The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are strong runners-up in the 8-passenger minivan sweepstakes. But Pacifica edges Odyssey because it’s first to market as a 2017 model; Honda hadn’t released information on its planned all-new ’17 minivan in time for this review. And it edges the appealing but aging Sienna, which was last redesigned for model-year 2011 and won’t be again until model-year 2018.
Resurrecting the name of a discontinued crossover SUV, Pacifica replaces the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan. The eight-seat models are minivan-conventional, with a V-6 engine and front-wheel drive. But Pacifica’s new body boasts the boldest lines in the class, and its second-row seating is the only in the segment that folds into the floor. You can quickly convert to maximum cargo volume without having to remove cumbersome, heavy seats or dealing with a second-row awkwardly tumbled forward.
In another exclusive, Pacifica is the sole minivan available in gas/plug-in-hybrid form, though the Hybrid comes only with seating for seven. Its electric batteries occupy the floor wells into which the second-row seats ordinarily fold. Among gas-only models, all but the flagship Limited are available with a removable center seat that fits between the standard second-row buckets. The $495 option for the LX, Touring, Touring L, and Touring L Plus grades essentially creates a 40/20/40-split bench seat.
As on other eight-seat minivans, the center section is too narrow to comfortably accommodate most adult posteriors. But it’s terrific for kids or tots who’ve outgrown child seats. (It features a top tether anchor, but only the outboard sections have LATCH attachments.) The center section slides forward independent of the outboard seats for easier small-fry-tending from the front seats. And it’s lightweight and easy to remove or store onboard. Doing so creates a two-bucket-seat second row with the exclusive versatility of Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go fold-into-the-floor system. Unwisely, the automaker confines its Cheerios-gobbling Stow ‘n Vac integrated vacuum cleaner to the seven-passenger-only flagship Limited grade. Base-price range for Pacificas available in 8-passenger form is $29,590-$38,890, including the $995 destination fee.
With its solid build and laudable Toyota-reliability credentials, Sienna appeals despite its advanced age. It’s the one mainstream minivan available with all-wheel drive as a traction-advantage over front-wheel drive, though only front-drive versions are available with eight-place seating. Toyota doesn’t charge extra for it: a 40/20/40 second row with removable center section is standard on LE, SE, SE Premium, XLE, and XLE Premium models (the entry-level L and top-line Limited trims are seven-seaters). You can’t get the impressive 16.4-inch rear-entertainment screen on an eight-seat Sienna; it’s exclusive to the Limited Premium. And there’s no built-in vacuum. But SE Premium and XLE Premium models come with the Toyota-exclusive Driver Easy Speak system. This allows the driver’s voice to project through the rear speakers – perfect for delivering omniscient orders to quit bothering your little brother. Pricing for the 2017 Sienna was unavailable in time for this report but it shouldn’t change much from the base-price range for 2016 models with eight seats: $32,540-$39,505, including the $900 destination fee.
We trust the next-generation Odyssey will uphold its standing as the sportiest-driving minivan, while also approaching the refinement that makes Pacifica the class benchmark for quietness and ride comfort. Meantime, every ’16 Odyssey except the entry-level LX model comes with a removable second-row center section. Second-row comfort benefits from Honda’s unique Wide Mode setup in which the outboard seats slide laterally to give all three occupants more hip and shoulder room. And the SE and top-line Touring Elite models come with the HondaVac built-in vacuum cleaner. The 2016 base-price range for eight-seat Odysseys is $33,450-$45,775, including the $830 destination fee.