Minivans are back, and in a big way.
AWD was clearly identified as lacking in the past – it’s available on both these vans.
Closer than ever to SUVs in character but still far superior in almost every way.
Minivans are not exactly making a comeback… At least, not in their current form. We’d venture a guess that when EVs become more common-place, we might celebrate the return of the real utility vehicle but until then, the segment will remain limited to four main players in the form of the Kia Sedona, Honda Odyssey and our two participants in this comparison, the new 2021 Chrysler Pacifica (there’s also the Voyager) and the all-new 2021 Toyota Sienna.
Let’s being with the Pacifica. Introduced just over three years ago, the new Chrysler magic-wagon took the Dodge Grand Caravan’s winning elements, save for one, and raised them all to the next level. The new Pacifica delivered styling, luxury, and elegance that were until then, all but absent from Canada’s favorite affordable family vehicle. While praise was generally high, FCA omitted the Grand Caravan’s affordability factor and priced itself in mid-trim Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna territory where it failed to properly compete.
A little over two years later, FCA re-introduced the Voyager name in the US and slapped it on a de-contented Pacifica to replace the aging Grand Caravan. A similar thing will happen in Canada however we think the Grand Caravan nameplate should remain – the name is nearly a brand unto itself. We’ve digressed a little but the fact is that FCA is still very much invested in the minivan segment and the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica is exhibit A.
The same can be said about Toyota. The all-new 2021 Sienna is a ground-up rebuild of its popular minivan. In a way, Toyota’s pulled out all the stops preparing their new minivan. The Sienna was the last monocoque vehicle not to ride on Toyota’s TNGA-K Platform and it is this building block that’s transformed it into what we think will be a segment buster.
You may denote a certain tinge of excitement on our behalf when it comes to these minivans, and you’d be right. Despite being young cool cats, for the most part, we all have families and there will never be a better family vehicle than a minivan. These two are poised to be the best ever.
What is the pricing and when will they be available?
As we write up this comparison, neither brand has yet revealed pricing for their new minivans. We are however not expecting to be blown away by their affordability.
The 2020 Chrysler Pacifica L, as stated earlier, isn’t cheap as it starts at $39,790 before incentives. A 2020 Pacifica Limited, without options, starts at $57,090 (without AWD as it is not available) while a Pacifica Hybrid Limited retails for $60,590. We assume a 2021 Pacifica will surely however about the $40k mark to start. For 2021, the base Pacifica will be the Touring, leaving room for the lower-priced Voyager.
The story is very much the same for the 2020 Toyota Sienna. The basic CE begins at $35,750 while a loaded XLE Limited AWD goes for $54,590. For 2021, given that a hybrid powertrain will be standard, we’re guessing that a cool $40k will be a starting point. The entry-level 2021 Sienna will be the LE which further supports the projected price.
Which Has The More efficient Powertrain?
Despite appearances, these minivans are about value. One argument in support of this is that both will be offered with hybrid powertrains.
The big difference is that the 2021 Toyota Sienna will solely be offered with an electrified engine. The naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine and its accompanying two electric motors, as part of the Toyota Hybrid System II, generate a total system output of 243-horsepower.
Toyota will never boast that this is a sporty minivan even though the van does include selectable EV, NORMAL, ECO and SPORT driving modes. What it will tout is the Sienna’s manufacturer-estimated 7.1 L/100km combined fuel consumption. The currently available information does not specify that this data is for the FWD Sienna but we’re quite certain it’s the case.
As we’ve said, Toyota’s pulled all the stops and another reason for saying so is that their Electronic on-demand AWD will be optional for all trims. The layout is identical to that of the Highlander hybrid and the Prius where the rear axle uses a separate independent electric motor to power the wheels. Depending on driving conditions and driver demand, torque distribution varies 20:80 (FR: RR) on slippery surfaces and up to 100:0 in constant-speed or normal-load driving. While it won’t directly require petrol, it will increase the van’s weight and draw extra power from the battery.
In the Chrysler Pacifica’s corner, the minivan’s base powertrain is the well-known 3.6-litre V6. The latter packs a nice 287-horsepower punch and it will be with this mill that Chrysler will offer the optional AWD system. More sophisticated and capable than the Sienna’s, it will also consume a fair amount more fuel even when the rear axle is not in use.
Then, there’s the Pacifica hybrid which is in fact a PHEV, or plug-in hybrid. Also based on the 3.6-litre V6 but unlike it, the 260-horsepower PHEV will only be offered with FWD. But because it features plug-in technology, it can travel, in the best of times, up to 50 km on electric power alone. Even so, depending heavily on driving conditions, the PHEV will return an average between 7.5 and 8L/100km, which is more than the Sienna FWD and like on par with added AWD.
This hybrid powertrain comparison raises the PHEV dilemma which, to this day, still seems like a waste of money, not to mention space.
What About Style And Space?
This is what minivans are really all about, the space, not styling. Although, we must say that both vans look good.
The new 2021 Pacifica has taken numerous hints from SUVs and sedans in FCA’s lineup and to be frank, the updated van is far more attractive than the original. The previous, or current Sienna is handsome and for the new van, Toyota designers successfully crossed it with a new Highlander – it almost seems as though there’s an SUV trying to exit the Sienna’s body.
Now, about interior volume, liveability, cargo room, and such thing. These minivans, like the other two, are absolute champs when it comes to moving in with the kids, the grandparents, and so on. There is one immense difference between these two vehicle’s and it’s an undeniable advantage for the Chrysler Pacifica: the available Stow & Go 2nd-row seating.
Interior dimensions and other related details for the new 2021 Toyota Sienna have not yet been shared other than there will be available Super Long Slide 2nd-row captain chairs which slide 25 inches. In Toyota Sienna and Highlander tradition, we expect that there will be plenty of smart storage spots, and room or eight or seven based on selected configurations.
As for the Pacifica, seating for eight will be limited to the FWD V6 models. Both the AWD and PHEV offer up seating for seven. Cargo volume is unaffected by the powertrain. As such, the volume behind the 3rd row is 915 litres, behind the 2nd, 2,478 litres and 3,979 litres behind the first. As a matter of comparison, the 2020 Sienna’s numbers are, respectively, 1,110 litres and 2,470 litres. There’s no data for absolute max cargo volume – the Stow & Go difference.
Interestingly, the Sienna will tow up to 3,500 lbs while the activity is not recommended for the Pacifica PHEV. The V6 Pacifica will tow up to 3,600 lbs.
Which is better equipped?
These minivans will not only swing their cargo capacity and fuel efficiency as reasons to be considered. Technology, safety, and other amenities will be just as important for parents footing the bills.
The 2021 Toyota Sienna will be equipped as standard with a heated steering wheel and front seats, second-row sunshades, a 9-inch touchscreen display, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, 7 USB ports and tonnes more. On the safety front, the Sienna will get Toyota Safety Sense (TSS 2.0) which features Pre-Collision System, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Lane Trace Assist, and more.
The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica will not be outdone here. FCA’s new Uconnect 5 will be standard and include a 10.1-inch screen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM satellite radio, second-row sunshades, and other features. A heated steering wheel and front seats are part of an optional package, as are most of the above-mentioned safety elements that are standard in the Toyota.
How important are these vehicles for their respective brands?
Given that minivans are, even from a North American point of view, a nearly lost cause, neither Toyota or FCA have massive volumes planned for the vehicles.
At FCA, the Pacifica was a complete flop the first time around in the early 2000s and, in its second life, hasn’t lived up to expectations. Going forward, the rebadged de-contented Pacifica, which will earn Voyager moniker in Canada, will be more important to Chrysler than this new 2021 van. Across the showroom lies the aging Dodge Durango which will be heavily discounted just ahead of the new version’s arrival sometime in 2021. Despite the Pacifica being a more utilitarian vehicle, SUVs will trump it.
At Toyota, it’s more or less the same. While a huge amount of effort has gone into the Sienna, the Highlander and RAV4 will both continue to cast a huge shadow on the minivan. The reason for making all Siennas hybrids is, more than for fleet efficiency, a result of cost-cutting measures – one platform, one engine, with or without a rear-mounted electric motor.
While these minivans are not critical in either OEM’s lineup, they are crucial for many Canadian families. Both the 2021 Pacifica and 2021 Sienna are tempting however the combination of hybrid motivation and AWD motivates us to select the Sienna over the Chrysler.