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2004 Chrysler Pacifica by TCC Team (3/10/2003)
Expanding the crossover/wagon/SUV argument one niche at a time.
Daimler/Chrysler has had a darn good run with its front-drive LH large-car platform, which together with its minivan business provided Chrysler with a foundation for financial stability and improved product quality while consistently providing excellent consumer value. Its distinctive (at the time) “cab-forward” design influenced car packaging throughout the entire industry and (for better or worse) helped NASCAR standardize body templates.
But the LH is entering its sunset years. The upcoming LX platform proves that management is obviously reassessing large cars—witness the recent unveiling of the wagonesque Dodge Magnum SRT-8 “sports tourer.” Chrysler execs say that about 90 percent of what was seen in the Magnum will see the light of production when the LX rolls out mid-2004. “Cab-forward” design is being bid auf wiedersehn, that’s for sure, traction shifts to the rear wheels (yippee!) and—finally—there’ll be power aplenty, although it won’t be in the form of the supercharged 5.7-liter hemi V8 tucked under the Magnum’s long hood—at least not right away.
In the meantime, the best package for Mopar enthusiasts is the Dodge Intrepid SXT. The SXT was introduced as a consolation prize in mid-2002 after the Intrepid R/T package bit the dust, retaining the R/T’s engine and suspension mods but cutting back on more luxe items. The Intrepid is still a fine-looking large sedan, and the SXT provides enough visual cues to remind that the Viper is a distant relation. The interior is roomy and well appointed for the price. The beefed-up suspension provides fine handling and reasonably sharp maneuverability. The naturally-aspirated 3.5-liter Magnum V6 is a spirited enough mill and is coupled to one of the better “manumatics” currently in play.
Electronic control of the trick manifold allows Dodge to boost output of the SOHC, 24-valve engine to 244 hp at 6400 rpm. Peak torque is 250 lb-ft at 3,950 rpm. Torque is abundant down low but plateaus a bit towards the high end of the power band, so the ability to shift early with the manumatic is welcome.
The Intrepid SXT is one smooth character on the road. The chassis is quite rigid, minimizing NVH values and exhibiting only a tad of cowl shake (despite the aluminum beam mounted behind the dash panel) on the extreme winter surfaces our upstate New York winters provide. Tuned for touring, the suspension utilizes MacPherson struts in front, coupled to a 25-mm stabilizer bar, and Chapmans in the rear. The chromed 16-inch aluminum wheels were shod with P225/60 Goodyear Eagle GAs, which provided surprisingly good traction during our snowy week with the car. Our tester was also outfitted with optional ABS disc brakes ($500), which helped keep dramatics to a minimum.
Exterior fit and finish is excellent. Material quality inside is a little inconsistent — the cloth covering the quite comfortable and supportive seats is top-notch, but the leather covering the steering wheel and shift lever has the effect of cheapening the use of panel plastics. Gauges and controls are well laid out and highly visible.
There isn’t too much to complain about. A manual shifter would be nice. Visibility to the sides and rear could be better. With the optional moonroof, headroom for six-footers starts to get a little tight. Liftover height to the cavernous, 18-cubic-foot trunk is high. The engine gets a bit whiny when pressed, and tire noise is excessive.
But that’s about it for the beefs. What shines about the Intrepid SXT is the fact that you get reasonable levels of performance and room for just $24,655 — value that allows the Intrepid SXT to exit the scene a winner.
2003 Dodge Intrepid SXT
Base price: $24,655; as tested: $27,800
Engine: 3.5-liter SOHC V-6, 244 hp
Drivetrain: Four-speed automatic
Length x width x height: 203.7 x 74.7 x 55.9 in
Wheelbase: 113.0 in
Curb weight: 3,548 lb
EPA fuel economy (city/hwy): 19/27 mpg
Safety equipment: Front airbags, supplemental side airbags (optional), LATCH child seat anchor system, front seatbelt height adjustments, side steel door beams, remote keyless entry, trunk anti-trap device, ABS (optional)
Major standard equipment: Power disc brakes, AM/FM/compact disc 120-watt stereo with six speakers, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, eight-way power driver’s seat, speed control, tilt steering column, fog lamps, chrome aluminum wheels, decklid spoiler
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles (bumper-to-bumper); seven years/70,000 miles (drivetrain)