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2006 Chrysler Pacifica

Martha Hindes

Chrysler Pacifica
Chrysler Pacifica Interior

Chrysler's well-established, front-drive Pacifica crossover comes in a three delicious flavors for 2006: Base, Touring and AWD Limited. But one question seems to remain. What exactly is it. A wagon? A minivan? A sport utility? The answer would probably be a lot of all three. This five- or six-seater fits lots of uses, has a distinct appearance that's spawned some look alikes, and fits a comfortable usability niche that's neither boring nor radical.

One wouldn't think of Pacifica styling as lean and mean. Instead, it evokes a sense of comfortable solidity, with a rakish, contemporary window line sweeping upward and back, and some trim color changes for '06. Profile-enhancing low level roof rails provide stowage for excess gear -- if the high-riding, spacious interior isn't quite enough.

The inside layout is handsome and accessible, with no nav system to clutter up controls on the center stack. That's because Pacifica sports one of the most sensible ones we've seen in a long time, recessed behind the steering wheel arch, surrounded by the sweep of speedometer numbers. (Great for driving directions, front and center, as long as it's set up in park.) That also leaves more room for Sirius satellite radio browsing, or new MP3 DVD audio for '06, among high tech adds.

Backing up can be a little iffy in the Pacifica until one gets used to the girth. But our test model included auto curb viewing side mirror (new for '06) and a backup system that blinks and dings when an obstacle behind is too close. We didn't try to test its race capabilities, with 3.5-liter V-6 power and volumes of interior cargo room suggesting not to, but found it handled quite nicely during routine driving. The sporty quotient, especially for families disdainful of minivans, adds appeal.

During development, Chrysler dubbed the Pacifica the "Handsome Protector." With the addition of three-row side curtain airbags, driver's inflatable knee blocker and advanced multi-stage air bags, it appears to be living up to the safety hype, all for around $30 K and up.