The Best Minivan Features | The Minivan Showdown (2023) — The Car Mom | Car Reviews & Car Buying Tips for Moms (2024)

I'm assuming you're reading this post because you've found yourself in the market for a minivan. I get it, the sliding doors and insane trunk space make it a practical choice, but now you have to figure out the differences between the various models. Don't worry, I'm here to help!

By the end of this post, you'll have a solid idea of the differences and a better idea of what van is best for your family.

Kelly, what do you drive?!

As of July 2023 - I’m also a minivan driver! I am so excited to be driving one of the models explored in this post - guess you’ll have to scroll to find out which!

But if you want the answer quickly, I’ll link the tour 2022 model (I’m driving the 2023), right here!

What Minivans Are On The Market?

There are currently four minivans being manufactured: the Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Sienna, and Kia Carnival.

To keep this review quick and to the point, I'll mainly focus on the details we find most important for moms:

  • Child seat setup

  • Safety

  • Major differences between the four minivans

All new cars can be equipped with the comfort and convenience features you may be looking for, such as a power tailgate, heated seats, and Apple CarPlay. Rather than giving you a word salad of all the features, I'll focus on what sets each van apart. That being said, I’ll also recommend a trim for each minivan by focusing on which one offers the most bang for your buck.

Are Minivans A Safe Choice?

Each minivans has performed great in the NHTSA crash testing with all 4 receiving a 5 star overall safety rating. When the IIHS tested the minivans the Honda Odyssey and Kia Carnival received a “Good” (the highest rating) on all 6 crash tests. The Pacifica and the Sienna received a “Good” rating in 5 of the tests and they received a second-best score of "Acceptable" in the IIHS passenger-side small overlap front test.

To put this simply, no matter which minivan you choose, they are all a safe choice for you and your family. Now, lets begin discussing the key differences between the 4 vans!

Honda Odyssey

Let's start with the Honda Odyssey (year 2017 and above) - This is a good place to start because it is truly the family hauler!

Honda Odyssey Specs

Equipped with 5 sets of lower anchors and 6 tethers, the Honda Odyssey offers incredible flexibility for who sits where. Additionally, the Odyssey is equipped with a removable middle seat giving you the option for both a bench seat or captain's chairs (in all trim levels). The bench, as it stands, is excellent for car seats and can easily accommodate 3 across.

Yes - it has The Magic Slide!

If you choose to remove the middle seat, you are left with a nice wide aisle and the option to utilize "the magic slide". This can ONLY be found in the Odyssey - essentially, you slide the outboard seat to the middle and then anyone (even adults) can easily access the third row. It is safe to drive with that second-row seat in either position. I freaking love this feature!

Not only is it great access for passengers, but it also gives parents an easy way to access the children in the 3rd row for buckling and unbuckling. I mean, you can literally get in the car to do it. The reason the magic slide is so awesome, especially for child seats, is because in the Odyssey, the seat belts are attached to the seat so whether you have a child seat installed with LATCH or seatbelt, you can still utilize this third-row access.

ManySUVs seat belts are attached to the door, so you can't use the tilt or slide if you have a child seat installed with the latch. You can also remove the outboard seats of the Odyssey for increased cabin space!

The Odyssey’s Rear Entertainment

Before we move on from the 2nd row, let's talk about rear entertainment - aka built-in screens. I know so many parents love this feature - the Odyssey puts the screen on the ceiling - here are the pros: a major pro for me for two reasons:

#1 - more room for RF seats or passengers trying to enter.

# 2- easier for 3rd-row passengers to see.

Here’s a con: It can affect driver visibility. Now, maybe rear entertainment isn't important to you (it's not really to me - I give kids iPads), but I wanted to mention it nonetheless.

Let’s chat about that 3rd row!

Moving on to the third row of the Odyssey- all the minivan third rows have good legroom- The Odyssey has 38.1 just slightly behind the sienna at 38.7. The headrest doesn't cause any major problems with FF child seats and the lower anchors are not off center with seat belts so it allows boosters with LATCH to be used as well.

The trunk is pretty tight.

The trunk of the O is 32.8 cubic feet- making it the third smallest out of the 4 but only by a little as all the trunk spaces are very comparable. The third row seats fold easily into the trunk for cargo space- but they are also equipped with tailgate mode! This is just a fun feature that parents can utilize while hanging out at the park or at a soccer game.

Honda Odyssey Cons

Some cons to the Odyssey- a major one is the lack of 2nd and 3rd row ventilation- since this is a comparison video I feel I have to point out that the O does not offer rear ceiling vents in the 2017 and above model years. Talk about a redesign fail.. This really matters for children who are in RF child seats but I also feel the ventilation in the 3rd row is especially lacking.

Another con- The O is also not available in AWD or as a Hybrid. I am really hoping they make these improvements in the future to make minivans more accessible. Many families want more fuel efficiency and need AWD depending on climate.

Honda Odyssey Pros

Now all the minivans are family friendly (i mean duh) but if I had to give an award to the most versatile I would give it the Odyssey! The hardware, the third row access and the large third row all make for a true child seat machine. As far as trim level I would recommend the Touring- that allows you to get power tailgate, cabin watch, wifi and rear entertainment.

Since I know I am going to get this question: If i had to chose a minivan to drive- I would probably chose the Odyssey!

Not only for the child seat set up, but I also really love the storage in the front for mom! I would probably still opt to have my 3 kids across the bench, but I may consider removing the middle seat, putting G in the third row, Fred in the middle (via magic slide) and Hattie on the outboard seat behind the driver. That way ,I would be able to easily access G for buckling and I put F in the middle instead of H because his child seat is smaller and I would still have good visibility.

Toyota Sienna

Okay next let's move on the Toyota Sienna! First thing to note: the Sienna got a major redesign in 2021!! According to recent sales figures, the Toyota Sienna is currently the most popular minivan in terms of yearly vehicle sales. In 2021, Toyota sold over 109,000 Siennas in the United States, making it the top-selling minivan for that year.

Toyota Sienna Changes

One of the most notable changes was the fact it is only offered as an active hybrid. This essentially means there is no plugin required but the car uses regenerative braking to charge a small battery and the car flips between electric and gas.

Toyota claims the vehicle can get up to 36 mpg which for a large 3 row vehicle is truly incredible. This sort of hybrid technology is great for families who want better fuel economy without the commitment of plugging in. Another HUGE stand out for the Sienna is it is available in AWD. For a long time, it was the only minivan that had AWD but recently the Pacifica has adapted and now offers AWD and a PHEV (more on that later) However the sienna is the only minivan you can get that is both AWD and Hybrid. The Pacifica doesn’t offer AWD on their PHEV.

Toyota Sienna Specs

Let's chat about the passenger set up in the Sienna! The sienna comes with either a bench seat or captain chairs- here's what I find frustrating- you can only get the bench seat on the lower trims. The bench itself is child seat friendly featuring 3 tether anchors and 3 sets of lower anchors plus a removable middle seat. Since the middle seat is removable, I am really disappointed the bench isn't available on the higher trims.

Sienna’s 3rd Row Access

As far as third row access is concerned the Sienna is… interesting. It’s on some of the longest tracks I've ever seen! I think it’s about 25 inches you can move the car up/back. So depending on your setup you can give flexible space to either the 2nd or 3rd row. This seat moves up so far that just moving the seat itself is third row access!

Like the Odyssey, the seatbelts are attached to the seat so you can use this feature no matter how the child seat is installed. If you don't have a child seat installed the access is a fold and slide kind of moment. Another thing to note in the Sienna is how strange the doors are.. They don't open wide enough? I had a difficult time buckling in RF kids because of this.

The rear entertainment in the Sienna can be found on the ceiling as well!

The third row of the Sienna is equipped with 3 tether anchors and 5 lower anchors. The tethers are pretty straight forward- 1 for each seat and needed for forward facing seats.

But what about the lower anchors?

Typically when we discuss lower anchors we like them in pairs since you need two for a LATCH install. Sometimes we see an extra anchor added but If i'm being honest- they are pretty useless. The only time you would use it if you wanted to install a child seat in the middle with LATCH. Because of the way the back seat is set up, if you did this it would make the driver side seat of the 3rd row unusable because the child seat would be over the buckle.

The Sienna has a great trunk size!

The trunk of the Sienna is 33.5 cubic feet and compared to the others, actually on the smaller side but its still significantly larger than any midsize SUV trunk.

Trim Level Recommendation on the Toyota Sienna

When it comes down to my trim level recommendation, I have gone back and forth. Because you can only get the bench seat on the LE and XLE- I think would probably suggest the XLE if you want the bench I do think the upgrades to the XLE from LE are worth it.

Additionally I would get the XLE and add one of XLE plus packages. They have quiet a few different ones depending on your needs- I like the XLE plus package with options- it adds an extra $3715, but you get a lot of extra features while still keeping the bench :)

Kia Carnival - Kelly’s Current Car!

Next let’s dive into the new kid on the block- the Kia Carnival. This minivan or as Kia prefers to call it, this MPV (multi purpose vehicle), has the most striking exterior of the bunch. It’s design is fresh and *almost* looks like an SUV. Overall, I enjoy the exterior except for the hearse vibe part.

Kia Carnival Specs

Moving into the driver's seat of the Carnival, the designs and infotainment are updated and nice. However, from a cubby space and cupholders perspective- I feel she falls a little flat amongst the bunch.

The second row of the carnival is where things get interesting- it is available in both bench and captains. Let’s start by breaking down the bench. Like all the minivans they bench is nice and wide with 3 separate seats and great for 3 across. Each seat in the 2nd row has its own lower anchors and tethers.

You can remove the seats!

What makes the Carnival unique is you can remove any of the 3 seats for a more flexible seating moment. So you can make captain's chairs or remove an outboard seat. It kind of feels like a knockoff version of the Chrysler Pacifica “stow n go.”

I appreciate the flexibility but it’s definitely not as convenient as “stow n go” for two reasons:

  • You have to remove the seat from the car vs the stow n go the seat goes into the floor, so it’s always with you.

  • It leaves tracks visible which may not be a big deal to some, but it doesn’t look as clean and catches crumbs and dirt like crazy!

One funny “quirk” about the Carnival is the middle rear seat can actually slide ALL the way back to the third row. This feature would definitely come in handy if you have 3 kids across the bench who can’t keep their hands to themselves. Trust me- I’ve been there. It could also be nice if you have an adult who wants to sit back there with kids but wants more leg room.

These super long tracks are only available on the middle seat though, not the outboard. It’s important to note you cannot slide the middle seat to the third row when the third row is up!

Rear Entertainment on the Kia Carnival

The rear entertainment on the Kia Carnival can only be found on the back of the seats- and let me tell you.. It is bulky!! I would not recommend this feature if you have RF child seats as it will affect your clearance.

Access to the 3rd Row Isn’t Great…

The third row access of the Carnival is just okay and probably the worst of the 4 minivans- no car seat tilt, no magic slide and they don’t slide as much forward like they do in the Sienna. When a child seat is not installed the seats move with a tilt and slide. So just to review it does offer flexible seating with the removal of seats but if you want to use all 3 seats on the bench and access the third row- you would have much better luck in the Sienna or the Pacifica.

Moving onto the third row of the Carnival we have lower anchors in both outboard seats and tether anchors across the back. The Carnival has the least amount of third row legroom of the 4 minivans at 35.6- that's 3 inches LESS than the Sienna. This matters for families with children in and out child seats! Less leg room can mean less space for child seats or older passengers.

I want to note that at 35 inches of legroom it's still more than most of the 3 row SUVS- for example the Telluride offers 31 inches of third row legroom. The third row seats of the Carnival can easily fold into the trunk for even more cargo space. Overall the Carnival has turned some minivan haters into lovers with its stylish interior and exterior design. It's the closest thing you can get to an SUV with sliding doors.

Kia Carnival Cons

The Kia Carnival not available in AWD or in any Hybrid and while it's trying to be functional its the clunkiest of the 4 in terms of seating flexibility and third row access in my opinion.

Like some of the others, the Carnival is available in “dentist' chairs on the higher trims and I can’t express enough how much I HATE these chairs. DO not purchase a van with them- they are expensive, not functional and dangerous. The owner's manual specifically states to NOT drive with the seats reclined- its a giant waste of money.

Kia Carnival Trim Level Recommendation

My recommended trim level for the Carnival would be the EX! You get awesome features like a fam cam, heated seats, power tailgate. I personally would skip the rear entertainment for an additional $1k- for the reasons mentioned earlier!

Chrysler Pacifica

Finally, let’s dive into the Chrysler Pacifica! Woah. She’s kind of got a lot going on.

Chrysler Pacifica Specs

Let’s start with the driver seat! I actually find the technology to be the most user friendly out of the bunch. I really like the interior design and the bridge area in the car- feels very co*ckpit. The Pacifica is interesting because it is the only minivan available as a PHEV (plug in hybrid electric vehicle).

It has 32 miles of electric range and 520 miles of range total electric plus gas) Now this hybrid technology is a lot different than the sienna because with the Pacifica hybrid you actually can drive on just electric for those 32ish miles. So if your daily commute is less than 30 miles a day ,you would be able to drive on just electric and only use the engine on longer trips or if you forget to plug in! Something to note about the Pacifica Hybrid though is you do miss out on the popular stow n go seating and you its also not available in AWD.

The Second Row Has A Lot Of Features

Let’s move on to the 2nd row! There is a lot to break down in regards to the 2nd row- to start the new Pacificas are ONLY available in captains chairs unless you add the $4935 Uconnect Theater Family Group Package. This package gives you a lot of other features as well including Amazon Fire TV, Blu-Ray DVD player and Fam Cam. However this package ONLY includes the 8 seater add on on the Touring and Touring L trims. The Limited and Pinnacle are not available with a bench. This is a bit of a miss for me when comparing to the other minivans where you can get the bench on the higher trims. Especially since minivan middle seats are removable (including the Pacificas) it seems silly to not include it as an option.

The Pacifica outboard seats in the 2nd row are equipped with best features ever - stow n go! This allows you to “stow” the 2nd row seats into the floorboard. But to my prior point when you stow one of the seats that means you are only left with 1 seat instead in the 2nd row.

Let’s Talk Third Row Access

I actually think third row access in the Pacifica is great! There are a few ways- the first is obviously just using the aisle found in the captain chairs. But if you have child seats that could be more difficult. Luckily the Pacifica has two more easy ways! The first is actually moving the driver or passenger seat all the way forward.

Now you could technically do this in other cars but the Pacifica makes it super easy because it has power button in the second row that easily moves these seats all the way forward. It has this feature because it is needed for the stow n go, but it doubles as third row access with child seats! Your standard third row access is a car seat tilt- which I love for any child seats installed with latch.

The Third Row Is Great, Too!

Now for the third row of the Pacifica! It has the kind of third row that makes me go.. Hmmm. To start it has some of the most controversial headrests in the child seat community. The outboard headrests are NOT removable and protrude forward. There is literally an entire Facebook group dedicated to finding child seats that work with these crazy head rests! Ultimately some child seats work- I had no problem installing my Clek Foonf FF. So don't fret, seats work, just not all seats.

Another strange thing about the Pacifica third row is the child seat set up hardware. Behind the passenger seat in the 3rd row we find a full set of LATCH, but on the middle/drivers side- they share a set of LATCH. The lower anchors are found in the middle between the two seats and the tether anchor is also in between the seats. However you are not allowed to share the tether anchor with the seats. So at most the you can install 2 Forward facing seats, not 3. It's strange that they just wouldn't put it on the outboard seat, in my opinion.

The other issue with this setup is because the lower anchors are off center with the seat belt you would not be able to use it with a booster seat that utilizes LATCH. Again this is only on the middle and drivers side. The passenger side everything lines up!

The trunk space of the Pacifica is the smallest of the 4 at 32.3 cubic feet compared to the largest which is the Kia carnival at 40.2 that's quite a big difference.

Pacifica Trim Level Recommendation

Finally, let's dive into my recommended trim level- the Touring L is what I would suggest! I like this trim level because it's the most affordable one that offers AWD. If you are after more tech or rear entertainment you would have to add the Uconnect Theater package and its pricey. This upgrade does get you more features as well like the in cabin camera, a larger touch screen and apple carplay.

Which Minivan Is The Most Reliable?

Lets quickly discuss the reliability between the 4- Determining which minivan has the best reliability can be difficult as it can vary based on factors such as the model year, specific trim level, and how well the vehicle has been maintained. However, according to data from Consumer Reports, the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey have consistently ranked as the most reliable minivans over the past several years.

For example, in the 2021 Consumer Reports reliability rankings, the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey both received a score of 77 out of 100, which is considered very good. The Chrysler Pacifica and the Kia Carnival received lower scores of 54 and 45, respectively.

It's important to note that reliability can also be influenced by other factors such as how well the vehicle is serviced and maintained over time, as well as how it's driven. It's always a good idea to check the specific model year and trim level you're considering to get a better idea of its reliability track record.

So - which one would you choose?!

We understand minivan or not, choosing a reliable car as a mom is difficult! My hope is that this breakdown makes it just a tad bit easier. If you' have a mini van - let us know which one you chose and your favorite features in the comments!

The Best Minivan Features | The Minivan Showdown (2023) — The Car Mom | Car Reviews & Car Buying Tips for Moms (2024)
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