Which Minivan/MPV Would You Choose?

This year, I was able to work with all four manufacturers of minivans (and MPVs) sold in North America. 

Even though this segment might not be as lucrative as it was in the 1980s and 1990s, the minivan/MPV remains a great choice for growing families. If you have a family of five or six – or, love to shuttle you and your neighbor’s children to after school activities – you can never go wrong with a minivan. 

This has been my argument for years: Minivans (and MPVs) do a better job transporting maturing families than SUVs. 

It was important to present all four minivans/MPVs on this website (not to mention, doing a video on one for V&R’s YouTube channel). They all present their own take on a similar formula. Some do so without much fanfare, while others show a personality that engages passengers and drivers alike over every mile. 

It brings up this question: Is there a minivan that stood out among the four (five, but I’m not counting one two times) vehicles that have been reviewed and discussed on here? 

Tio find out, I broke down a set of categories that break down certain aspects of these vehicles. 

DESIGN – KIA CARNIVAL AND TOYOTA SIENNA (TIE): Until now, the Chrysler Pacifica offered the most style for a minivan. The Sienna came out swinging following a Toyota dictum to not build a boring vehicle. Instead, the Sienna is very compelling and stylish as they incorporated a lot of design cues from across the lineup. However, the Kia Carnival has the cleanest design overall. From the application of the new logo to the details on the grille and c-pillar, they frame a vehicle that combines the best attributes of their SUV lineup with the family-hauling traits of an MPV (ahem, minivan). Either one will be a conversation piece on your driveway. 

INTERIOR SPACE AND COMFORT – TOYOTA SIENNA: You can never skimp on comfort when you are hauling families. Thin and uncomfortable seats can turn happy families into bad relatives. That is why Toyota’s second- and third-row seats are very comfortable compared to the other three. Anyone – children and adults alike – can rest easy over the miles in these cushy seats. 

PASSENGER ENTERTAINMENT – CHRYSLER PACIFICA, KIA CARNIVAL, AND TOYOTA SIENNA (TIE): Here’s the problem with mounting screens on the back of the front seats in minivans. The second-row passengers get to control them, while the third-row passengers have to crane their necks to watch what the people in front are watching. However, a single screen dropped from the roof will have the second- and third-row passengers watching, but there will always be someone who doesn’t like what’s on the screen. For the latter, Toyota has the edge with its larger screen for everyone. However, both the Chrysler and Kia have great content and connectivity for their dual screen set-up. There is a happy medium between these three entertainment systems. 

CARGO CAPACITY AND FLEXIBILITY – CHRYSLER PACIFICA: The reason why I picked the Pacifica is the class-exclusive Stow N’ Go seating for the second row. For the non-hybrid V6 models, the second row simply fold into the floor flat to accommodate sheets of plywood or sheetrock. This follows the original formula Chrysler Corporation came up with for the original minivan – the ability to carry a full sheet of plywood behind the first row of seats. Since then, they were able to do so without having to take out the seats. The Pacifica remains a clever machine offering innovations in practicality. 

DRIVING EXPERIENCE – KIA CARNIVAL: The reason that Kia calls the Carnival an MPV was to emphasize an SUV-like driving environment. I noticed a lot of influence from the Telluride behind the wheel, without the raised ride height. Instead, the Carnival exhibited a lower center of gravity, resulting in a better driving experience from behind the wheel. That also translated into a comfortable environment for its passengers. 

OVERALL MINIVAN PICK – KIA CARNIVAL AND TOYOTA SIENNA (TIE): I know the folks at Honda are crying foul, but impressions are impressions. Both the Kia and the Toyota offer a compelling vehicle for families, along with some additional amenities that will put them over the top. For example, Carnival SX Prestige models come with second-row VIP seats that recline like a private jet, while front-drive Sienna Platinum models add an ottoman to their second-row captain’s chairs. The other reason why they tied? They both have actual honest-to-God shifters! Not a knob or a set of buttons – a shifter!

This quick comparison is all about what is important in a minivan/MPV. They also exemplify the reasons why families should give a minivan another look, instead of a mid-to-large size SUV. All of the minivans/MPVs reviewed on this website offer superb space for growing and maturing families, along with superb and flexible cargo space. 

Also, consider fuel economy and performance. The Toyota earned over 35 MPG in my care with its four-cylinder hybrid driveline. The rest of the minivan/MPV herd offer smooth V6 power with great geared automatic transmissions. No matter what’s under the hood, you still win when you’re cruising down the highway on that family vacation. 

All four minivans/MPVs combined will give you the experience you are looking for in a family hauler. If you ready to invest in some quality time, especially as this pandemic continues to rear its ugly head on our society, get yourself a minivan/MPV. That is, if you can find one…if not, just order the one you want and give it a lot of love when you take delivery of it. 

DISCLAIMER: Vehicles featured in this article are provided by their respective manufacturers: Stellantis North America, American Honda Motor Co., Inc., Kia America, and Toyota Motor North America

All photos by Randy Stern

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  1. Big van fan here, and four-time Sienna owner, including, currently, a 2019 Limited Premium. The quality has been great on all and I was excited for the new model, but – and it’s a BIG but, the middle row is no longer removable. Such a bummer. Vans aren’t just great because they carry people… stuff is carried best in vans, as well, but Toyota messed that up. The mpg is almost good enough to overcome that but for me, my next $50,000+ van won’t be a Sienna, for this reason.

    Also, big thanks for noting the shifters. Knobs & buttons are for audio and climate… not gears.

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