Trucks and SUVs

2021 Best Minivan: Chrysler Pacifica / Grand Caravan

Just because an item is viewed as deeply uncool by vast swaths of the nation doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. Consider the art of accordion playing, for example. Or the shirt your author is currently wearing.

The same holds true for minivans. While most of the motoring public view these boxes-on-wheels as something to which one resigns themselves after coming to grips with realities of parenthood, those in the know know these machines offer the best of several worlds – primarily space, comfort, and features. Hey, who doesn’t like to stretch out on a comfortable chair after a long day?

Although they might not be as popular as they once were, minivans are still an important segment for Canadians. With this in mind, our jury of more than 20 automotive experts from all over the country have voted the Chrysler Pacifica and closely related Grand Caravan as the Best Minivan in the 2021 Awards after considering every other vehicle in this segment.

For 2021, Chrysler has made some significant changes to its minivan lineup, explaining the dual winners in this award segment. The Pacifica has donned some new clothing, earning a new nose and tail compared to last year’s model. Meanwhile, the Grand Caravan nameplate migrates to the Chrysler brand from Dodge and is now appended to a minivan that is, in many ways, the Pacifica’s mechanical twin. However, its styling is very similar to that of last year’s Pacifica, so at least you’ll be able to tell these people-movers apart in the dealer showroom.

Modern families generally have more technology on the go than what NASA used to put astronauts on the moon 50 years ago. The Pentastar pair caters to this ethos, with every 2021 Pacifica coming standard with the company’s new 10.1-inch infotainment touchscreen equipped with the latest version of its excellent Uconnect system. A theatre with wireless streaming is standard on top trims and optional elsewhere, bringing all manner of video inputs and charging ports. In this van, cries of “Are we there yet?” have been relegated to the pages of history. Even the less costly Grand Caravan treats its occupants with a 7-inch Uconnect screen and optional overhead DVD player to occupy rear-seat urchins. Acing our Tech & Features and User-Friendliness criteria in voting was an easy task for these two vans.

No matter which one of this duo is selected, a 3.6L V6 engine making roughly 300 horsepower will reside between the front fenders. Connected to a nine-speed automatic transmission, this engine delivers its power smoothly and has proved its worth by showing up in millions of vehicles manufactured by the Chrysler Group over the past decade. Performance is more than adequate for its intended purpose, and its fuel efficiency (dipping solidly into the 8.5 L/100 km range on the highway) combines with a 72-litre fuel tank for bladder-busting range. The Pacifica is also the only minivan in its segment to be offered as a plug-in hybrid, and this year, it’s also available with all-wheel drive, providing some extra traction and confidence during our country’s harsh winters.

Look for advanced safety kit and driver aids on the Pacifica, including lane-keeping and automatic emergency braking available on every trim level. Active parking assists make squeezing into that parallel space at the hockey rink a breeze; the 360-degree surround-view camera system doesn’t hurt either.

A design doesn’t have to be exciting to be intelligent, a fact proven time and again by smart packaging inside these minivan siblings. Cubbies and storage solutions abound, waiting to accept stray goldfish (the cracker kind... mostly) and any number of juice packs. Second-row Stow-n-Go seating is standard on all Pacifica models and optional on the Grand Caravan, an invention that lets second-row seats vanish into the floor for enormous cargo capacity; though ample storage space exists even when the seats are deployed. Pacifica has optional “S” and “Red S” appearance packages for parents who want to add a bit of visual interest to the interior of their minivan. There’s even an integrated vacuum cleaner in top trims of the Pacifica.

With one kid in hockey and the other in soccer, value plays a big part in any buying decision for busy families that are trying to make every dollar count. Both the entry-level and SXT trims of the 2021 Grand Caravan start under $40,000, while the Pacifica starts about $5,000 higher. Expect to pay roughly $3,500 extra for all-wheel drive compared to a similarly equipped front-wheel-drive model. These prices certainly aren’t cheap but they are competitive, stacking up well in our value criteria.

Our jury of more than 20 automotive experts evaluated every single new car available in this segment for Canadians to buy and based their votes on a dozen different criteria ranging from safety and quality to efficiency and performance. These criteria are weighted with a critical eye to the segment’s intended purpose; for example, outright performance is not as important in this category as it is in others.

The modern minivan is a triumph of packaging, value, and creature comforts. For 2021, the Chrysler Pacifica and Grand Caravan continue to take its competition to school in each and every one of these areas. For these reasons, it represents the best of its segment and is one we can confidently recommend to our family, friends, and readers.