The best minivans of 2021 show us that top trim minivans rule the roost of transportation with space, family comfort, and entertainment.
“Best minivans” used to seem like an oxymoron. It wasn’t many years ago when dealers couldn’t give minivans away. Now, with so many people in SUVs, consumers are looking for something different, and minivans are coming back. An SUV can’t compare with the combination of safety, cabin space, fuel economy, and roomy seating options of today’s family hauler. All of them provide major elbow and legroom, excellent road manners, and a few of them give first-class treatment in the second-row seating category. Here’s our list of the best minivans of 2021.
I’ve always wanted to fall in love with the Toyota Sienna, but couldn’t get past its looks. Over the years, Toyota has been rock solid and predictable in providing a standard of comfort and reliability for the minivan market. But it’s also been very predictable in its styling.
In 2021, especially with the XSE trim, Toyota designers penned a beautiful and – dare we say – sport-oriented exterior. Officially, it’s Toyota’s first hybrid-only minivan, but they’ve been producing hybrids for a long time. And unlike some competitors, Toyota gives you the choice of all-wheel-drive. If you want to tow your toys, the Sienna will pull up to 3500 pounds with its hybrid powertrain.
You won’t confuse it with a Supra when it comes to handling, but the Sienna doesn’t feel like a big vehicle. Competent handling and exterior design have helped the Sienna turn into the beauty of the minivan bunch. Toyota has given the entire bodywork a Toyota family brand appearance, and it looks good. And with the standard hybrid engine producing 36 mpg, the Sienna is highly efficient at what it can do on the road.
Once inside, some of the plastics and design look dated and Toyota’s touchscreen operating system can get confusing very quickly. However, you’ll be happy to know that Toyota continues some simple traditions like the little refrigerator unit in the console that’s been around since the original Sienna. All in all, it’s a fine place to be a front passenger.
The recliner-style captain chairs in the top trim are lovely to sit in while you watch the ceiling-mounted widescreen monitor. If the kids bring the PS5, you’ll have plugs for power as well as HDMI inputs and a 1200-watt 12 speaker JBL system for Fortnite or your favorite streaming service.
Plus, when things get messy, as they often do in a minivan, you can clean up the food with the in-van vacuum cleaner. Like Honda, Toyota thinks of everything. You couldn’t go wrong with the Toyota Sienna, especially with its two years of complimentary maintenance. That isn’t offered for some other minivans here.
The Honda Odyssey has been the big dog when it comes to minivan heaven, without a doubt. It can transform a harrowing journey into a joy ride of comfort and entertainment. Even trips to the grocery store become better. It seems to have a place for every little cup, hooks for every sack, and even comes with a vacuum cleaner. In short, it has the potential to make your family trips more manageable.
Unlike the Toyota’s Sienna beautification redesign, when Honda updated the Odyssey exterior in 2012, it added a strange angle at the rear of the sliding door. It didn’t look good then and still hasn’t grown on us. We’re guessing there’s an engineering reason behind it, because it’s Honda. But the competition looks better.
Stepping inside a top trim Elite model will help show that Honda isn’t hesitant to change. The new higher quality leather seats are heated and ventilated and you get a wireless charger for your phone. Honda tells us that parents will appreciate the newly carpeted floor mats, because they hide dirt. We couldn’t wait to see how much dirt they hid, since Honda isn’t able to provide the in-car vacuum cleaner at this time due to restricted supply.
Control-wise, Honda continues their relatively good interface on the dash. We’re still not fans of buttons for drivetrain shifting (handles worked better), but Honda isn’t changing back anytime soon. On the positive side, Honda has made some UX updates to their operating system, which help while you’re driving. Although there isn’t a RAM truck-style big screen, the 8-inch touchscreen works well. The best added function is a “Honda Sense” button that brings up the safety features menu. You can cycle through the full suite of safety features that Honda offers and activate or adjust what you want.
Every 2022 Honda Odyssey is pulled by the same 280 horsepower 3.5-liter V6. The Odyssey’s 262 lb-ft of torque, tied with an excellent suspension, could make you think you’re driving a Honda sedan if it weren’t for the sheer size. Yes, it’s not the prettiest thing on the road, but you’re sitting inside a comfortable, high-quality, and quiet cocoon.
The Chrysler Pacifica in its Pinnacle trim form gets close to being the most comfortable, practical, and well-designed family hauler. The Pacifica has been around for a long time and is one of the longest-running OG’s of minivans. The PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) variant continues to make the Pacifica a top choice.
For 2021, Chrysler gave the Pacifica’s exterior a slight front refresh with new LED headlamps and grille updates, but left well enough alone on the rest of the Pacifica. Inside the top trim, you immediately notice the quilted Nappa leather seats that luxury cars are now including. Second-row passengers get their own quilted leather pillows which will undoubtedly be used as projectiles by the kids. We love the idea, but wonder if Chrysler thought it through.
Pillows may have been a miss, but well-thought-out touches like the USB, charging, and HDMI connections on the back of the passenger and driver’s seats are appreciated. From the rear entertainment system to a Harman Kardon 20 speaker sound system, Chrysler has made the interior of the Pacifica a fantastic place to be a passenger.
If you’re driving or in the front passenger seat, you’ll appreciate Chrysler’s 10.1-inch HD touchscreen and Uconnect 5 system. We’ve loved the Uconnect system in every Dodge, Chrysler, and RAM product we’ve looked at this year. An added plus is the Fam Cam that lets you see what’s happening in the rows behind you if things get rowdy back there. The dash is showing its age though, and could use a refresh.
Regarding the hybrid drivetrain, like the Sienna, you’ll never know it’s there while power transfers seamlessly from electric to gas. With gas prices rising, you’ll soon appreciate the 32 miles you get on EV usage, which takes care of school trips and runs to the grocery store for most people. The Pacifica isn’t a rocket, with an 8 second 0-60, but quick enough for all your driving needs.
Although Kia calls their new Carnival an MPV, it’s a replacement for the Sedona minivan. Unless you spot the sliding minivan doors, we wouldn’t blame you for thinking it was a very handsome SUV. In fact, to us, the side profile is very similar to the new Ford Explorer. The Carnival is most definitely something different, while still hitting that minivan niche.
The 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige model, Kia’s top trim, is handsome on the outside and beautiful on the inside. Its upscale and weighty body is pulled down the road by a new, surprisingly quick 290 horsepower V6 that does 0-60 in 7 seconds.
And even with the weight, the ride is very well controlled and still comfortable – even without passengers or luggage. The light steering let you sail around an on-ramp corner without getting out of shape and the suspension soaks up most of the road imperfections. Like the other minivans, this Carnival can pull 3500 pounds if you desire.
Where Kia does most of its damage to the competition is on the inside. When you open the door, the SX Prestige trim whispered Mercedes SUV design language. You won’t get the same quality of material as Mercedes, but it’s also not in the same price range. However, for its competition, the Kia is the best in class. By a lot. As in a year or two ahead.
The Kia Carnival doesn’t offer too many functionality or feature differences than its competitors, just some improvements upon them. The same innovative cupholders, pockets, connections, and family-desired doodads are there, of course. But the Carnival gives all of it to you with better design. The dual-screen dash with an 8-inch driver information display and a 12.3-inch touchscreen display is impressive to see. Kia has also done some needed interface changes on their infotainment operating system that makes it easier to use. With a 12 speaker Bose sound package and rear entertainment system, it’s an excellent place to hang out – for everyone.
Most impressive are the second-row heated and ventilated VIP Lounge Seats. Just know beforehand that you can’t remove them for cargo, but really, you won’t want to. They’re similar to the Sienna, but are so much better that your passengers will happily pay you money to sit in them. Lay back, put some spa music on with ocean waves, get a massage therapist, and you’ll think you’re at the Ritz.
Oh, and cargo. You have an impressive amount of space for more than you should want to carry. Even with all the seats up, you have more room in the back than the competition. But overall, the Odyssey and Pacifica will win out on total cargo space with those luxurious second row seats in the way.
The 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige is updated in every convenience, top of its class in the interior, and you won’t find yourself needing anything – except maybe all-wheel-drive. We think it’s most definitely a game-changer for the minivan market and will drive the competition back to their CAD drawings. It’s our top pick for (excuse us, Kia) a minivan.