The Challenge: Looking for a practical SUV replacement
Just as minivans replaced station wagons as standard family transportation, all-wheel-drive three-row SUVs have become the go-to choice for buyers looking for lots of passenger and cargo space plus the ability to handle challenging Canadian driving conditions; especially our long and snowy winters. But the latest 2021 minivan contenders prove the minivan is not dead, particularly for sensible families seeking more generous space and easier access than that of an SUV. The question we're asking is: Which one of this group of current minivans is the one we'd recommend as an SUV replacement?
2021 Chrysler Grand Caravan/Pacifica/Pacifica Hybrid
All-new for the 2017 model year, for 2021, the Chrysler Pacifica and plug-in Pacifica Hybrid minivans are joined by a new Grand Caravan model that takes over for the outgoing Dodge version as a lower-priced option. With a starting Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price of $37,995 CDN, the Chrysler Grand Caravan SE comes with the Pacifica’s 3.6-litre 6-cylinder engine and 9-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel-drive. The $44,795 CDN Pacifica Touring gains refreshed styling for 2021, and additional standard features over the base Grand Caravan. All-wheel-drive is a $5,500 CDN option. The $53,995 CDN Pacifica Hybrid—that can be driven up to 51 kilometres on electric power alone—is front-wheel-drive only.
Whether the second row has a pair of captain’s chairs or a 3-person bench, the 2021 Chrysler minivans will accommodate seven or eight occupants. The Pacifica Hybrid is a 7-seater since it comes standard with the second-row captain’s chairs. In all versions, the third row is roomy enough for adults of average size. Cargo space for both the regular and hybrid models is plentiful when the 3rd-row seating is raised (2,478 litres), less so when they are in use (915 litres).
The 2021 Pacifica delivers a pleasant and generally tranquil driving experience. The standard 287-horsepower V6 propels the Chrysler minivan up to freeway speeds with little effort, and the 9-speed automatic transmission complements the engine perfectly. The wonderfully competent continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the Pacifica Hybrid is even smoother. The AWD system provides added stability and traction for typically poor Canadian driving conditions and unpaved road surfaces.
2021 Honda Odyssey
Introduced for 2018, the styling revisions for the 5th-generation 2021 Honda Odyssey keep it looking fresh. The grille has been tweaked and is now flanked by LED headlights in all trims. Starting at $42,805 CDN, the Odyssey also gains the Honda Sensing array of safety features as standard throughout the range. Also, for 2021, the Honda Odyssey gains 2nd-row seats that fold flat, making them easier to remove. Controls for the climate system have also been revised, while Honda now offers a rear-seat reminder feature. This latter item can work in tandem with the CabinWatch camera in higher trims, an industry first.
The 2021 Odyssey offers many practical features and technologies and a high degree of fit and finish that transcends the typical soccer shuttle. All the requisite cup holders and cubbies are present, and the quality of materials is high. A large center console between the front seats is perfect for a wide variety of items like maps, tissues, baby wipes or even a pair of binoculars that might come in handy on the next road trip. Cargo space runs from 929 litres behind the 3rd-row to 4,474 litres when those seats are folded.
No need to agonize over engine choices, as the 2021 Odyssey comes solely with a 3.5-litre 6-cylinder engine. The V6 sends 280 horsepower to the front wheels through a 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel. This setup runs just fine on 87-octane regular gasoline. An engine stop/start feature when idling and automatic cylinder deactivation (shutting off three cylinders under light load) saves some fuel, but the Odyssey’s 10.5 L/100 km combined fuel economy estimate is average.
2021 Kia Sedona
On-sale since the 2015 model year, the 2021 Kia Sedona rides into 2021 with only minor changes. Available in three trim levels, the 2021 Sedona minivan undercuts many of its competitors in entry-level pricing, but the base, $32,295 CDN LX is far from a stripped-down model with standard features like heated front seats and steering wheel.
The 2021 Sedona provides seating for either seven or eight passengers. While the Sedona has a roomy interior, it’s not quite as spacious as its rivals in passenger volume, and cargo space behind the 3rd-row seat is limited to 929 litres behind the 3rd-row and 2,452 litres when they are folded. The standard Slide-N-Stow 2nd-row seats quickly and easily slide forward and upright, while the 3rd-row stows under the floor.
The 2021 Sedona offers a beautiful dashboard with easy-to-operate controls, with proper hard buttons and knobs from behind the wheel. The engine powering the Kia minivan is unchanged for 2021: a proven 3.3-litre V6 that produces 276 horsepower. Fuel economy is a combined 11.5 L/100 km. The Sedona never feels overstressed, even when eight people are aboard. The standard transmission is a smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic. Unlike some of its competitors, the Sedona doesn’t make you feel like you’re the captain of a cruise ship. Although the ride quality is smooth and comfortable, this Kia minivan handles well. The steering is quick, and the chassis does not lean excessively in corners. The $38,695 CDN Sedona SX, with standard high-performance shock absorbers, has even sportier driving manners.
2021 Toyota Sienna Hybrid
Last overhauled in 2010, the all-new 2021 Sienna sports an all-new exterior design that’s a departure from the traditional boxy minivan look and closer to its Highlander 3-row SUV sibling. While more expressive in design, the new Sienna still retains the minivan functionality with sliding doors and a low floor height.
Looking to break somewhat out of the minivan mold, the 2021 Sienna Hybrid’s front passenger area is more like the Highlander with a tall center console with storage beneath and a large storage bin. Gone is the open feel of the front seats, a holdover from the past where minivans touted an open cockpit that could pass through to the 2nd-row. The revamped interior includes a standard 7-passenger layout with 3-across seating in the third row and an 8-passenger version with a removable seat that fits between the standard 2nd-row chairs and 2nd-row captain’s chairs that slide fore and aft up to 63.5 centimetres. With the 3rd-row folded, there’s a generous 949 litres of cargo space, but only 2,129 litres when in use.
As its new name implies, the 2021 Toyota Sienna Hybrid has only one powertrain: a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder gasoline-powered engine mated to front-mounted or front-and-rear-mounted electric motors whether it’s equipped with front-wheel drive, starting at $39,990 CDN or $2,000 CDN more for all-wheel drive. The Sienna previously offered mechanical all-wheel drive. However, Toyota touts the fact that all trims are gas-saving hybrids and that it allows them to continue to offer an all-wheel-drive version. The hybrid combo delivers 245 horsepower while providing impressive 6.5 L/100 km (FWD) and 6.7 L/100 km (AWD) combined fuel economy estimates. While minivans aren’t what you’d call fun to drive, the all-new Toyota Sienna feels pretty light on its feet thanks to its hybrid powertrain and all-wheel-drive capability.
Anyone who hasn’t been in a minivan for a while, or might just be getting to grips with the realities of transporting a large family, should consider this quartet of haulers. But which one would we recommend as an SUV replacement?
The 2021 Honda Odyssey provides family transport that’s user-friendly, well thought out, and with a certain class. It has a smartly functional interior and comes standard with many modern safety features. But its lack of available AWD and premium pricing leaves us wanting. The same can be said of the front-wheel-drive only 2021 Kia Sedona, which stands out for its low starting price, 5-year/100k warranty and relatively athletic driving characteristics.
Chrysler’s 2021 family of minivans covers many bases, from the base-level Grand Caravan to the fuel-efficient and luxurious Pacifica Hybrid plug-in. But with available AWD, the Pacifica should get some reluctant buyers out of their SUVs.
In the end, we’d choose the all-new 2021 Toyota Sienna Hybrid with all-wheel-drive. The Toyota minivan may be down on power compared to its V6 rivals, but even in AWD form, its powertrain results in great fuel economy, while its all-new exterior styling and interior accommodations offer more passenger and cargo space than a comparable SUV.
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