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    Making Space with Minivans

    By Philip Ruth–

    “No, I can’t. I just can’t do it,” said a client whom I was helping to find a new ride for his family. I started him on minivans, and even though he found the first one a decent driver, he exited the driver’s seat shaking his head. 

    It had everything his clan needed—three rows of seats, room for hauling, clear visibility for city driving—but he was reluctantly parting with his failing 4Runner, and he could not see himself helming a breadbox. 

    That was about a decade ago. Since then, carmakers have worked to rehab the minivan’s punishingly practical image. New features and styling bring an edginess to a segment that started with wood-grained Dodges and Plymouths back in the early ’80s. 

    Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    Chrysler recently heralded the sale of its 15 millionth minivan, a marker that points to the company’s consistent dedication to this market. While its domestic competitors fielded forgettable Freestars and dated Terrazzas, Chrysler’s continual improvement of the Caravan and Voyager kept lots of skin in the minivan game. 

    The $34,000-base-priced Pacifica is the current evolution, with the $27,000 Voyager nameplate returning for 2020 as a less-expensive alternative. Kicking the Pacifica upstairs to the Chrysler label seems right, as it has an upscale look and feel to it. The Chrysler’s hybrid option is a minivan exclusive. 

    The $32,000 Sienna is a solid player as well, with Toyota’s golden reputation for reliability aligning closely with the vehicle’s utilitarian nature. Toyota shook this up a few years back with its “Swagger Wagon” ad campaign, which impressively still resonates today, as an onlooker blurted it out when asked about the tester. The Sienna’s main exclusive is available all-wheel drive. Each has an option list that can lob the final price up over $50,000.

    Toyota Sienna

    Both are fun to drive. The V6 engines in each have outputs approaching 300 horsepower, and when free of people or loads, these vans sprint off the line. The Chrysler rumbled with the confidence of a traditional American car, while the Toyota felt more refined. 

    Both handle well. The Pacifica sent more feedback to the driver’s hands, and the tested Sienna SE’s sport-tuned suspension kept the body flat in turns and curves. Big views through picture windows enhance driver confidence. Strong-arming the Pacifica or Sienna reassures you that minivans won’t demand chunks of your soul along with the monthly payments. 

    Welcoming interiors await your passengers. Pacifica furnishings had a nice mix of colors, chrome, and curves, while the Sienna’s were plainer—the instrument panel in particular could use an update, with an infotainment screen that worked well enough but was no match for Chrysler’s class-leading Uconnect system. On the other hand, the Sienna offers the neat second-row Auto Access Seat, which makes entry easy for folks in wheelchairs. 

    Add sporty looks—the popular, black-accented Pacifica S gains a red theme for 2020, with the Sienna echoing it with a new Nightshade Edition—and both these vans present compelling reasons to fully embrace your practical side.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant ( www.gaycarguy.com ). Check out his automotive staging service at www.carstaging.com

    Published on January 16, 2020