So, You Need a Minivan: Is the Chrysler Pacifica or the Toyota Sienna a Better Buy?

They both compete in the same class, but these two models take a markedly different approach

Chrysler Pacifica vs. Toyota Sienna - featured
(Image: TFL Studios)

Luxury and performance vs economy and affordability: Which minivan would you choose?

First: I want to thank the viewers who pointed out that there’s a button on the Pacifica, on the door pillar, that scoots the center row seats. Thanks for pointing that out. In addition, the folks who pointed out that the carpet does not need to be removed: I thank you again. Finally, these mini vans are pretty even at sea level with their 0 to 60 times. Things change at high elevation, which you will see at a later date.

Why pit the Chrysler Pacifica against the Toyota Sienna?

Simple, they both have all-wheel drive as an option. Neither the Honda Odyssey nor the Kia Carnival are available with AWD.

Still, these are two completely different drivetrains, and they feel different too. The Chrysler comes with the tried-and-true 3.6-liter “Pentastar” V6. It makes 287-horsepower and is bolted to a nine-speed ZF automatic transmission. The transmission feeds the front wheels; however, it can send power to the rear wheels via a mechanical AWD coupling. I’ve used this system in snow, and it works well. Sadly, despite the smooth driving performance, the Pacifica AWD gets an EPA-estimated 20 mpg combined.

Sure the plug-in hybrid version gets much better fuel mileage, but its a completely different vehicle, with no AWD.

Not only can all the seats fold into the floor (Chrysler’s branded it ‘Stow-n-Go’). but with over 140 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, the Pacifica can swallow 4’X8′ sheets of material. It is, by far, the most utilitarian.

2022 Toyota Sienna Woodland Edition

While providing a bit less utility, the Toyota Sienna is the economy king.

Our Sienna tester came in Woodland Edition trim. This gives the minivan a 0.6-inch lift, roof rack, tow hitch and some badging – for the most part. The van is far noisier and rides rougher than the Pacifica. It also is a bit tippy around corners, compared to the AWD Pacifica. Still, it’s easy to drive, and has a good amount of passenger space for the family.

The center seats do not fold into the floor, so maximum cargo space is compromised. Fortunately, the center seats slide several feet, back and forth.

The main benefit to the Sienna is its economy, and relatively inexpensive price tag. Our Sienna tester has an EPA-estimated combined 35 mpg. That’s impressive for a big box on wheels. The trick is in the AWD system, combined with a 245-hp (combined) hybrid powertrain. Like most Toyota cars with hybrid systems, the four-cylinder engine and electric motor work in conjunction with an eCVT, powering the front wheels. Then, to create an “as-needed” AWD system, they add an electric motor to power the rear wheels. The system works remarkably well.

In the end, it all came down to price and economy vs comfort and utility.