Only four* minivans remain for sale in Canada in 2021.
All are fresh from a full overhaul or a recent update.
Minivans are no longer simple people movers.
The minivan is the most unloved vehicle type available for sale in North America – this isn’t news. What is most striking about this fact is that, without exception, the segment represents the most versatile way to go about our daily activities, no matter what they may be.
The new-car market understood the minivan’s worth in the late-90s and 2000s. So useful and popular was the minivan that, at any point in this period, there were about a dozen models to select from. Between Ford (Mercury), GM (Chevy, Oldsmobile, Buick, Saturn, Pontiac), Chrysler (Dodge, Chrysler, Plymouth), Nissan, Mazda, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, and Volkswagen, wise families had numerous options. Beyond that, there were different sizes, and many were quite affordable.
The 2010s were cruel to the segment as about 2/3 of all models were cut and replaced by trendy and compromised SUVs. Today, only four (*Chrysler and Dodge models bundled) remain offered for sale and in brief, they have little to do with the minivans many of you grew up in. For one, these four minivans all offer very distinct personalities as, for the most part, they are partially attempting to distract buyers from the fact that they are minivans.
Before diving into the comparison test, we want to note that all the tested vehicles were top-trim models and with near certainty, not the versions you will shop for or should even consider. The participants in this comparison test were, in alphabetical order: The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle AWD ($66,765), 2021 Honda Odyssey Touring ($55,990), 2022 Kia Carnival SX ($48,545), and the 2021 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD ($58,190).
And so, in order, here are the results of this minivan battle:
#4: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica
There’s no doubt that Chrysler has the most to lose in this segment. Knowing this, FCA/Stellantis has purposefully split the Pacifica into two vehicles, one being the Chrysler Grand Caravan (in Canada), or the “old” Pacifica, and the other, the premium SUV-fighting new Pacifica.
The company’s desire to move their offering away from the segment’s negative connotation is evident in many respects and is, in small part, responsible for the Pacifica’s ranking.
Physically, the Chrysler Pacifica isn’t larger than the others but somehow its presence is heavier, as is its curb weight. But it certainly drives bigger. Despite holding the largest displacement engine in the 3.6-litre V6 and the second most power at 287 horsepower, the Pacifica labours more than the others to get up to speed. While the 9-speed automatic transmission does a fine job at dispensing the power, even it can’t much help the minivan from guzzling less than 14L/100km.
On the road, the Pacifica rides and handles like a heavy and burdened SUV. Compared to the others, it lacks a level of refinement that almost feels as though was removed for effect. Perhaps it’s to do with the 20-inch wheels, but NVH levels are greater here than in any other minivan. The weight delivers a sense of substance but does little else good.
The cabin is superbly appointed. We give FCA’s Uconnect5 system plenty of points for ease of use and display quality, and dashboard ergonomics are good. The disappointment onboard comes from the 2nd row that, when equipped with the Pinnacle-only captain seats, it loses its Stow’n Go ability. The same row is also limited by the fact that it does not slide fore and aft, a proven useful feature.
Another issue is the suggested retail price. As tested, we were all but completely unable to justify the $10,000 premium over the Sienna in this test. Even with the incentives taken into account, other than finer leathers, the Pacifica offers nothing extra. The better option here is the Touring-L with AWD.
#3: 2022 Kia Carnival
The Carnival, aka Sedona, is the surprise entry in this quartet. In actuality, it’s not a surprise as Kia’s current run of new vehicles is nothing short of remarkable. The Sorento, Seltos, and Telluride provide consumers with content, design, and tremendous value.
The all-new Carnival is much the same, and more. With a base price of $34,495 for the LX, the Kia minivan is the most affordable all the while being packed with an incredible number of features. The LX+, at $37,995, is less expensive (before incentives) than a basic Grand Caravan and features alloy wheels, power doors, heated seats and steering wheel, and is the version we believe is the wisest option.
The SX differs from the others for its 2nd row VIP lounge captain seats. For the average family, they serve little purpose. The seats themselves do slide side-to-side and fore and aft however cannot be removed. All other versions include an 8-passenger setup with a removable 2nd row. Like the 8-passenger Odyssey, the central seating position can be fully removed.
Unlike the other members in the segment, the Carnival, the luxury sedan of the lot, is available with twin 12.3-inch screens for a truly premium and modern look. This approach is obvious across the dashboard as fit, finish, and materials are nothing short of upscale.
Furthermore, the Kia Carnival’s 290-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 and 8-speed automatic transmission rival the Odyssey’s powertrain configuration in responsiveness and smoothness of operation. The only small flaw is the transmission’s occasional hunting between 1st and 2nd gear when leaving from a full stop. The ride quality is brilliant with plenty of comforting damping and surefooted handling.
To be honest, the Carnival could have taken the honours in this test had it not been for projected reliability, ownership costs along with expected depreciation. In spite of the impressive content, the Kia showed signs that some corners may have been cut in order to keep pricing low. The vehicle’s 12L/100km fuel consumption and lack of AWD sealed the deal and relegated it to this position.
#2 2021 Toyota Sienna
The Toyota Sienna, despite its possibly exaggerated front grille, is the most no-nonsense minivan. It promises little more than comfort, utility, and efficiency, and flawlessly delivers on every point. It’s the minivan of current minivans.
But not all is perfect as everyone who participated in this test found the Sienna to be down on power. More specifically, short on passing or merging power with its combined 245 horsepower. Off the line, the AWD’s extra electric motor provides a rewarding dose of initial torque for superb urban driving. However, the eCVT and typically noisy and harsh 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine ruin the experience. The quiet limited electric range is abruptly disturbed by the petrol engine and under medium to hard acceleration, the eCVT’s programming annoyingly holds engine speeds.
Outside of the faintly less-than-perfect powertrain lies a generally comfortable and capable chassis. With the included 18-inch wheels and tires, our tester proved docile over rougher surfaces, albeit not as composed as the Kia or Honda. The Sienna remains extremely competent in all driving situations. Steering and brakes are up to expectations.
The cabin and dashboard, although not terribly attractive, are the most utilitarian as they afford the most storage solutions. The main offender is the 9-inch touchscreen’s antiquated display and graphics. The Sienna does provide when fitted with the 2nd-row long slide captain seats, the best possible seating configuration. The simple fact that the captain seats can travel as much brings the rear passengers closer to the front or, when needed, create an enormous area to tend to the kids’ needs when immobile – a blessing in winter.
With the exception of its incredible average 7L/100km fuel efficiency and second-row versatility, it wins in no other category. Even so, the Sienna only comes in last when overall power is debated – in every other respect, it’s second or third. This is why we think it is the most well-rounded minivan in the segment. But taking the honours in only two aspects kept it from the top spot.
#1 2021 Honda Odyssey
The fact that the Honda Odyssey wins this comparison if by a very slim margin, is the result of its packaging, reputation, and overall driving experience.
Although the Odyssey is not the most spacious or versatile, it too scores high in a sufficient number of sections to make it our favorite. This minivan has no true shortcoming other than being offered only with FWD and its 12L/100km fuel consumption. That’s really all there is to point out, or nearly.
Everyone who participated in this review is a parent who still thoroughly enjoys the task of driving. It is this typically Honda connection that all of us felt that drew us in. The Odyssey is the lightest, most agile, and nimble minivan of the lot. It’s the easiest drive as it doesn’t respond in the way its overall size might suggest.
The Honda’s powertrain is also our favorite. The 280-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 engine and 10-speed automatic transmission are a match made in heaven. Despite being the “weakest” V6 in the category, the Odyssey seems quickest and most responsive. The transmission seamlessly glides from gear to gear under normal cruising. Should the need for power arise, the V6 and 10-speed will happily oblige.
The ride quality is exceptional in the way that the chassis delivers comforting damping all the while limiting body-roll with sharp-for-a-minivan reflexes. The best way to describe the driving experience is that it is refined and satisfying.
If we needed to find another flaw with the Honda Odyssey, we’d point out the dashboard’s less than ideal shifter “buttons” and its overall presentation. Also, starting at $43,105, the Odyssey EX-RES is the most expensive base minivan in the segment. We’re trying here…
The 2021 Honda Odyssey (and 2022) is the sports car of the group and the most fulfilling to command.
You might have noticed that we barely touch on styling in this review. The reasons are simple: 1- The review is long enough and 2- This aspect is entirely subjective. When we quickly discussed this topic amongst ourselves, we all agreed that the Kia was the standout if mostly because of its premium SUV-like design but could not come to truly criticize the others. Some may find the Sienna hideous, others may find the Odyssey too stunted, while others could point out that the Pacifica is unconvincingly trying hard not to be a minivan. Whatever tickles your fancy.
There’s a shift taking place in the segment at the moment. For seemingly ever, the Chrysler minivans have reigned supreme. At one point, combined sales from Chrysler and Dodge vehicles nearly outnumbered all others combined. Lately, FCA/Stellantis’ recent minivan brand and name shuffling looks to have confused a number of consumers as the once insurmountable gap is rapidly narrowing.
The new offerings and the old favorites, namely the Sienna and Odyssey, have gained much ground. In fact, so far this year, the all-new Toyota Sienna is leading all sales in Canada and is second only to the Pacifica, by only a few thousand units, in the US. A full year of Kia Carnival sales will undoubtedly further hurt Chrysler’s share of the segment.
Finally, the ranking is based on subjective and objective ratings as well as personal preferences. Among us four, one selected the Carnival as their favorite while another preferred the Sienna, and yet another picked the Odyssey. The final member was equally torn between the Odyssey and the Sienna.
The bottom line is that today’s minivans are not what they once were. Like the giraffe, of which we now know there are four distinct species, these four vehicles are minivans by name, but each delivers a divergent personality. In our book, both the Honda Odyssey narrowly positioned ahead of the Sienna, and the Toyota has the most family-friendly temperaments.