There are a lot of great three-row SUVs on the market for families, but if you’re looking for the ultimate family vehicle, the humble minivan is still tough to beat thanks to its combination of comfort, practicality and versatility. The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica debuted at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show, and two of its main competitors — the 2020 Honda Odyssey and 2020 Toyota Sienna — were also on the show floor. It made for a great opportunity to compare the three to see which is best when it comes to multimedia technology, rear-seat entertainment systems and second-row seating.
Related: More 2020 Chicago Auto Show Coverage
We’ve been impressed with the Pacifica since its 2017 debut when we named it our Best of 2017 award winner, and the minivan gets some significant enhancements for the 2021 model year including new standard features, a new multimedia system and available all-wheel drive. There’s also new front and rear styling.
Here’s what we found comparing the updated Pacifica to the Odyssey and Sienna.
Multimedia System: Pacifica
The 2021 Pacifica gets Chrysler’s new Uconnect 5 multimedia system, which is the latest version of Chrysler’s already impressive multimedia technology. Uconnect 5 is standard and includes a 10.1-inch touchscreen with crisp graphics, dual phone pairing over Bluetooth, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The new system runs on Android technology, but it gets an updated version of Uconnect’s familiar, easy-to-use interface. Meanwhile, the Odyssey and Sienna come with smaller 8- and 7-inch touchscreens, respectively, with less intuitive interfaces.
Rear-Seat Entertainment: Pacifica
As families increasingly bring their own devices with them on the road, rear-seat entertainment systems have lost some of their luster. But they’re still a desirable feature for parents of children who are too young to operate (or be trusted with) a tablet, and automakers continue to come up with enhancements to these systems.
Both the Odyssey and Sienna offer optional Blu-ray rear-seat entertainment systems that support media streaming from Android devices and have overhead second-row screens: The Odyssey has a 10.2-inch display while the Sienna gets a 16.4-inch screen that can show two different programs side-by-side at the same time.
But Chrysler broke the rear-seat entertainment system mold when it launched Uconnect Theater, and the system is still the one to beat. Featuring two 10.1-inch touchscreens mounted to the back of the front seats, the optional system has a Blu-ray player and supports Android-based streaming like the Honda and Toyota systems, but it goes further by including built-in games — including new ones for 2021 like chess — to help pass the time. The location of the touchscreens does mean viewing them from the third row isn’t as good as in the Odyssey or Sienna, but Uconnect Theater is still the most innovative system of the bunch.
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Captain’s Chairs Comfort and Second-Row Versatility: Odyssey
All three vans on the auto show floor had second-row captain’s chairs, but there are big differences between them as far as comfort and versatility are concerned.
The Pacifica’s Stow ‘n Go bucket seats fold into wells in the floor when you don’t need them, eliminating the cumbersome removal process, but as captain’s chairs go, the seats are on the small side and not as comfortable as the Odyssey’s or Sienna’s.
Of this trio, the Sienna’s captain’s chairs are the most comfortable and supportive, and they also offer the most fore-aft travel, letting you slide the seats way back for stretch-out second-row legroom.
Though not quite as comfortable as the Sienna’s seats, the Odyssey’s captain’s chairs are still good. The Honda’s seats don’t have as much fore-aft travel as the Sienna’s, either, but they do them one better with their ability to slide side-to-side. This has a number of practical benefits; sliding one of the seats to the center of the van opens up a walkway to the third row that’s close to the sliding door, and the seats also let parents in front position a small child in the second row closer to them. Overall, it’s enough to give the Odyssey the nod.
In the end, these minivans excel in different ways as best we can measure from the auto show floor; the Pacifica delivers more on the tech front while the Odyssey and Sienna offer better seat comfort. However, it’s been decades since minivans were fashionable, and recent updates like those in the 2021 Pacifica aren’t about to change that. Still, that doesn’t mean they aren’t great at carrying people and their stuff. Far from it.
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