The minivan may be the most useful family vehicle ever invented.
Pull out the seats and most can haul 4
3 8-ft sheets of building material.
Put the seats back and it hauls four to eight people. Rearrange the seats and it carries four with lots of luggage and more legroom than a Lexus. Chrysler invented the vehicle and is the first to attempt a reinvention with the Pacifica. The first minivan was a home run. This one? A solid double. Of course it's a station wagon, but a chic and modern station wagon.
It looks fresh inside and out, but that's to be expected in today's market. Like the original Caravan, this one has a roomy cabin for passengers front and back. Seats are just an inch or two higher than our family sedan and that makes for effortless entering and exiting. Once inside, the features that make the car such a pleasant experience are not the options (like adjustable pedals) but little standard things like the ignition key on the dash instead of in the steering column, and seat controls high on the door and shaped like a profile seat so passengers instantly know which switch does what. And some options are actually useful. For instance, the power rear lift gate was not the pointless function I expected. On the morning of a weekend trip, I approached the car with arms full of luggage. Hitting the button opened the rear hatch so I could promptly put everything right inside.
A few other notable standard features include multistage driver and front passenger air bags, a four-wheel independent suspension, a universal garage-door opener, and sunscreen glass. Other useful options included the power lift gate and supplemental side-curtain air bags.
The ride is wonderfully smooth and vibration-free while handling remained crisp and controlled. The ride was so smooth, I thought our city had finally fixed a particular long-neglected bump near the house. But a couple days later in my regular car, I found the bump back where it always was. The Pacifica fixed the road, at least momentarily.
The standard 3.5-liter six-cylinder engine pumps out 250 hp, which is plenty. It provides adequate acceleration for city driving and power to pass. The four-speed automatic seems geared toward mileage because it quickly works its way through the gears and into overdrive. I averaged 22 mpg, not as good as I'd expect, but the trip combined lots of stop-and-go and hills. EPA ratings are 17/23 mpg.
The quest for higher mileage is a worthy goal, but it has introduced a couple annoying characteristics into automobile design. For one, air-conditioning units seem weaker, incapable of cooling a car on really warm days. Temperatures around here regularly climb into the 80s with relative humidity a few points ahead. But the car's air conditioning produced a stream of air only slightly cooler than outside temperatures. A few Toyotas suffer the same flaw. And then the cruise control would not hold speed on long hills. Speed would drop off 10 mph. But touching the gas brought the car up to speed. So the power is there.
And while I'm grousing, let me mention one transmission function. A gearselection feature lets drivers tap the selector lever toward a plus or minus sign on a faceplate. Doing so instructs the transmission to up or downshift. A lot of foreign nameplates are fond of this " feature." But lets clear up one thing: This silliness is not shifting, it's playing. I'd be willing to bet drivers experiment with it once, and never use it again. Get rid off it and drop the price $200.
A base-model Pacifica comes with most of the right features for about $25,000. And market forces are pounding that figure closer to $23,000. While a standard Touring edition comes well equipped for $27,570. Our version included options that bumped the price to $31,245.