2021 Toyota Sienna vs. Chrysler Pacifica: One Of These Is The ULTIMATE AWD People Mover! (Video)

Which AWD minivan is best?

Images: TFLcar

The differences in personality between the 2021 Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica AWD are stark.

Comparing the 2021 Toyota Sienna against the Chrysler Pacifica on a drag strip would be a joyless affair — not that we haven’t tried that before with minivans — but the story actually gets downright entertaining when it comes to utility. That’s because their respective manufacturers approach the minivan question from remarkably different directions. Both vans are (mechanically) the most modern statements on what a family hauler can be, and they are all-season ready. I still maintain that minivans can be the most utilitarian vehicles out there, all-wheel drive makes them more so.

What’s interesting to me, after spending a good amount of personal time with both, is how different their driving characters are. That’s thanks to their unique drivetrains. The Chrysler Pacifica AWD uses an all-mechanical AWD/drive setup. Toyota opted to make the Sienna AWD a hybrid, with a much more modern AWD/drive setup.

The new Chrysler Pacifica AWD is capable of sending 100 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels. (Image: Stellantis)

2021 Chrysler Pacifica AWD: The Sienna faces stiffer competition

Chrysler has been the the minivan frontrunner for a long time. Many fans lamented the automaker ditching its AWD option with the old Town & Country, but now it’s back for the Pacifica. While it’s not available on the plug-in hybrid, it is an option across all the conventional trims. Using their tried-and-true 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, their output of 287 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque is not too shabby. Hooked up to a nine-speed automatic transmission, the overall power delivery of the drivetrain never feels strained, even with a full load of humans.

The AWD system is fairly conventional. It is completely disconnected (for better economy), until it detects front wheel slippage. When loss of traction occurs, power is sent down a driveshaft to the rear wheels. The power transfer unit splits torque from the transmission and routes it to the rear drive module. It can send up to 100% of torque to the rear wheels if the two front tires are slipping.

Image: Stellantis

The Pacifica tows up to 3,600 pounds — A figure 100 pounds higher than the Sienna’s maximum.

It works great, and I tested it on ice with my family aboard. It was brilliant, despite using all-season tires that were happier on a dry road. On more than one occasion, I lost a bit of traction heading uphill in the middle of a Denver, CO winter – and it immediately found traction – with no drama.

There is one drawback — fuel economy.

The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica AWD is rated at 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. In the past, I averaged 22 mpg, but that was with a majority of highway driving. It’s not terrible, but you’ll understand the big difference when you see the Sienna’s economy numbers.

One final note about the Pacifica AWD: it was an excellent all-around driving vehicle. It feels a little bit more athletic in the corners, and the interior quality is fantastic. It also has Stow-N-Go seating. Simply put, this setup allows for all the rear passenger seats to fold completely flat under the interior floor. It’s the Pacifica’s strongest suit as it gives you the most cargo capacity of any minivan. You can hold a 4×8 sheet of plywood AND close the trunk. It’s great for small ATVs as you’ll see in this video.

What about the 2021 Toyota Sienna AWD?

As I said before, I like the Pacifica AWD quite a bit; however, after living with the 2021 Toyota Sienna AWD – I cannot deny its overall superiority. Other than cargo capacity and a slight towing advantage, the 2021 Toyota Sienna AWD vs Chrysler Pacifica AWD battle has a true winner. The 2021 Toyota Sienna AWD is the smartest application of hybrid technology we’ve seen.

The Sienna starts at $34,460 – and that’s for the base model LE hybrid (they are all hybrids) front-wheel drive model. Toyota says the LE with AWD starts at $36,460. Unlike the Chrysler, this is a completely digital AWD system. Like the RAV4 and Highlander hybrids there is no mechanical connection to the rear wheels. There is a separate electric motor that powers the rear wheels when needed.

The powertrain has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a pair of electric motors that combine to make 243 horsepower. There is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that is well matched to the power. Overall driving performance is good, but the steering is numb and the handling is less lively/rewarding than the Pacifica. It’s very comfortable inside, and I like the seating materials better than the Pacifica’s.

2021 toyota sienna
Image: Toyota

Man this van is efficient!

Power delivery is very smooth, and the rear power kicks in only when needed. It’s seamless, and it is efficient. The overall loss of fuel mileage is one mile-per gallon. This family hauler gets 36 mpg combined in FWD models, and 35 mpg combined with AWD. I averaged 34 mpg driving like a baboon. Now think about that… it’s insane to think about how utterly efficient the Sienna is. Driven correctly, this van could have a range of over 660 miles on an 18 gallon tank. Not only is that way more than the Pacifica AWD’s max range (by a few hundred miles) it’s more than the Pacifica PHEV’s max range.

Overall, the tech, comfort and mileage of the 2021 Toyota Sienna is outstanding. I can’t believe how capable it is, and the pricing is more than comparable to Chrysler. I simply cannot deny its overall superiority, despite its few shortcomings. Toyota built a bit of a marvel.

Check out this fun video and see for yourselves how capable both vans are!