Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica – People Haulers, Plus
By Jim Bray
People hauling. It's one of the primary uses for any vehicle, but as we see by the wide variety of vehicles on the road today, there's an amazing number of ways to skin that particular cat.
How many people you can haul, and whether you can carry their stuff with them, helps dictate a vehicle's design. Do you want to concentrate more on people than things? Are you more concerned with moving objects? Or do you want to concentrate on both?
To this end, I spent a couple of weeks recently with two decidedly different people haulers, a (in my opinion) "people primarily" and a "jack of all trades" unit as represented respectively by the Chrysler Pacifica "crossover" and the Toyota Sienna minivan. Both are very nice vehicles that accomplish their tasks well, but in very different ways.
The Sienna is a straightforward minivan, and one of the best. It seats up to eight, though not necessarily with extreme comfort if you decide to pack 'em in, but it can also double as good hauler of stuff, whether it be luggage, furniture or – my personal preference – big screen TV's and audio equipment.
The Pacifica won't haul as big a screen, but my tester (a "Limited" model with all wheel drive – front drive is standard) could carry six people very comfortably, which makes it ideal as an amateur or professional taxicab, limo, or what have you. It beats the Sienna in passenger comfort and in the fun to drive department, though it isn't as utilitarian.
Both vehicles come with V6 engines that provide plenty of power. The Sienna's 3.5 liter six cranks out 266 horses @ 6200 rpm compared to the Pacifica's output of 253 horses @ 6000 rpm from a four liter power plant. Sienna puts its oomph to the wheels (my tester had AWD, though front wheel drive is standard) via a five speed automatic, while Pacifica uses a six speed autobox. Call it a draw: Toyota has slightly more horsepower, Chrysler gives you an extra "gear" with which to exploit it.
The base Pacifica's 3.8 liter six puts out 200 horsepower @ 5000 rpm and is married to a four speed automatic. Toyota only offers the 3.5 liter six.
Handling is decidedly different between the vehicles, which isn't surprising. The Pacifica is more car-like, though its suspension is so soft you might find yourself being lulled to sleep (which can be a real drawback if you're behind the wheel!). The Sienna feels more like a little bus – albeit a tight one.
All four doors on the Pacifica are of the conventional, swing open type , which is more in keeping with its car-like demeanor. The Sienna's side doors are sliding – and, in my tester, powered. Both vehicles have swing up tailgates.
Inside, both vehicles are very comfortable places to be. My Pacifica tester was more luxurious (though the Sienna can be upgraded to versions that pile on more stuff than my tester had) and came with such niceties as a classy-looking analog clock in a luxurious-looking dashboard, seat memory, a tilt steering wheel (the pedals are adjustable, which makes up for the wheel not telescoping like the Sienna's does) and an interesting navigation screen that's right in the middle of the instrument panel, inside the speedometer. The steering wheel is nice looking and functions well, but I found it quite uncomfortable in the hands.
The info/nav/backup monitor screen is small and washes out easily in bright sunlight, which makes its backup camera function virtually useless on sunny days. It also disappeared when I wore my polarized sunglasses. Both of these are common complaints and not unique to Chrysler.
Both vehicles feature nice leather upholstery (in my testers' trim levels, anyway) and the Sienna's front door armrests fold up to reveal little storage compartments like you can find in Porsches (though that's obviously where the Porsche comparison ends!), as well as a little hanger on the passenger side suitable for a garbage bag.
Pacifica beats Sienna hands down when it comes to the audio system. The Toyota's is okay, but fairly weak and there's no tactile feel to the knobs (you can use steering wheel-mounted duplicates on both vehicles). Fortunately, you can get an upgraded JBL system that should be better.
But Pacifica's rocks, comparatively, and though I didn't have a chance to try it, it supposedly plays DVD Audio discs, which is a wonderful (and rare) feature.
Sienna offers about a thousand cup holders (give or take a few hundred). Both of my testers had nice, heated seats up front and I'd have to rate the overall seat comfort as very good in both vehicles, though the Pacifica's seats in my "higher end" trim level were more luxurious.
Second row seats are comfy captain's chairs in both vehicles. Sienna's center row captain's chairs can be folded flat and tumbled separately, and you can position them with an aisle in the middle or as a partial bench on the left side. The Pacifica's second row reclines and slides forward and backward, and you can fold the rear seats to create a flat storage floor (Pacificas can be ordered with center bench seats which also fold down to increase the storage space).
Getting into and out of the third row of both vehicles is quite easy. The Pacifica's third row seat cushion is a little bit a narrow front to back and there isn't much headroom back there: my head hit on the roof, which didn't happen in the taller Sienna.
The greenhouse of both vehicles is very good.
Sienna obviously gets the nod for practicality – if that means carrying more than human cargo. Fold the rear seats flat into the floor, drop down the center row, and you could almost use it as a carpeted pickup truck or delivery van. Heck, you could camp in it in a pinch.
Both vehicles offer about all the protection, via air bags, belts, stability and traction programs and the like, that you can expect from this market segment these days.
My favorite? Well, they're very different vehicles with different raisons d'être, but despite its sloppy suspension and uncomfortable steering wheel I preferred driving the Pacifica. If all you want to haul is warm bodies and their stuff, this is a more pleasant vehicle in which to do it.
To me, it embodies the term "crossover" much better than the breed of SUV's that car companies call crossovers, undoubtedly to fool certain people into thinking they aren't those evil environment-rapists and thereby cut down on the picket lines outside dealerships.
But when you want to bring home that big screen TV from Costco, you'll want the taller interior of the Sienna, and it's hardly like that means you'll be roughing it!
The Chrysler Pacifica starts at $25,190 ($31,945 Cdn.); the Limited AWD starts at $36,555 ($43,415 Cdn.). Toyota's Sienna starts at $24,155 ($31,750 Cdn.) and the top line model starts at $35,465 ($51,620 Cdn.).
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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