The Dodge Grand Caravan is dead! Long live the Chrysler Grand Caravan! Uniquely in Canada, the company that invented the minivan plans to replace its aged nameplate this fall with rebadged, de-contented versions of the excellent Chrysler Pacifica. This comes a year after the U.S. adopted a similar strategy, except their rebadged Pacifica is called the Chrysler Voyager.
In both countries, a refreshed 2021 Pacifica will provide a ladder further upmarket for buyers who want more features than available in the Grand Caravan (aka Voyager). Regardless of nameplate, they will all still be built in Windsor, Ont.
Over the past 20 years, utility vehicles (nameplate count up to 124 in 2020 from 39 in 1999) have eaten the minivan’s lunch. The segment’s share of the market has shrunk to just 3 per cent in 2019 from its peak of 16 per cent in 1999.
The number of minivan nameplates has also tumbled from a dozen 20 years ago to just five now (seven if you count passenger versions of the Ford Transit Connect and Mercedes Metris). For the remaining players, there’s still good business to be done with buyers who need real utility as opposed to the compromised utility of supposedly more-fashionable SUVs.
FCA’s announcement is just one more confirmation that the remaining players are still fully in the game. Honda, Kia and Toyota all have big changes in the pipeline. And while innovation in this segment traditionally involves housekeeping conveniences such as hands-free power doors, rear-seat intercoms and built-in vacuum cleaners, the coming crop of new vans also brings fundamental engineering upgrades such as hybrid powertrains and available all-wheel drive.
2021 Chrysler Grand Caravan
Why “Grand Caravan” in Canada instead of “Voyager?” The numbers reveal the answer. In the U.S., there was historically an equal split between sales of Chrysler-badged and Dodge-badged minivans. In Canada, the Dodge share was more like 90 per cent.
“We have so much brand equity and heritage in Grand Caravan it would be a huge mistake … to walk away from that,” explains Mike Szymkiewicz, senior manager of product strategy and volume planning for FCA Canada.
The best thing about the new ‘Vans is they graduate to the much more modern architecture of the Pacifica and thus should drive much better. The Caravan already had the same 290-horsepower 3.6-litre V6 as the Pacifica, but will now also get the Pacifica’s nine-speed transmission (previously six-speed).
The Grand Caravan will keep the existing Pacifica styling and be offered in two entry-level trims: base at $37,995 or SXT at $39,995 (R.I.P. the $19,995 Canada Value Package in the early 2010s).
You won’t get standard second-row Stow ‘n Go seating, though the SXT will replace the middle bench with removable quad chairs and also adds auto headlamps, aluminum wheels, tri-zone climate control, an eight-way adjustable power driver’s seat and steering-wheel audio controls; second-row Stow ‘n Go is a $2,000 option on the SXT.
2021 Chrysler Pacifica
The original 2017 Pacifica was the first minivan to offer a hybrid powertrain (better still, a plug-in hybrid), and that continues with the cosmetically freshened, utility-vehicle-inspired 2021 model. Details aren’t finalized, but the Hybrid is expected to be a powertrain option on most trim levels rather than a stand-alone model.
As well, a new option on the non-hybrid models is all-wheel drive – claimed to be the most advanced in its class.
There are five Pacifica trims for 2021 – Touring, Touring-L, Touring-L Plus, Limited and Pinnacle – all with standard Stow ‘n Go. The Pinnacle is a new ultra-swank grade intended to lure buyers away from high-end SUVs that offer similar features and finishes (e.g., suede headlining, caramel quilt Nappa seats with throw pillows).
Also new for 2021, all Pacificas introduce the latest UConnect 5 infotainment system with a biggest-in-segment 10.1-inch screen, USB-C as well as USB-A ports, 14 new safety features and a 10-inch rear subwoofer in a 23-litre enclosure.
2021 Honda Odyssey
Honda’s minivan was substantially new for 2018, so the 2021 revision is more of a mid-cycle freshening. An exterior touch-up adds higher-output LED headlamps, while inside there are updated climate controls and second-row seatbacks that fold flatter for easier removal.
Every new minivan has to claim some form of segment first, and in the 2021 Odyssey, it’s the integration of the rear-seat reminder system (which ensures you don’t accidentally leave any passengers in the locked car) with Odyssey’s CabinWatch rear-seat camera.
As before, the Odyssey is powered by a 280-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 with fuel-saving variable cylinder management, hitched to a 10-speed automatic transmission.
2022 Kia Sedona
We don’t have any official details yet on the 2022 Sedona, but Kia has revealed the next-generation other-markets Carnival, on which Canada’s Sedona is traditionally based.
The most striking novelty of the Carnival is styling that makes it look even more like a large SUV than a minivan. In Korea, at least, Kia is even calling it a ‘grand utility vehicle.‘
An early photograph suggests a screen-rich interior and expanded interior space (though we won’t get the 11-seat configuration of some markets).
The current Sedona is powered by a 3.3-litre V6. One likely option for the new one is the 3.8 from the Telluride SUV. Either way, expect it on sale early next year.
2021 Toyota Sienna
Last but very much not least is the new fourth-generation Toyota Sienna, which will be on sale mid-fall this year. And yes, Toyota also says that the all-new body styling was “influenced by the bold and robust character of SUVs.”
More striking to us is that the 2021 Sienna will be a hybrid (though not a plug-in) as standard. The Toyota Hybrid System II powertrain combines a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with two electric motors to generate up to a total 243 horsepower. The AWD option adds an electric motor at the rear, instead of the previously-available mechanical drive system.
Noteworthy interior features include hands-free power sliding side doors and liftgate; an available 1500W inverter for camping; an on-board vacuum cleaner and refridgerator; a 10-inch head-up display; long-slide second-row chairs with ottomans and a power-adjustable steering column. The Sienna will be offered in LE, XLE, XSE, Limited and Platinum trim levels.
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