Minivans are not “cool.” Comfortable, spacious, and versatile? Sure. But when the neatness factor of a vehicle focuses almost exclusively on a built-in vacuum cleaner or an easy-stow seat, you know you're looking at a deeply uncool vehicle. But what if they weren't? What if automakers imbued their minivans with innovative powertrains, flashy sheet metal, advanced technology, and other stylish touches?
Well, you'd have the two vans we're testing today: the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid and the 2021 Toyota Sienna Hybrid. These two family haulers represent the progression of electrification into the minivan space while also leading the charge, so to speak, for edgier styling. That the Pacifica hails from the creator of the minivan while the Sienna comes from the brand that popularized hybrid technology adds a sense of poetry to this contest. That said, calling this a “contest” is a little generous. Read on to find out why.
|2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid||2021 Toyota Sienna Hybrid|
|Technology and Connectivity||Technology and Connectivity|
|Performance and Handling||Performance and Handling|
Chrysler: Unlike the Toyota, which received a top-to-bottom redesign for the 2021 model year, the Pacifica Hybrid is just a facelift. But as updates go, the 2021 model still sees significant changes inside and out. The exterior adopts new front and rear fascias, highlighted by updated lighting elements. There aren't grand, revolutionary changes, but the 2021 model year is arguably more premium and distances the Pacifica from the design language of the unloved 200 sedan.
Our tester's S Appearance package adds gloss black accents and a new set of 18-inch alloys, which are fine. The real win, in our estimation, is the stunning Ceramic Gray paint. The rise of gloss gray finishes is a new trend, but we sincerely hope it continues, because as the Pacifica proves, this color can make even hum-drum shapes look dynamic and impressive.
Hop in the cabin and it's clear Chrysler is the creator of the minivan. That's not necessarily a compliment, though. The design is conventional and conservative, and in sharp contrast to the progressive Toyota, features a solid-looking center console that has the slightest floating bridge imaginable. There's a straight-across dash with an upright center stack as part of a segmented design that puts everything in its place. It's easy to feel a little let down after spending a bit in the Sienna. Gloss black dominates, for better or worse, as part of the S Appearance pack, which also adds “S” stitching to the leather seatbacks.
Toyota: Toyota gonna Toyota. The Sienna wears the same sort of wild exterior design, complete with gaping-maw grille, found on the Camry and Avalon. That said, the Sienna is arguably the best execution of the expressive language. We appreciate the aggression and sportiness of the design – the hood looks long and the sharp line that curves over the rear wheel wells gives this van rear-drive-like proportions. This is a bolder design than what Chrysler is offering, although that won't necessarily work for everyone.
On the style front, the Sienna Hybrid XSE's trim isn't as intense as Chrysler's S Appearance package. There's a spattering of gloss-black accents, along with an attractive set of 20-inch wheels, although Toyota isn't as consistent with its trimmings. For example, the gloss-black “SIENNA” lettering on the tailgate is also standard on the less porty Sienna XLE. Instead, the XSE features subtler touches, finishing the grille, for example, in metallic black rather than gloss black.
The Sienna's cabin is a far different place than the Chrysler's. Bright upholstery and a flashy, floating bridge center console greet you when you open the door. The area under that center console is genuinely viable storage space, with high sides to prevent things from tipping over. The high center console gives the interior a cockpit-like vibe, and also helps create a neat dash-spanning shelf. The Sienna's Soft-Tex upholstery feels more modern than the Pacifica’s leather, although it's not necessarily nicer to sit in – we have breathability concerns in hot weather.
Chrysler: The Pacifica falls short of the Toyota in one significant area: second-row legroom. The center captain's chairs have a far shorter range of fore/aft travel than the Toyota, though the actual measurement (39.0 inches) is down less than an inch on the Sienna. But while you can't slide the buckets back for LeBron James-satisfying leg space, Chrysler takes good care of the third-row passengers. Yes, Toyota has more legroom there on paper too, but sliding the Pacifica’s second row all the way back comes with little cost to the third. We'd stick six adults in here without hesitation, which we can't say of the Japanese van.
Disappointing legroom aside, though, the Chrysler is far more refined and comfortable. The powerful electric motors and sizable battery provide enough thrust that it can spend long stretches of time without the gas engine. And when that 3.6-liter V6 kicks in, it takes genuinely hard running for its sound to register in the cabin. The Pacifica comports itself well over rough stuff, as it shirks off bumps and imperfections that make the Toyota feel all jiggly. Tire noise is modest, and even high winds struggle to intrude in the cabin. If you want the quietest minivan of the two, the plug-in Pacifica is the way to go.
If you're spending most of the time in the front seats, the Chrysler is a tempting option, as well. The leather-lined seats feel more premium and are more supportive, offering adjustable arm rests in addition to standard eight-way power adjustability, heating, and ventilation (you'll need the range-topping Sienna Limited to score no-cost butt chillers). There's something to be said for the Chrysler's seating position, as well, which benefits from an extra-long telescopic steering rack.
Toyota: The Sienna is without doubt the vehicle you want if you're never planning on using the third row. The second-row captain's chairs have a huge range of adjustability, with limousine-shaming legroom when set all the way back. Toyota quotes second-row legroom at 39.9 inches, but the maximum has to be higher – your six-foot, one-inch author struggled to reach the front seatback. The Toyota's captain's chairs are more comfortable, too, with better support and more useful arm rests (although neither van has a locking function for the arm supports).
But where either the second or third row works in the Pacifica, the Sienna seems destined to create conflicts over space. We struggled to find a seating position that distributed legroom to both second and third-row occupants fairly, even though Toyota cites 38.7 inches of last-row legroom to the Chrysler's 36.5. The Sienna's third row feels tighter on shoulder space, too. We'd stick six adults in the Pacifica without hesitation, but we can't say the same of this van.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Toyota Sienna
The Sienna's front chairs are reasonably comfortable over long stretches, but lack lower leg support. That may annoy longer-limbed folk, although it's not a deal breaker. What did annoy us are the fixed center arm rests, which Toyota integrated into the high center console. There's enough padding, but more adjustability would go a long way. That said, in terms of front-row cargo capacity, the Sienna enjoys a sizable center cubby and four cup holders to the lonely pair in the Pacifica.
The Toyota edges out the Pacifica in stowing that third row, although only just. Where the Chrysler requires a two-motion maneuver to lower the rearmost seats into the cargo floor, dropping the back in the Sienna is as easy as pulling one large handle and taking the seats with them. But our tester included a pair of bins for the rear cargo area that need removed first. We like the idea of being able to store wet items – say a kid's soccer cleats or snow boots – in a plastic tub, but it's easy to imagine a scenario where owners use these bins once, remove them, and then leave them in a dark corner of the garage until the Sienna's lease is up.
The Toyota edges out the Pacifica in stowing that third row, although only just.
In terms of cargo measurements, the Sienna beats the Pacifica with all three rows of seats in place, at 33.5 cubic feet of space to 32.3. But the Chrysler comes back when the last row is down, with 87.5 cubes to 75.2. It's also worth noting that while both vans have easy-stow third-row seats, the Sienna's seats sit up a bit more, so the load floor isn't quite as level. And as the second-row seats aren't removable, the Sienna loses out in terms of max cargo space, 101.0 to 140.5.
Chrysler: Chrysler made the decision to introduce a redesigned infotainment system as part of a mid-cycle update, and it's single-handedly won the Pacifica this round. Uconnect 5 takes all that was good about Uconnect 4 – a logical layout, quick responses, and rich features – and adds a bigger, flush-mounted screen; prettier graphics; and wireless Apple CarPlay.
Even without the new operating system, though, this would be a tough fight for the Sienna. The Pacifica's 10.1-inch touchscreen is better in every critical measure than the Toyota's standard 9.0-inch display, but Chrysler complements it with a reconfigurable 7.0-inch screen in the instrument cluster that's packed with information. The Sienna's tiny 4.2-inch display is more or less the same thing Toyota's been using for years and the graphics support that comment.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Chrysler Pacifica
The Chrysler is a huge step forward for second- and third-row passengers, too, but only if you select the $2,495 Uconnect Theater Family Group. It adds twin 10.1-inch touchscreens, which fold down into the rear seatbacks. Each display has its own USB-A and HDMI port, while the second row boasts a shared 220-volt alternator and a 115-volt plug. Sure, kids can bring a Nintendo Switch, but why go handheld when you can toss the Playstation 5 in the car?
If you're one of the millions of people who can't find a next-gen console, rest easy knowing the Pacifica comes pre-loaded with 13 gaming apps. It's compatible with Miracast, too, so passengers can stream from their phone to the display. And if your tastes skew towards physical media, a Blu-Ray player is part of the package. An iPad may be a more economical and easily upgradeable choice, but the simplicity of this package is plenty attractive. And in terms of USB ports, the Pacifica packs three USB-As and two USB-Cs in front, a pair of USB-As in the middle, and weirdly, a single USB-A on the passenger's side only in the third row.
The Chrysler is a huge step forward for second- and third-row passengers.
The Theater package is also the only way to get FamCam, which is Chrysler's take on the in-cabin camera Honda debuted a few years back for watching the kids. The Pacifica goes a step further, though, with a high-def feed of both the first and second row that seems perfectly suited for monitoring older children while also providing the point-of-view nervous parents need for infants in rear-facing child seats.
Toyota: Toyota's loss here is rather stark when you consider the Sienna is a new design facing down a product that came out in the waning days of the Obama Administration. But it's not that Toyota's infotainment is bad, per se.
The 9.0-inch screen is more than adequate and you'll find wireless Apple CarPlay here too. But the overall infotainment experience is far less pleasant – where you'll find crisp, modern graphics in the Chrysler, the Toyota serves up an unattractive picture that feels a generation behind, paired with a layout that's difficult to learn. The touchscreen is responsive, at least. Other tech elements feel decidedly behind the times. The display in the instrument cluster is tiny and looks similarly dated, while modern features like ventilated seats are only available on the range-topping trim.
Toyota's loss here is rather stark when you consider the Sienna is a new design facing down a product that came out in the waning days of the Obama Administration.
The Sienna claws back some points with an ample mix of USB-A and USB-C ports and Amazon Alexa compatibility. Like the Pacifica, a wireless hotspot is standard, too. But on the entertainment front, the Toyota is well behind, too, offering just a single 11.6-inch display hidden in the roof.
That's good news for third-row passengers but bad news for fans of sunroofs. Where the Pacifica has a glass roof for each row, Toyota lets the sun shine on only the front seats. That single screen also lacks the comprehensive operating system or touchscreen functionality of the Pacifica's displays. Sure, there's an HDMI port, but in terms of overall functionality, the all-new Sienna feels decidedly old school.
Performance & Handling
Chrysler: The Pacifica and Sienna are prime examples of two separate approaches to hybridization. The Chrysler packs a plug-in-hybrid powertrain, partnering a 3.6-liter V6 engine with two electric motors and a 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. Total output sits at 260 horsepower, while Chrysler doesn't publish a torque figure. Then again, it doesn't need to. A quick spin around the block is all it takes to appreciate the Pacifica driving experience.
Unlike most plug-in hybrids, which stick an electric motor in the transmission to serve as a starter/generator and another on one of the axles for drive power, both of the Pacifica's units operate as part of the eFlite variable transmission and will turn the front wheels as needed. It's a unique approach, but one we enjoy.
On an 85-mile, mixed-use test route, the Pacifica Hybrid was something of a revelation. The twin electric motors – one packing 84 hp and the other 114 – are so potent and so in sync that the Pacific rarely needed the gas engine. Whether the electric range is 30 miles or zero, it feels like a pure EV.
The torque is more than adequate for moving the 5,000-pound minivan, but even when we needed the gas engine, the overall disruption in acceleration was hard to spot. The tuning here is excellent, with smooth handoffs between the electric motor and a hushed-up version of Chrysler's bread-and-butter V6. In terms of wide-open acceleration, the results are less clear, although the Pacifica does feel a touch faster.
What's certain is that it's a more enjoyable van to drive through the bends. Thanks in large part to the lower center of gravity that comes from the floor-mounted battery pack, the Pacifica's cornering character is flatter, more predictable, and less minivan-like.
The inability to lock in electric power or order the vehicle to preserve its charge by keeping the gas engine on is bewildering.
We're partial to the Pacifica's brake pedal, too. While there is some grabbiness and quite a lot of travel, especially while parked, the Chrysler's regenerative stoppers inspired more confidence with their predictable, easy-to-modulate behavior. In terms of stopping power, they did the job, too, bringing the big van to a halt with less drama than you'd expect when trying to arrest so much momentum.
Perhaps the only oddity in the Pacifica's performance character is its lack of drive modes. The inability to lock in electric power or order the vehicle to preserve its charge by keeping the gas engine on is bewildering. That there's no dedicated Sport or Eco modes is odd, too. The lack of all-wheel drive is also worth mentioning. It's a real shame Chrysler only introduced that sort of all-weather capability on the gas-powered Pacifica.
Toyota: Unlike the Chrysler's powertrain arrangement, the Sienna's is as familiar as can be. This is the same basic Hybrid Synergy Drive system that Toyota already offers on the Camry, Avalon, RAV4, Venza, and Highlander (all of which share the Sienna's modular TNGA platform), albeit with a nickel-metal hydride battery rather than a more modern lithium-ion pack.
All Sienna Hybrids house a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, good for 189 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque, and a front-mounted electric motor with 180 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque. But opting for all-wheel-drive like our tester adds a second, smaller motor to power the rear axle. While Toyota lists this unit at 54 hp and 89 lb-ft, the total system output is 245 hp across the board.
The Toyota does feel a bit nippier than the Chrysler, but not substantially so. It lacks the pleasant pull of all-electric torque down low, coming alive instead in the midrange, where the gas engine and electric motor(s) seem to do their best work together. That said, while the Toyota's powertrain manages its separate power sources well, the gas engine emits a constant buzziness that's jarring after a trip in the super-quiet Pacifica. And although the Toyota does include drive modes, including an EV-specific setting for short distances of all-electric travel, no amount of fiddling makes this gas engine a more pleasant companion.
The Toyota does feel a bit nippier than the Chrysler, but not substantially so.
The Sienna also handles more like how you’d expect a minivan to handle, addressing corners with all the tolerance of a teenager answering a 6:00 AM alarm clock. There's plenty of roll and a lower cornering limit than in the flat-feeling Chrysler, but then again, these are minivans we're talking about.
What we can't abide are the Toyota's awful brakes. Grabby and hard to modulate, particularly at low speeds, we aren't sure how these things made it to market. Toyota has been making strides improving the behavior of its regenerative brakes, but the Sienna feels like a huge step back.
Chrysler: Safety is a high priority in family focused vehicles, and neither the Chrysler nor the Sienna slack here. For the Pacifica, you'll find the usual active safety gear as standard equipment on all Hybrid trims: automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams with LED headlights, and blind-spot monitoring.
And that's just the standard gear. While our tester didn't carry it, the $1,895 Premium and Safety Sphere group seems like a worthwhile investment, adding rear automatic emergency braking, a 360-degree camera setup, automatic parallel and perpendicular parking, and a 20-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system. Parking sensors are standard, but we hope yours aren’t as hyperactive as they were on our tester. If you have a tight garage or driveway, expect to hear a lot of beeping.
On the road, both the lane-keeping system and adaptive cruise control performed well. The Pacifica lacks the lane centering technology of the Sienna, but we didn't really miss it (that the Sienna tended to bounce between lane markers didn't help its case). The ACC handled sudden lane intrusions well and delivered adequate acceleration when the way ahead was clear. Using it felt natural, and that's the highest praise we can level for such a system.
Toyota: Like so many other Toyota products, the Sienna benefits from Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, an all-encompassing and standard suite of active safety gear on every trim. Broadly speaking, it packages all the same active safety gear as the Pacifica, but adds traffic sign recognition and the aforementioned lane-tracing tech.
Unlike the Chrysler, though, there are no optional extras in the Sienna's safety suite. So on the one hand, you won't find a surround-view camera or automatic parking, but on the other, every Sienna is as safe as it can get at any MSRP. Considering that, the only thing holding the Sienna back is its occasionally frenetic behavior with the active safety systems engaged. The adaptive cruise control lacks the Chrysler's poise when it comes to braking and acceleration, and as mentioned, the lane-keeping system is more intrusive. Still, these two products are very close when it comes to safety.
Chrysler: We reset the trip computers of both vehicles and set out on our 85-mile evaluation loop, which consists of extra-urban boulevards, country roads, and highways in mostly equal measure. We did the last highway portion with the adaptive cruise control in both vans set to 78 miles per hour. We had 40 degree temperatures and windy conditions for each run, and even attempted to do them at the same time of day to look for consistent traffic conditions.
In the Pacifica's case, though, we had to make two runs. With the battery fully charged and the computer showing an electric range of 32 miles, we managed to go 20 miles before depleting that initial charge. Across the whole route, our EV mileage sat at 35.6 miles and our computer-indicated fuel economy was 35.3 miles per gallon.
A 240-volt charger, though, like our Grizzl-E Classic, did the job in just two hours.
The next day, and with zero miles of EV range available, the trip computer claimed we covered 15.8 miles on electric power and managed 30 mpg on the nose. We think that number is a bit soft, though, as the average was still climbing at the end of the route. For comparison, the EPA rates the Pacifica Hybrid at 30 mpg combined with no charge and 82 mpge with a full battery.
Had the Pacifica had a way to conserve its electric power, we think we could have done better. Driving at speeds below 40 miles per hour yielded much more impressive real-world EV numbers, coming in near the 30-mile mark.
On the charging front, our van helpfully flashed the charge-to-full time every time we shut it off. With no EV range, a 120-volt outlet would take around 13 hours to do the deed. A 240-volt charger, though, like our Grizzl-E Classic, did the job in just two hours. That makes a strong argument for buying a home charger with your Pacifica Hybrid.
Toyota: We only had to make one run in the Sienna, although we did it in the default driving mode. So set, the parallel-hybrid pairing managed 31.3 mpg on our drive route against its 35-mpg combined rating.
While the charged-up Pacifica is the more efficient choice, it's worth noting the Toyota has the larger fuel tank, at 18.0 gallons to the Chrysler's 16.5, and consistently provided a more optimistic range estimate throughout our testing. Still, with the Sienna coming in below its EPA estimate quite handily and the Pacifica’s potential for dramatically curbing fuel use, we'll call this one a loss.
Chrysler: Prices for the 2021 Pacifica Hybrid start at $39,995 while our Pacifica Hybrid Limited (the third in the four-trim lineup) comes in at $45,845. If you want a snazzy looking variant like ours, you'll need the $795 S Appearance pack, while your kids will demand the $2,495 Uconnect Theater Family group. The only significant option we were missing is the $1,895 active safety pack. Our as-tested price sat at $50,630, including a $1,495 destination charge.
But as is usually the case with EVs and plug-in hybrids, there's a federal income-tax credit to keep in mind. For 2021, every Pacifica plug-in comes with a $7,500 government incentive, which is the maximum for a BEV of any kind. That certainly softens the blow of the Pacifica's higher price.
Toyota: Snagging a Sienna Hybrid is as easy as writing a check for $34,460, but the stylish XSE trim comes in at an even $42,000, giving a healthy advantage over our Pacifica Limited (sans tax credit). From there, our tester adds the $1,415 rear-seat entertainment system, the $425 Ruby Flare Pearl paint, and a $300 1,500-watt inverter,
The big-ticket item isn't even the priciest. The $1,000 XSE Plus pack introduces a wireless charge pad, a 12-speaker JBL audio system with a subwoofer, a navigation function for the infotainment system, and black roof rails. That, to be frank, is a screaming bargain. Our tester adds a host of dealer-installed accessories, none of which we'd recommend, for an as-tested price of $48,029, including an $1,175 destination charge.
Verdict: Comparing cars side by side isn't some mystical science. Frankly, the winner is usually the one you end up naturally gravitating towards outside of testing. For us, that was the Pacifica Hybrid. But even if we hadn't reached for the Chrysler key fob first, it makes an incredibly strong case for itself. The refined driving experience, the impressive fuel economy, an available income-tax credit, and a host of new and impressive technology are the things families will appreciate.
That's not to discount what the Sienna does well. It didn't win any segments of our tests outright, but it was incredibly close in everything but the Technology and Performance areas. The styling is polarizing in the best possible way, giving the Sienna a character unlike any other minivan on the road. The second-row seats, too, also stand out in the class, offering space and adjustability in equal measure. And of course, the standard safety suite deserves all the praise.
The Sienna is a fine minivan. The Chrysler, though, is a more complete one. If we had a litter of rascals to tote about or simply needed a super-comfy way to get six passengers from A to B, the Pacifica would be at the top of our list.
|2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited S||2021 Toyota Sienna Hybrid XSE|
|Engine:||3.6-liter V6||2.5-liter I4|
|Motors:||Twin Permanent-Magnet Synchronous AC||Two Permanent Magnet Synchronous AC|
|Output:||260 Horsepower (total system)||245 Horsepower (total system)|
|Drive Type:||Front-Wheel Drive||All-Wheel Drive|
|Batteries:||16-Kilowatt-Hour Lithium-Ion||1.9-Kilowatt-Hour Nickel-Metal Hydride|
|Efficiency:||84 MPGe / 30 Combined||35 City / 36 Highway / 35 Combined|
|EV Range:||30 Miles||>1 Mile|
|Charge Type:||110V / 240V||N/A|
|Charge Time:||13 Hours / 2 Hours||N/A|
|Weight:||5,010 Pounds||4,675 Pounds|
|Cargo Volume:||32.3 / 87.5 / 140.5 Cubic Feet||33.5 / 75.2 / 101.0 Cubic Feet|