Toyota Lunar SUV, AWD Minivans and No More Manuals? [Ask Nathan]

Manuals are getting rarer by the year, sadly

In this week’s Ask Nathan:

  • What is this Toyota Lunar SUV?  
  • Tell me about the AWD minivans! 
  • Are all manual transmissions going away!?

The first question comes from a Toyota fan who saw a photo of the Toyota Lunar concept vehicle. 

Q: (Via NathanAdlen@Twitter) Hi Nathan! 

I was wondering if you know about this Toyota Lunar SUV thing?

A: The proposed lunar craft is a concept at the moment.

Toyota and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), signed a three-year agreement to jointly develop a pressurized lunar rover. This vehicle will be a manned pressurized rover that measures around 20 feet long and 17 feet wide. It should have around a 140-cubic-foot cabin that can hold up to four astronauts when needed. 

It will run on fuel cells – basically oxygen and hydrogen with its only byproduct being water.  

“Manned, pressurized rovers will be an important element supporting human lunar exploration, which we envision will take place in the 2030s,” Koichi Wakata, vice-president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said in a written statement. He said the space agency aims to launch the new rover in 2029. – – 


The next message comes a fan who recently saw the 2020 Chicago auto show coverage of the upcoming Chrysler Pacifica all-wheel drive (AWD) minivan. 

2021 Chrysler Pacifica with AWD Photo: FCA

Q: Hi there Nathan and gang! 

I saw your coverage of the 2020 Chicago Auto Show and I was pleased about how much you covered in such a short amount of time. You guys did great and easily out paced and out performed everyone else. I truly appreciate the hard work!  

I was wondering about the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica AWD and what your thoughts were on it? I own a 2015 Toyota Sienna with AWD and I always wanted an alternative to it. In some ways it’s good. It’s very reliable and holds a ton of stuff. The AWD system is kind of basic, but even in the severe weather of Buffalo, NY, I’ve never gotten stuck. Some times I have to truck co-workers home when their cars are totally bogged down. A good set of winter tires and its hefty weight help. 

The 2019 Toyota Sienna AWD minivan.

It gets terrible gas mileage and is feels bulky all the time. The interior looks like something from the Clinton administration and the overall looks are bland throughout the whole van. I like the looks of the Pacifica and I rented one in Ontario last year. It’s a nice van and it was surprisingly efficient. It wasn’t even the hybrid, but it did as well as my daughter’s Rogue which is much smaller. 

Does it lose a ton of efficiency with the AWD system? It it a lot higher off the ground than the regular Pacifica? What about the gas tank? Is it smaller to make room for the mechanical bits underneath? Will the plug in hybrid be offered with AWD? 

Anything you have to say would be greatly appreciated! I love watching all of your channels and I love the independent spirit your team has as opposed to those other competitors. 

Thanks again! 
Gordon, S

A: Hello Gordon!

You are most welcome and thank you for the support! 

According to the Chrysler engineer I spoke to, the fuel tank will be the same size (19 gallons), though they had to reshape and move it to fit. While the ground clearance remains about the same, it is a tad higher in places.  

No, the plug-in hybrid will not have an AWD option. They could not give me EPA numbers, but they said the AWD system is built to completely disconnect, limiting drag. Other systems like this appear to lower gas mileage by about one to three mpg. 

The Stow ‘n Go seating setup looks like it can accommodate seven passengers, at least that’s what I could see in the van I looked at. We’ll know more at the press event coming soon.  

Here’s Chrysler’s tech information on their AWD system: 

Power Transfer Unit (PTU): 

  • Splits torque from the nine-speed automatic transmission and routes it to the rear drive module.

Three-piece Drive Shaft:

  • Connects the power transfer unit and the rear drive module. Even with the additional driveline components, the Chrysler Pacifica AWD retains its second-row Stow ‘n Go seating storage. 

Rear Drive Module: 

  • Houses electronically controlled wet clutch that manages torque to rear wheels; second-generation one-speed drive module optimized for weight and low-speed drag torque reduction.

I’m rarely excited about minivans, but this model looks very promising and I think it will be a serious contender against the Sienna. 



The last question/comment comes from an old fan who was alarmed that Nissan announced that the next Nissan Frontier will no longer have a manual transmission. 

Q: Nathan, I just saw the Nissan Frontier video you guys did at the Chicago show.  

I am thrilled that they are giving the old truck a new engine but what the hell are they thinking about killing the manual? What the hell is going on?



A: I know – it’s hard. 

They are getting rid of the four-cylinder too.
This is all in the hopes that. by consolidating, they can gain more profit when their new model hits. Unfortunately, a tiny percentage of buyers opt for the manual and that number drops every year. By building a one-engine – one-transmission truck, Nissan can simplify the whole building process.
You can read about it here
With this change, only Jeep and Toyota will offer a manual transmission for midsize pickup trucks. I’m bummed too. The thing is: you can’t blame Nissan. Well under five-percent of buyers are choosing manual transmissions.  
Let’s hope Jeep and Toyota keep with the goodness of a stick-shift for a little while longer.