The personality differences between the 2021 Toyota Sienna and the Chrysler Pacifica AWD are stark.
Comparing the 2021 Toyota Sienna to the Chrysler Pacifica on the drag strip would be a joyful affair – not that we haven’t tried this before with minivans – but the story gets really entertaining when it comes to utility. This is because their respective manufacturers approach the MPV issue from remarkably different directions. Both vans are (mechanically) the most modern statements about what a family transporter can be, and they’re ready for all seasons. I still maintain that minivans can be the most utilitarian vehicles, all-wheel drive makes them even more.
What interests me, after spending quite a bit of personal time with the two, is how different their driving characters are. This is thanks to their unique transmissions. The Chrysler Pacifica AWD uses a fully mechanical AWD / drive setup. Toyota chose to make the Sienna AWD a hybrid, with a much more modern AWD / drive configuration.
2021 Chrysler Pacifica AWD: Sienna faces tougher competition
Chrysler has long been a minivan favorite. Many fans have lamented that the automaker is abandoning its AWD option with the old Town & Country, but now it’s back for the Pacifica. While not available on the plug-in hybrid, it is an option on all conventional versions. Using their proven 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, their 287 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque isn’t too shabby. Connected to a nine-speed automatic transmission, the transmission’s overall power never feels strained, even with a full load of humans.
The AWD system is quite classic. It is completely disconnected (for better economy), until it detects a slip of the front wheel. In the event of a loss of traction, power is transmitted through a propeller shaft to the rear wheels. The power transfer unit divides the 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 both front tires are slipping.
The Pacifica tows up to 3,600 pounds – a figure of 100 pounds more than the Sienna’s maximum.
It works great and I tested it on ice with my family on board. It was brilliant, despite using all-season tires which were more pleasant on a dry road. On more than one occasion, I lost a bit of uphill traction in the middle of a winter in Denver, CO – and it immediately found traction – without drama.
There is one downside – fuel economy.
The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica AWD is rated at 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. In the past I had an average of 22 mpg, but that was with the majority of highway driving. It’s not terrible, but you’ll understand the big difference when you see the Sienna’s economics numbers.
One final note about the Pacifica AWD: it was a great all-rounder. It feels a bit more athletic in the corners, and the interior quality is fantastic. It also has Stow-N-Go seats. Simply put, this configuration allows all of the rear passenger seats to fold completely flat under the interior floor. This is the strength of the Pacifica because it gives you the most cargo capacity of any van. You can hold a sheet of 4 × 8 plywood AND close the trunk. It’s great for small ATVs as you will see in this video.
What about the 2021 Toyota Sienna AWD?
As I said before, I really like the Pacifica AWD; However, having lived with the 2021 Toyota Sienna AWD, I cannot deny its overall superiority. Besides cargo capacity and a slight towing advantage, the 2021 Toyota Sienna AWD vs Chrysler Pacifica AWD battle has a real 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 (these are all hybrids) front-wheel drive model. Toyota says the LE with AWD starts at $ 36,460. Unlike the Chrysler, this is a fully 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 features a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a pair of electric motors that combine to produce 243 horsepower. There is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which is well matched to the horsepower. Overall driving performance is good, but the steering is numb and handling is less lively / rewarding than the Pacifica. It’s very comfortable inside and I like the materials of the seats better than the Pacifica.
Dude, this van is efficient!
The power delivered is very fluid and the rear power only intervenes when needed. It’s fluid and it’s efficient. The overall loss in fuel mileage is one mile per gallon. This family transporter gets 36 mpg combined in FWD models and 35 mpg combined with AWD. I drove an average of 34 mpg like a baboon. Now think about that… it makes no sense to think about the Sienna’s total efficiency. Driven properly, this pickup could have a range of over 660 miles on an 18 gallon tank. Not only is this more than the maximum range of the Pacifica AWD (a few hundred miles), it is more than the maximum range of the Pacifica PHEV.
Overall, the technology, comfort and mileage of the 2021 Toyota Sienna is exceptional. I can’t believe how capable it is, and the price is more than comparable to Chrysler. I just can’t deny its overall superiority, despite its few flaws. Toyota has built a little wonder.
Watch this fun video and see for yourself how great the two vans are!