2006 Chrysler Pacifica Touring AWD Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2006 Chrysler Pacifica Touring AWD

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Chrysler

What to do if you need the ability to carry five or six adults in comfort on a regular basis, and don't want a sport-utility or a minivan? While there are surviving full-sized sedans, you likely see them as cars for your parents, or grandparents. And, while six-passenger versions of some mid-sized sedans are offered, a) see above, and b) be honest. A mid-sized sedan is really not big enough for six adults to fit in comfort.

Which leaves the Chrysler Pacifica. Chrysler combined the best traits of a car, an SUV, and a minivan to create yet another new automotive niche, the ``sport tourer''. It offers seating for five in 2+3 trim, or six arranged 2+2+2 - plus luggage - and available all-wheel drive, wrapped up in a distinctive and space-efficient two-box shape.

When the Pacifica was introduced for the 2004 model year, there was one trim level, with 2+2+2 seating, powered by a 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower V6 and AutoStick transmission, in front- or all-wheel drive form. The lineup expanded in both directions last year, with a 2+3 base model powered by a 210-hp 3.8-liter engine and the fully-equipped all-wheel drive Limited. The core model was renamed Touring. Changes for 2006 are minimal, highlighted by new rearview mirrors, a larger glovebox, and an available 6-disc in-dash changer than can play most varieties of CDs and DVDs.

I've spent the past very wet week with an all-wheel drive 2006 Pacifica Touring. It's been an interesting and eminently practical vehicle, with an enormous amount of interior space in footprint not much larger than a mid-sized SUV. ``2+2'' in the context of a sports coupe is a polite way to say ``vestigial rear seat so maybe your insurance company will think it's really a family sedan and give you a break,'' and third-row seats in even mid-sized SUVs are often best left for small children. Here, the design spec was six real adults, and it will hold all six in comfort, although the two in the third row should be under 5-7 or so. Fold-flat second and third rows allow the cargo versatility of an SUV or minivan, without the SUV's high lift factor. In appointment, the Pacifica Touring AWD is solidly placed in the entry-luxury class commensurate with its low-to-mid $30,000 price point. Power and handling are more ``touring'' than ``sports,'' but very well-suited for touring in style and comfort. No need to travel light, either.

APPEARANCE: Two boxes does not necessarily a minivan make. While there is a certain family similarity between the Pacifica and Chrysler's Town & Country minivan, the Pacifica's proportions are, well, sportier. As in significantly lower, with much sleeker lines. It says ``road trip!'' more than ``soccer practice.'' It is unique, only slightly taller than a car and noticeably lower than a minivan, and totally unlike any wagon (or any other vehicle) ever made. The shape, as much as the winged Chrysler eggcrate grille, establishes its parentage, and a wedge side profile created by the lower window line and reinforced by a strong character line beneath that do give a sporty touch. It's styled but not over-styled.

COMFORT: Inside, the Pacifica in Touring AWD trim is a contemporary entry-luxury vehicle with a difference - room for six, no crowding. Attractively understated styling and high-grade materials, including leather seating surfaces, give it greater elegance than a minivan, and it's more carlike than any SUV. But this car has a very long interior. The front two rows offer first-class accommodation, with good comfort for a wide range of passengers and plenty of elbow room. Those in the front row are power-adjustable, with door-mounted iconic controls that look to come from the other half of the DaimlerChrysler group. The driver has a pleasant environment, with good visibility and control access. The backlit main instruments are readily visible in all light, and the main and auxiliary controls are well-positioned. While the second-row seats are manually-adjustable, adjustment includes both fore-and-aft movement and back angle - all the better to accommodate almost any size passenger. Legroom varies from tight to long-wheelbase premium luxury. If heated seats are ordered, both the first and second rows are so-equipped. Access to the third row is reasonably easy, and while it's not as spacious as the first two, it's not an afterthought. It's certainly not steerage, and the theater-like raised seating of both rear rows improves passenger views of both the scenery and the optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system. An optional power tailgate adds convenience. There are useful storage spaces and cupholders around the interior.

SAFETY: The Pacifica has earned a five-star rating in Federal front- and side-impact tests when equipped with the optional three-row side-curtain air bags. It also got the highest rating in its class - four stars - in rollover protection, and a ``Best Pick'' from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in frontal offset crash performance.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Sport? Not really. Touring? Definitely. Weighing in at over two tons, with a 116.3-inch wheelbase, and nearly 200 inches long, the laws of physics work against the Pacifica being very sporty. It just isn't going to carve through corners like a sports car, and, if it did, the attitude of the passengers in the back toward the driver might not be pleasant. But at a more reasonable pace - call it ``a touring pace'' - on highways and byways, the Pacifica is pleasant for both driver and passengers. A fully-independent suspension, with struts in front and a multi-link system in the rear, ensures comfort and stable handling. Good soundproofing keeps minivan-like interior boominess at bay, helping to improve the touring experience. Load it up with people and cargo, the Chrysler Pacifica was born to go for distance. The all-wheel drive system helps maintain traction in inclement weather, and I was glad to have it during a week of constant and often heavy rain.

PERFORMANCE: The Pacifica's 3.5-liter single overhead cam V6 makes 250 horsepower at 6400 rpm, with 250 lb-ft of torque at 3950. That moves 4500 or so pounds of Pacifica reasonably well, with a 0-60 time of just over nine seconds. The standard AutoStick four-speed automatic allows easy manual shifting for the driver's pleasure and some improvement in performance, but is not a necessity in daily operation.

CONCLUSIONS: With the Pacifica, Chrysler pioneers yet another new vehicular niche, adding the space and versatility of a minivan or SUV with the poise of a car.

SPECIFICATIONS

2006 Chrysler Pacifica Touring AWD

Base Price			$ 31,165
Price As Tested			$ 35,870
Engine Type			single overhead cam 24-valve V6
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 215 cu. in.
Horsepower			250 @ 6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			250 @ 3950 rpm
Transmission			4-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		116.3 in. / 198.9 in.
Curb Weight			4593 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		18.4
Fuel Capacity			23 gal.
Fuel Requirement		89-octane unleaded mid-grade gasoline
Tires				P235/65 HR17 Michelin MXV4 Pilot
Brakes, front/rear              vented disc / solid disc,
				         antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy  - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		17 / 22 / 18
0 to 60 mph				9.3  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Inferno Red Crystal Pearl Coat paint		$   225
Customer Preferred Package 26U - includes:
  heated front and second-row seats, all-row
  side-curtain airbags, automatic headlamps,
  foglamps, auto-dimming rearview mirror,
  power folding auto-dim outside mirrors,
  memory for driver's seat, mirrors, pedals,
  and radio, power liftgate, power-adjustable
  pedals, AM/FM/cass/6-CD changer audio	$2,280
Sirius satellite radio				$   195
ParkSense(tm) backup system			$   285
Rear-seat DVD entertainment system		$   990
Destination charge				$   730
  

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