MotoPickers Top Minivans of 2023

By: James Diaz | July 28, 2023

Honda Odyssey

A minivan is a driving experience like few others. To those of us who appreciate their great mix of space, comfort and style, they are a driving experience to love! At MotoPickers we want to make sure you get the minivan that makes sense for you, your family and your lifestyle. There are some fantastic offers out there on great vehicles, so let’s dive in.

What Minivan Options Are Available?

Right now, four minivan players are in the game: Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Sienna, and Kia Carnival. They’re all contenders, but each has its own charm and niche abilities, so if you’re looking to ferry the family around, you want to know the details!

We look at the things you care about.

  • Safety for your family
  • Entertainment and tech
  • Key features of each brand’s offer

All the new minivans we look at come with a variety of creature comforts like a powered tailgate, cozy heated seats, and Apple CarPlay. But instead of bombarding you with endless lists, we’ll talk about the unique aspects that make each minivan stand out. And we’ll pick out the best value-for-money trim for each van, helping you to get as much kit as possible for as little as you can!

Which is The Safest Option?

Safety-wise, each of the four minivans stands strong in the NHTSA crash tests, clinching a 5-star overall safety rating. In the IIHS tests, both the Honda Odyssey and Kia Carnival scored a top-tier “Good” in all six crash tests. Both the Chrysler Pacifica and Toyota Sienna were nearly there, acing five tests with a “Good” and one “Acceptable” – still a commendable and reassuring performance.

There’s therefore no bad option when it comes to safety. All four minivans are solid safe options for your family’s travels.

Honda Odyssey

MotoPickers Rating 8.5/10

Let’s kick things off with the Honda Odyssey models from 2017 onwards. It’s an excellent starting point as for many families out there it’s the ultimate chariot.

Honda Odyssey

Honda Odyssey Breakdown

Seating

Packing five sets of lower anchors and six tethers, the Honda Odyssey offers fantastic versatility for seating arrangements. Plus, it’s designed with a removable middle seat, offering a choice between a bench seat or captain’s chairs, across all trims. The bench has enough room to comfortably fit three side by side.

The Odyssey’s Magic Slide Feature

If you opt to take out that middle seat, you’re rewarded with a generous aisle and the chance to use the ‘magic slide’—a super cool feature exclusively found in the Odyssey. Essentially, it lets you move the outer seat to the middle, making third-row access a breeze for anyone, grown-ups included.

It’s not just about easy passenger access. The slide feature also hands parents a hassle-free way to reach the kids in the third row for fastening and unfastening seatbelts. So good is the space, you can literally step into the car to do it. The magic slide shines particularly for child seats in the Odyssey, because the seat belts are anchored to the seat itself. So whether you’ve got a child seat installed with LATCH or the seatbelt, third-row access remains easy.

Contrast this with many SUVs, where seatbelts are often attached to the door, meaning there’s no tilting or sliding if there’s a child seat installed with the latch. And if you want even more room in the Odyssey you can easily remove the outer seats to free up some vast cabin space!

The Odyssey’s Backseat Entertainment

Before we jump from the second row, let’s chat about rear entertainment, where there are superb built-in screens. The Odyssey smartly tucks the screen into the ceiling, which frees up space, avoids damage, and gives a better viewing angle. It’s a neat approach. The only downside of this is that it might impede the driver’s visibility, so check this out for yourself as a driver.

The Odyssey’s Third Row

Let’s move to the Odyssey’s third row. All minivans deliver decent leg-room in the back, with the Odyssey offering an ample 38.1 inches, marginally shy of the Sienna’s class-leading 38.7 inches. Forward-facing child seats aren’t troubled by the headrest, and conveniently aligned lower anchors and seat belts make hooking up LATCH boosters a cinch.

The Odyssey’s Trunk Capacity

The Odyssey’s trunk boasts a decent 32.8 cubic feet, making it the third roomiest of the four, though all of them are in the same ballpark. The third-row seats fold neatly into the trunk to boost cargo room, but they also have a ‘tailgate mode’. This nifty feature is a welcome bonus for parents chilling at the park or cheering at a soccer match.

Downsides of the Odyssey

One major gripe is the missing ventilation in the 2nd and 3rd rows. It’s worth noting that the Odyssey, in models 2017 and onwards, lacks rear ceiling vents. This is particularly important for kids in rear-facing child seats, so be aware that it could get hot in there!

Another let-down is that the Odyssey doesn’t come with an option for All-Wheel Drive or as a Hybrid. Here’s hoping Honda rectifies this in future models to widen the minivan appeal. After all, many of us crave better fuel efficiency to save money and need the AWD for weather reasons.

Upsides of the Odyssey

If we had to crown one minivan as the champion of flexibility, the trophy would go to the Odyssey. Its robust hardware, easy-to-reach third row, and overall design make it ace for handling child seats. For trim levels, we’d choose the Touring Trim. It’s got power-tailgate, cabin watch, Wi-Fi, and rear entertainment. 

Storage space up front is also great – perfect for essentials.

Overall, the Odyssey is a truly clever and comfortable car and Honda have done a great job of delivering a safe, imaginative, tech-friendly and storage-satisfying minivan. Not for nothing is it a firm favourite and big-seller.

Toyota Sienna

MotoPickers Rating 8/10

Let’s shift to the Toyota Sienna, which underwent a major facelift in 2021. As per the latest sales data, the Toyota Sienna is the crowd-favorite minivan in terms of annual sales. Toyota hit the jackpot by selling over 109,000 Siennas in the US in 2021, clinching the best-selling minivan title for that year.

Toyota Sienna

What’s New With the Toyota Sienna?

The Sienna now only comes as an active hybrid. This means there is no plugin needed, as the car harnesses regenerative braking to juice up its battery, flipping between electric and gas modes on the go.

Toyota touts that you can squeeze out up to 36 mpg, which at MotoPickers we think is a decent performance.

This kind of hybrid magic is perfect for families craving better fuel efficiency without the fuss of plugging in. Another key Sienna selling point is that it boasts All-Wheel Drive. For ages, it was the lone AWD minivan until Pacifica joined the party. Still, the Sienna sits in a league of its own, as you can’t bag a Pacifica that’s both AWD and Hybrid.

Toyota Sienna Breakdown

Seating

You’ve got two seating choices—bench or captain’s chairs. But here’s the catch—the bench is only available on the base trims. The bench, fairly child seat-accommodating as it is, boasts three tethers and an equal number of lower anchors, plus a removable middle seat. Given that this middle seat can be detached, it’s a shortcoming about the Sienna that the bench is off-limits on the luxury trims.

Accessing the Sienna’s Third Row

The seats are on very long tracks, sliding about 25 inches up or back, which offers flexible space distribution between the 2nd and 3rd rows. The seat moves up so much that a simple shift grants access to the third row.

Much like the Odyssey, the seatbelts are affixed to the seat, so child seat installation doesn’t hinder this feature. With no child seat, just do a quick fold and slide for access. Though do note, the Sienna’s doors are a tad quirky—they don’t swing wide enough, making it tricky to buckle up rear-facing kids.

Take a peek at the ceiling and you’ll spot the rear entertainment, as in the Honda. In the third row, you have three tether anchors and five lower anchors.

As for the extra lower anchors? Normally, we fancy them in pairs, given that you need two for a LATCH install. Occasionally, an additional anchor is tossed in, but honestly, they’re pretty futile. The only exception would be if you fancy a LATCH install for a child seat in the middle. However, given the rear seat layout in the Sienna, opting for this would render the driver’s side seat in the third row useless—the child seat would overlap the buckle.

The Sienna’s Trunk Capacity

With a trunk capacity of 33.5 cubic feet, the Sienna leans towards the scantier side compared to other minivans. Yet, it still towers over any midsize SUV trunk in terms of space.

The Perfect Toyota Sienna Trim Level

On the topic of trim level recommendations for the Sienna, the truth is it depends on your needs. Since the bench seat is only up for grabs with the LE and XLE, we’d suggest leaning towards the XLE if the bench is your pick. The upgrades from LE to XLE do justify a little extra spend.

Moreover, we’d couple the XLE with one of their ‘XLE Plus’ add-on packs. They offer a variety, catering to different needs. It’s an extra $3715, but it offers a lot of neat features.

Kia Carnival

MotoPickers Rating 7.5/10

Now let’s give the stage to the freshest face in the minivan scene: the Kia Carnival. With a dazzlingly unique design, it’s the best-looking of the quartet we’re examining, with an SUV vibe.

kia carnival

Kia Carnival Breakdown

Seating

Sliding into the Carnival’s driver’s seat, you’re greeted by sleek designs and a nifty infotainment system. But when it comes to storage nooks and cup holders, it’s a bit of a letdown compared to the competition. The action picks up in the second row, where you can choose from a bench setup or captain’s chairs. The bench is gratifyingly wide with three distinct seats and it is excellent for a trio of passengers. Each seat in the second row comes outfitted with individual lower anchors and tethers.

The Carnival’s Removable Seats

What sets the Carnival apart is the flexibility it generates. You can pop out any of the three seats to shake up the seating layout. If you want captain’s chairs or fancy taking out an outer seat, that’s easy. The Carnival actually feels like it’s channelling the Chrysler Pacifica’s “Stow n Go”, but with its own twist.

However, the Chrysler probably has the better set-up, as unlike in their “Stow n Go” system, in the Kia the seats need to be lugged out of the car completely. 

One interesting peculiarity about the Carnival is the ability to scoot the middle rear seat all the way back to the third row. It can come in handy for an adult wanting to join the kids in the back without sacrificing legroom. But remember, these super-long tracks are unique to the middle seat, not the outer ones.

Rear Entertainment in the Kia Carnival

Moving to rear entertainment in the Kia Carnival, it’s strapped onto the back of the seats. It’s actually surprisingly chunky and a bit intrusive. For some buyers, this will be a big deal, and we can see why.

Third Row Access is not the Carnival’s strong suit

Getting into the Carnival’s third row is merely passable, and possibly the poorest among the four minivans. No room for seat tilt, no magical slide, and not nearly the forward slide you’d get in a Sienna. When there’s no child seat, the seats give a nod and a slide. So to recap, while the Carnival does offer flexible seating with removable seats, if you’re filling all three seats on the bench and need to reach the third row, you’d be better in the Sienna or Pacifica. 

Shifting to the Carnival’s third row, we find lower anchors on either outboard seat and tethers spanning across the back. The Carnival is the stingiest on third-row legroom among the four minivans—only 35.6 inches, which is 3 inches shy of the Sienna. This matters for families with kids in and out of child seats. Lesser legroom can cramp up space for passengers of any age or size.

Having said that, a caveat! Even at a modest 35 inches, that’s still more legroom than most three-row SUVs offer. In addition, the Carnival’s third-row seats conveniently fold into the trunk for extra cargo space. An overall summary might say that the Carnival is about as close a minivan can get to an SUV experience, but with the convenience of sliding doors.

Downsides of the Carnival

Bear in mind that the Kia Carnival doesn’t come in an All-Wheel Drive or Hybrid option, and despite its best efforts, it’s the clumsiest of the four in terms of seating adaptability and third-row reach. These are important things to be aware of and for some buyers they will be critical.

Choosing the Right Carnival Trim Level

If we had to pick a trim for the Carnival, we’d gun for the EX. It’s brimming with cool additions like a family camera, heated seats, and a massively useful power tailgate.

Chrysler Pacifica

MotoPickers Rating 7/10

Finally, let’s check out the Chrysler Pacifica.

Chrysler Pacifica

Chrysler Pacifica Breakdown

Technology

Let’s kick things off from the driver’s seat of the Pacifica. Its technology kit is arguably the most intuitive of the lot. The interior design, especially the ‘bridge’ area, is excellent and has a cockpit feel. In terms of engine-tech, it’s the only minivan available as a PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle).

Boasting an electric range of 32 miles and an overall mileage of 520 miles (electric + gas), it’s a different hybrid beast compared to the Sienna. With the Pacifica Hybrid, you can actually cruise on pure electric power for close to 32 miles. So if your everyday commute is shorter than 30 miles, you could drive solely on electricity and dial in the engine only for longer jaunts. However, bear in mind that the Pacifica Hybrid doesn’t feature the much-loved ‘Stow n Go’ seating, and the All-Wheel Drive option is off the table.

Pacifica’s Second Row Features

There’s quite a bit to dissect here. Firstly, the new Pacifica exclusively features captain’s chairs, unless you shell out an extra $4935 for the U-connect Theater Family Group Package. This pack loads you up with Amazon Fire TV, a Blu-Ray DVD player, Fam Cam, and a host of other goodies, including the option for an 8-seater add-on, but only on the Touring and Touring L trims. Unfortunately, the high-end Limited and Pinnacle simply don’t offer a bench seating arrangement. Pitted against other minivans that offer bench seating on premium trims, this feels like a missed opportunity for Chrysler, especially since minivan middle seats, including the Pacifica’s, are removable.

Pacifica’s Third Row Access

The Pacifica really shines when it comes to third-row access. Several routes lead there—the most obvious being the aisle between the captain’s chairs. But when you’ve got child seats in place, accessing the back becomes a tad trickier, though not exactly difficult.

First, you can slide the driver or passenger seat all the way forward. While this technique isn’t exclusive to the Pacifica, it simplifies the task with a power button in the second row that scoots these seats forward with real ease. Thanks to the Stow n Go feature, both the front seats can be moved, doubling as a third-row access point, which is a great feature, especially with child seats.  

And the good old standard third-row access? Well, in the Pacifica it comes as a car seat tilt, which is really handy if you’ve installed any child seats with a latch system.

Is the Pacifica’s Third Row a Game Changer?

Let’s decipher the Pacifica’s third row. Those outboard headrests, for instance – not removable and jutting forward – have sparked quite a bit of debate in the child seat circles.

The Pacifica adds another layer of peculiarity with the third-row child seat setup’s hardware. Behind the passenger seat in the third row, you’ll locate a full set of LATCH. But the middle and driver’s side seats have to share a set, which is odd. The lower anchors nestle in between these two seats, with the tether anchor also playing third wheel. But no, you can’t share the tether anchor between seats, meaning you can, at best, install two forward-facing seats, not three. This is surely a design error.

Another snag in this setup is the lower anchor’s off-center disposition in comparison to the seat belt—you might struggle to pair it with a booster seat that uses LATCH. However, this only applies to the middle and driver’s side; on the passenger side, everything aligns beautifully! It’s an oddity.

Shifting to the trunk, the Pacifica offers the least space of the four, clocking in at 32.3 cubic feet. Now considering the roomiest is the Kia Carnival with 40.2 cubic feet, that’s a clear step down.

Which Pacifica Trim Is Best?

We’d suggest the Touring L Trim. It’s the most cost-effective trim that offers All-Wheel Drive. If you’ve got a penchant for sophisticated tech or crave rear entertainment, you’d need to go the extra mile and tag on the U-connect Theater package, but it is a hefty extra $5000 or so, so it’s no bargain.

Which Minivan Reigns Supreme in Reliability?

Let’s tackle the reliability aspect of these four minivans. Determining the most reliable minivan isn’t always straightforward, as it depends on variables like the model year, specific trim level, and car maintenance standards. But drawing from Consumer Reports’ data, Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey have consistently proved themselves the most trustworthy minivans over a number of years. 

Take the 2021 Consumer Reports reliability rankings. Both the Sienna and Odyssey notched up admirable scores of 77 out of 100. In contrast, the Chrysler Pacifica and Kia Carnival bagged more modest scores of 54 and, in the case of the Kia, a more concerning 45.

However, keep in mind that reliability isn’t just a numbers game. It can be swayed by things like regular and diligent servicing, the manner of driving, and mileage. It’s always sensible to scope out the specific model year and trim level you’re eyeing to get a fair assessment of its reliability history.