The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is the new kid on the block, the latest minivan from the folks who invented them. Functionally and fundamentally, it’s similar to the Town & Country it replaces, but it’s in the execution where the differences are blatantly obvious and superior.
But we’re not here to talk about how the Pacifica compares to its mediocre predecessor. To be a success, it’ll have to compare favorably to minivan bestsellers like the 2017 Toyota Sienna. Although it’s been a long time since it was completely redesigned, changes over the years have kept it relevant, and it still boasts the sort of comfort and extreme usefulness that minivan buyers are seeking. Let’s take a look at the Pacifica and Sienna to see which might be better for your family.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
The Pacifica might be a minivan with a Chrysler badge and Stow ‘n Go second-row seating, but beyond that, it’s a whole new vehicle. See all 2017 Chrysler Pacifica models available near you
2017 Toyota Sienna
Everything you see is the same for 2017, but under the Sienna’s hood reside a new V6 engine and 8-speed automatic transmission that boost performance and better fuel economy. See all 2017 Toyota Sienna models available near you
The Pacifica is too new to fairly report on its reliability, but broadly speaking, we would expect the Sienna to be better. The old Chrysler Town & Country had quite a few complaints regarding its engine (largely carried over to the Pacifica), while Chrysler on the whole have some of the industry’s lower reliability ratings. Still, the Pacifica is new and, at best, we’re guessing. For more than a year, Autotrader had a 2016 Chyrsler 200 with the same V6 engine and we never had a problem. Still, Toyota in general and the current Sienna have a track record of being one of the most reliable vehicles on the road.
The Pacifica is the only minivan that can be had as a plug-in hybrid, which means that particular version is by far the most efficient in the segment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pacific Plug-In Hybrid can go 33 miles on electricity alone then gets 32 miles per gallon in combined driving. That’s great, but it also starts at more than $41,000. That’s a lot of money, but many new minivans are easily in the $38,000-$42,000 range with lots of typcial options.
The regular Pacifica comes with a 3.6-liter V6 engine that produces 287 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. It has a 9-speed automatic, which can be a bit slow to respond and can stumble when multiple-gear downshifts are needed. An automatic stop/start system introduced mid-way through 2017 ups city fuel economy by 1 mpg, resulting in total fuel economy estimates of 19 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined.
The Sienna has a new 3.5-liter V6 engine for 2017, which produces a best-in-class 296 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. Expect its acceleration to better the Pacifica’s and for it to feel stronger when loaded up with people and cargo. Despite this, fuel economy effectively equals the Pacifica at 19 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. A smart new 8-speed automatic is standard as is front-wheel drive, but the Sienna is the only minivan available with all-wheel drive.
Being the much newer vehicle gives the Pacifica an advantage here, as its crash test performance is superior and it’s available with more advanced safety features. While it gets the best-possible crash scores from both the government and the non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) who named it a Top Safety Pick+, the Sienna falls short of top marks with a 4-star government frontal crash rating and a second-best Acceptable score in the IIHS’ new small overlap frontal rating. All other crash ratings are the best possible and the IIHS did give the Sienna’s LATCH child seat anchors a better ease-of-use score.
Both vans come with the usual standard safety equipment of stability control, front-side and full-length side curtain airbags. The Pacifica adds front knee airbags. Options for both include emergency communications and remote vehicle controls as well as blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems. A forward collision warning system with automatic braking can be added to both van’s uppermost trim levels only. With it, the Pacifica also adds lane-departure warning and prevention, an enhanced parking camera system and automatic parking. None of those items are available on any Sienna.
Interior Space and Versatility
Both of these minivans have plenty of space up front and have third-row seats that fold away into the floor — they can even be power-operated on some trims. It’s really in the second-row where they most differ, and there are merits to both of their approaches.
The Pacifica has Chrysler’s famed Stow ‘n Go second-row seating system. With it, the second-row captain’s chairs flip and hold into huge bins under the floor. There’s also a removable center portion that allows for 8-person seating. Stow ‘N Go grants the Pacifica an unmatched ability to transform itself into a cargo carrier — you have to physically remove the second-row seats of other minivans, including the Sienna. We also found it handy to leave one of the Stow ‘N Go’s lowered to allow for super-easy access to the third-row and then colossal legroom once back there.
The downside to Stow ‘n Go is that the seats themselves aren’t as comfortable. They’ve been improved in their latest generation, but they’re still comparatively flat and formless, and they are lower to the floor, forcing knees uncomfortably up towards a ceiling that can also be uncomfortably snug (those Stow ‘n Go bins raise the floor). Admittedly, this isn’t a problem when child seats are installed, but teenagers and adults will notice the difference.
As such, they’ll probably be more comfortable in the Sienna’s second-row captain’s chairs (it also includes a removable center seat). Not only are the seats themselves comfier, more supportive and placed higher off the floor for better leg support, but they also slide a huge amount. You can place them almost to the third-row to create limo-like sprawl-out space. They also slide forward to the front seats to allow for long-item storage (although not nearly as much as in the Pacifica). Better still, the Sienna Limited adds pop-up footrests.
Again, the Pacifica’s newness gives it an advantage here, although many of its appealing features are restricted to upper Touring-L Plus and Limited trims. Beyond its previously mentioned safety tech, these include USB ports in every row and an entertainment system your kids will love: Dual 10-in touchscreens, a Blu-Ray player, an HDMI input and a variety of built-in road trip-friendly games. Chrysler’s UConnect infotainment system is also one of the easiest to use.
The Sienna, on the other hand, is only available with one USB port. So sure, the teens in back will be comfier, but they’ll be running out of juice in no time. Its rear seat entertainment system only has a single ultra-wide screen mounted in the ceiling that can be split into two images, but it’s available in a wider variety of trim levels and still features a Blu-Ray player, HDMI ports and two household-style power outlets. You don’t get the road trip games, but Toyota’s Driver Easy Speak system subtly enhances the driver’s voice through the rear speakers — "Don’t make me stop this car!" has never been so crisply heard.
When you compare the uppermost trim levels of the Pacifica and Sienna, you’re bound to find the newer Chrysler to be the far more appealing van. With its fancier trim inside and out (we adore our long-term Pacifica’s two-tone Deep Mocha and Black-accented leather), it’s every bit as refined, luxurious and even attractive as the Sienna is dull, dumpy and the stereotypical minivan. Even when dolled up in range-topping Limited guise (or even as the sportier SE trim), the Sienna is more likely to be described, as our managing editor wrote in reference to minivans as a segment, "a soul-crushing, style-sucking rolling equivalent of a mumu." So yeah, we think there’s a ton of value in better style.
However, when you look at cheaper trim levels of each van, the two begin to equalize as their equipment levels and price tags are about the same. Regardless of trim, the Toyota should provide much better reliability and resale value. The quality of their interiors when new is also comparable (though we’d wager the Toyota will hold up better over time) and should you be looking for a minivan that doesn’t handle like a minivan, we think the Sienna SE is actually a better choice than the Pacifica. Also don’t discount the value of its available all-wheel drive in poor weather areas. While nearly all minivans start in the low $30,000 range and end up in the mid $40,000 range, not all minivans feel like you’re truly getting a vehicle that justifies what is essentially a luxury car price tag.
For most, the Pacifica should be more appealing. Not only is it infinitely better looking, but it’s the way to go if you’re looking for the latest-and-greatest minivan loaded to the gills with features. Its Stow ‘N Go seats are also handy if you frequently need your van to haul big items and the available dual video screens and dual second row USB outlets are must haves for families that frequently take road trips to grandma’s house. It also is the minivan that has an interior and exterior that looks and feels like a premium vehicle and that kind of helps to ease the pain of a $40,000 minivan.
However, it’s a tougher call when comparing cheaper, lower-trim models, and we think older kids will be happier in the Sienna’s more comfortable rear seats. There’s also no denying Toyota’s ownership benefits.