As with most every Detroit brand, trucks had assumed critical sales importance for Chrysler by the early 2000s, though Chrysler always sold more cars than trucks, at least through 2005. Still, Town & Country minivans remained big money-spinners for Chrysler dealers, and they became even more sellable for 2005 by exchanging their "Easy Out" rear seats -- which weren't really so easy to move -- for "Stow 'n Go" seats that folded neatly into floorwells with no wrenches and no sweat. The feature was costly to engineer, requiring a completely new undercarriage and leaving no room for optional all-wheel drive, but this Chrysler Group exclusive was understandably popular, a timely innovation in the face of freshly hatched import-brand competition.
Meantime, Chrysler joined the fast-growing market for so-called "crossover" wagons with Pacifica, arriving in 2003 as an early '04 entry. Like others in this new category, it blended attributes of cars and sport-utility vehicles, but emphasized comfort, convenience, and luxury more than most.
Essentially, Pacifica was a reconfigured Chrysler minivan (and thus generally classified as a truck) with a high-profile wagon-style four-door body offering three-row seating for six in a 2-2-2 format. Stow 'n Go was absent here, but the seats did fold easily to form a long, flat cargo deck. Unfortunately, Pacifica ended up too heavy for its 250-bhp 3.5-liter V-6 and four-speed AutoStick transmission, especially with the all-wheel drive available in lieu of front drive.
Price was another issue, as most early units were loaded with options such as leather upholstery, heated first- and second-row seats, power liftgate (a recent minivan addition), navigation system, satellite radio, and rear DVD entertainment. Initial sales were thus as tepid as performance. Chrysler had simply misread the market, perhaps blinded by its stated ambition to become a more-upscale "premium" brand.
But sales turned around once production was adjusted to include more front-drive models with fewer extras. Chrysler then broadened offerings for 2005, adding a base-trim model and a top-line Limited to bracket the original version, which was renamed Touring. The base Pacifica was a five-passenger price-leader with a second-row bench seat, a 215-bhp 3.8-liter V-6, and front-drive only, but its $29,000 sticker looked a lot less scary than the mid-$30,000 tags of some other models.
The initial marketing miscues tended to obscure a pleasant, practical, family friendly vehicle. And to Chrysler's credit, every Pacifica came with antilock brakes and load-leveling rear suspension. AWDs added standard curtain side airbags, power-adjustable pedals, and tire-pressure monitor, all of which were also available for front-drivers. Still, looking at sales through calendar '05, it's unclear whether this "sports tourer" can earn a permanent place in the lineup. Perhaps it will, once people understand exactly what it is.
There was no misunderstanding the new 300 sedans that barged in as early 2005 entries. Big, bold, and brawny, they were cars any die-hard Detroit fan devotee could endorse -- "a complete about-face from the LH cars they replace," as Road & Track observed.
Rear-wheel drive was back. So was a Hemi V-8, though its only links to the past were half-spherical combustion chambers and two pushrod-operated valves per cylinder. Styling, directed by young hotshot Ralph Gillies, was in your face and proud of it: blocky, slab sided, and not a little menacing, with a low "chopped-top" roof and a big, square eggcrate grille intended to evoke memories of 1950s letter-series 300s. It was a sweeping departure from cab forward design, and the public loved it.
Virtually overnight, the new 300 became one of Detroit's hottest sellers, flying out the door at a rate matched only by Ford's redesigned '05 Mustang -- more than 147,000 in the first 13 months of production. It became so popular that fully one fifth of Chrysler Group's solid $1.7 billion 2005 operating profit came from this one line, according to Business Week. It was a key reason why Dieter Zetsche was promoted from Chrysler Group CEO at year's end to head all of DaimlerChrysler.
For more on the amazing Chrysler, old and new, see:
- Chrysler New Car Reviews and Prices
- Chrysler Used Car Reviews and Prices