

The seats themselves, however, are torturous. Covered with a tweedy fabric that is totally unfriendly to the skin, they are flat and uncomfortable for any length of ride.

The gauge cluster on the Pacifica is useless. Red mechanical indicators arc across illuminated numbers on a black background. The problem is that despite acres of space, the numbers are small and so are the indicators, making a quick reading of the gauges a challenge, especially in daylight. I was unnerved every time I tried to get an accurate bead on my speed in the Pacifica - exactly the opposite of what you want from your gauges.

On the Road

Wheeze.

I wish I had tested the Touring edition of the Pacifica instead of the FWD. With a 3.8 L V-6 eking out 210 hp with two valves per cylinder, the Pacifica FWD feels underpowered, especially when accelerating. The Touring edition comes standard with a 3.5 L V-6 with a higher compression ration and four valves per cylinder. Despite its smaller displacement it manages to crank out 250 hp, which would be a better motivator for this 4300-pound-plus vehicle.

A quick glance under the hood of the Pacifica is a bit of a jolt - there's a lot of empty space under there! Let's hope that Chrysler develops a bigger motor that takes advantage of all that space. How about a hot rod rear drive Pacifica?

Handling is fine, by front wheel drive minivan standards, without too much body roll. 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes help haul the Pacifica to a stop in predictable fashion. This is a sedate vehicle for a family trip, as long as your family isn't too big. Three kids would be comfortable in the back seat. The Pacifica FWD makes due without a third row of seating, so it has a substantial cargo hold with a low (28.3") load floor.

Just plan your fun for your arrival, because you're not going to have a whole lot of fun piloting the Pacifica FWD.

Journey's End

2005 Chrysler Pacifica rear view

2005 Chrysler Pacifica: Plenty of cargo space but no 3rd row seat

© Jason Fogelson
So how do you evaluate a vehicle that doesn't fit neatly into any one category? Just like you would evaluate any vehicle: Compare it to your needs. How well does the Pacifica FWD work?

After spending some time with this vehicle, I'd measure it against other minivans, because that's what it's closest to in function. Be sure and check out the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna and even the Chrysler Town and Country/Dodge Grand Caravan before you buy a Pacifica. They all cost a little more than the base Pacifica, but they work better as minivans, too.

If you lean more toward the SUV end of the scale, check the Buick Rendezvous, Ford Freestyle and Subaru Forester.

The Pacifica may slide into your life with streamlined grace, or you may discover that a more narrowly targeted vehicle is right for you. If you are still leaning toward the Pacifica after all that, raid your piggy bank for the FWD Touring edition ($28,895 base), or even the AWD Limited Edition ($37,215 base). Chrysler throws a lot of options into the package at those price points.

In the battle between form and function, the 2005 Pacifica FWD treads a middle ground. Form wins out over function and it's a heavy loss in a vehicle that will likely become the family's daily driver.
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