For vehicles designed around families, it’s astonishing that minivans have been so slow to adopt many of the latest safety features. Only Pacifica, Sedona, Odyssey, for example, offer lane-departure warning. And only the all-new 2017 Pacifica is available with the full suite of safety assists typically found on today’s cars and crossover SUVs.
Luckily, minivans as a class are pretty safe. According to the most recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, 39.8 percent of passenger-vehicle fatalities in 2014 involved occupants of cars and 38.2 percent involved occupants of light trucks, which include minivans. Fatalities in minivans were just 3.6 percent (1,515 deaths) of the truck total; compact SUVs, by contrasts, accounted for 11.5 percent. Part of the low minivan fatality rate is attributable to engineering: they’re heavier than cars and their elevated seating situates occupants above impact zones in collisions with lower-riding vehicles. Just as significant, they tend to be driven conservatively, by those who prioritize their family’s welfare over aggressive driving.
Still, concluding which is the “safest” minivan requires some interpretive assessments of crash-test data and available safety features. NHTSA awards the maximum 5 stars for overall occupant protection to the 2017 Sedona, 2017 Toyota Sienna, and 2016 Honda Odyssey (Odyssey is due a full redesign for model-year 2017). NHTSA hasn’t crash tested the Nissan Quest or the Pacifica. Of the three minivans it has, only Sienna dips to 4 stars out of 5 in the frontal-crash protection subcategory.
More stringent than government testing, evaluations by the insurance-industry-sponsored IIHS have become an automotive benchmark. Manufacturers covet the IIHS’s highest accolade, “Top Safety Pick+,” awarded to vehicles that excel in a dramatic battery of frontal-, offset, and side-collision evaluations. To earn the award, a vehicle must have the latest in frontal-crash- mitigating technology, principally automatic emergency braking that can stop it when sensors detect an imminent collision.
As of this report, no minivan was a Top Safety Pick+; Sedona and Odyssey merit the IIHS’s next-best “Top Safety Pick” award. And of this report, only Pacifica offers full automatic braking. It’s part of the $1,995 Advanced Safety Tec Group option for the Touring L Plus, Limited, and Limited Platinum models, the costliest of its six trim levels. The option also adds lane-maintaining automatic steering and adaptive cruise control to those models’ standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic detection (the latter two features are a $995 option on Pacifica’s less costly trim levels).
Of course these assists alone are no guarantee of safety; occupant protection also depends on a variety of engineering factors, including crush zones and crash-energy dissipation. These can’t be assessed without controlled collisions into barriers. And it’s important to note that automakers will be matching Pacifica’s array of safety adjuncts as they update their minivans. Upper trim levels of the ’16 Odyssey do come with lane-departure, blind-spot, and frontal-collision alerts. But going the extra step — via automatic steering and braking — will likely wait for the redesigned 2017 Odyssey. Kia’s Sedona, which was all-new for model-year 2015, offers similar warning systems but no autonomous correction.
We’re fans of minivans for their rational and versatile design, and our best advice on picking the safest is threefold. You can trust that Chrysler will support Pacifica’s active safety features with engineering that earns it top ratings in government and IIHS crash testing. You could wait to see what safety technology is available on the ’17 Odyssey. Or you can build on the strong-but-not-pinnacle ratings of the 2017 Sedona and ’16 Odyssey by ordering each with every safety feature they offer.