Minivans are the ultimately urban utility vehicles. We compare the Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica, two AWD segment standouts.
Minivans aren’t usually in the news, even the automotive news. By the early aughts, this former mainstay of American driveways was already losing its battle with the ascendant SUV. In fact, minivans made up just 2.4% of US vehicles sold in 2018. So, it may have come as a surprise to some that Chrysler was making some minivan waves with its announced updates to the Pacifica.
The biggest of these updates was the addition of all-wheel drive. Now, not only does your minivan hold far more cargo and more people than your average crossover, it’s also ready to tackle wintery road conditions with aplomb. Since the Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica will now be on a more even footing, we thought to compare these two titans of family hauling.
When it comes to powertrains, both of these vans offer plenty grunt, but only the Pacifica has the added bonus of a hybrid option. For a company like Toyota, having pioneered the hybrid space with the Prius, it seems like a glaring oversight.
As for their ICEs, the two vans match up closely. The Pacifica runs a 3.6-liter V6 good for 287hp paired with a 9-speed automatic, while the Sienna’s own V6 possesses just slightly more oomph with 296hp and an 8-speed transmission. Even with the minor deficit in horsepower, the Pacifica has a slight edge in towing capacity at 3,600lbs. where the Sienna maxes out at 3,500lbs.
2021 Chrysler Pacifica – chrysler.com | Shop Chrysler Pacifica on Carsforsale.com
The fuel-efficiency story has some important nuances. The front-wheel drive versions align closely, with the Pacifica at 18 city/ 28 highway and the Sienna with 19 city and 26 hwy. But things get complicated once you add all-wheel drive. The Sienna had been the only minivan with AWD for years, and that helped distinguish it from its segment competitors. But the new 2021 Pacifica will now also be winter ready with AWD.
2020 Toyota Sienna – toyota.com | Shop Toyota Sienna on Carsforsale.com
But that doesn’t mean things are equalized. The Sienna gives up less in fuel economy than the Pacifica when running on all fours. The numbers break down as follows Sienna 18/24 (with AWD) and 14/22 for the Pacifica. That four-mile mpg hit to city isn’t insignificant.
The plug-in hybrid Pacifica gets a healthy 32 miles before the gas engine kicks in. With that, the Pacifica hybrid then gets 83MPGe and an impressive full range of 520 miles.
Cargo is also an important subject when it comes to minivans. First, I’ve got to point out that, despite losing out to SUVs in the hearts of American families, the lowly minivan often has double the max cargo capacity of comparably priced crossovers.
With that out of the way, lets look at where the Sienna and Pacifica compare. The Pacifica offers 32.3 cu. ft. behind the third row, 87.5 cu. ft. with that third row folded down, and a respectable 140.5 cu. ft. with all the seats down. The Sienna has considerably more at 39.1 cu. ft., 87.1 cu. ft., and a whopping 150 cu. ft.
That appears like a pretty easy win for the Toyota Sienna, but it’s important to note that the Pacifica has stow-and-go seating for both the third and second row. The Sienna, on the other hand, has stow-and-go only for the third-row seats, while the second-row seats need to be removed to attain that lofty 150 cu. ft. of cargo space.
With all that said, the Pacifica ends up feeling the roomier of the two for passengers, especially in the third row.
Minivans earned their reputation as boring, utilitarian people movers in large part because of the diminished driving dynamics of that result when you put a big rectangular box on a truck platform. But, as utilitarian people movers, the minivans of today offer smooth, comfortable rides. That means the Pacifica and Sienna make up for any loss of “fun” with day-to-day livability.
But, as we noted above, the Sienna and Pacifica both have decent horsepower, making highway passing stress-free. It’s the Pacifica, however, that stands out as the more drivable minivan. The accurate steering and low center of gravity limit body-roll.
The Sienna and Pacifica match-up well when it comes to tech and options too, with each having different strengths.
The Toyota Sienna has a slight edge of the Pacifica when it comes to standard and available safety tech. But a big plus in our book is the standard blind-spot monitor that comes with the Pacifica, a feature that costs you extra with the Sienna. Additional standard safety features for the Pacifica include a rearview camera, rearview cross traffic alerts, and rear parking sensors.
The Sienna comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense P, which includes land keep assist, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision warning, and a braking system including pedestrian detection.
The Pacifica makes up some ground with its excellent Uconnect infotainment system, one of the best systems out there. The Pacifica also offers both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, whereas the Sienna only offers Apple compatibility.
The Sienna has a couple unique add-ons to mention. The Auto Access seat, a build-in lift seat can be ordered for the second row, making the Sienna an excellent option for buyer in need of additional accessibility. There’s also a one-way intercom system in the Sienna, allowing you to talk to rear seat passengers (i.e. tell your kids to quit fighting) without resorting to you “outside voice”.
The base Sienna starts at $31,415-dollar L trim and balloons all the way up to the $47,380-dollar Limited Premium, with rear seat entertainment and rain sensing windshield wipers. The Pacifica Touring starts at $33,495 and ascends to the top Limited trim at an MSRP of $44,445, complete with Nappa leather upholstery and a built-in vacuum.
As the minivan segment has shrunk, the competition has become fierce. The Pacifica’s strong suits of interior quality, comfort, and tech are closely matched against the Sienna and its generous standard safety equipment, voluminous cargo space, and expected reliability.
Yet, it was the killer combination of style and substance that led to us picking the Pacifica over the Sienna. It was a tough call, but the Pacifica is clearly the more modern of the two vehicles. If the Tacoma and 4Runner are any indication, Toyota seems fine with long intervals between refreshes and the Sienna suffers for this. As good as the Sienna already is, we’d suggest Toyota look toward a much–deserved update, whenever they get around to it.