Toyota Sienna is roomy and handsome, one of few minivans remaining on the American market, and the only one that can be equipped with all-wheel drive.
Last redesigned for 2010, the Sienna got a freshening for the 2015 model year. Little has changed for 2016, except that the Entune infotainment system has added smartphone-driven navigation and Siri EyesFree.
Though scorned for years by critics as drab suburbanite transport, the minivan is the ultimate family vehicle. When weighing a purchase, all considerations typically fall by the wayside, except for one: will it convey seven or eight passengers safely and comfortably?
Seating seven or eight, depending on second-row seating, Toyota’s minivan scores highly on both counts. Gas mileage is about average. Handling ranks above average for the minivan class, and you get Toyota’s long-standing reputation for reliability.
All Siennas hold a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 266 horsepower, coupled to a 6-speed automatic. Performance is brisk, though Honda’s Odyssey handles with a bit more crispness. Steering on the modestly sportier SE version offers slightly more direct feel.
The Sienna’s well-organized cabin has a bit more flair than some minivans. Front seats provide an almost majestic seating position. In the second row, even the basic bench is comfortable, including substantial leg and head space. The bench can be moved fore/aft to reapportion leg space.
Separate seats may be substituted for the bench, dropping passenger capacity to seven. Top-rung Limited models can even have airline-type reclining buckets. Second-row seats may be removed, but they don’t fold into the floor as in Chrysler/Dodge minivans. With the third-row seat folded, cargo space totals 87.1 cubic feet.
Its low load-in height and big cargo capacity makes the Sienna a great vehicle for the family dog and for hauling lots of stuff.
Siennas can be equipped with modern safety technology, though many features are optional. Forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise control are available on upper trim levels. Parking sensors are standard on the Limited. Blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert is standard on the XLE and Limited, and available for the SE. Toyota has increased the number of LATCH anchor points from three to four.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives Sienna a five-star overall rating and side-impact score, with four-star for frontal and rollover incidents. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave Toyota’s minivan only an Acceptable rating on the rigorous small-overlap test, but Good in other testing.
The 2016 Toyota Sienna is available in five trim levels. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is available:
Sienna L ($28,850) comes with seven-passenger seating; fabric upholstery; dual sliding side doors; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; CD player; Entune touchscreen audio; a rearview camera; three-zone automatic climate control, and 17-inch alloy wheels. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Sienna LE ($31,640) upgrades to Entune Audio Plus with a USB port and Bluetooth audio streaming, power front seats, power sliding doors, and center console. Sienna LE AWD ($34,180) upgrades with all-wheel drive and 18-inch wheels.
Sienna SE ($35,210) gets tighter suspension tuning, LED taillights, foglamps, a mesh grille, power sliding doors and liftgate, and 19-inch wheels. Sienna SE Premium ($39,930) adds a moonroof, heated power mirrors, pushbutton start, and blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert.
Sienna XLE ($35,410) has leather upholstery and heated front seats and is available with all-wheel drive ($37,620). Sienna XLE Premium ($38,605) adds Blu-Ray/DVD entertainment with 16.4-inch screen, and is available with all-wheel drive ($40,815).
Sienna Limited ($41,900) adds dual moonroof, overhead console, sliding console, second-row lounge seats, power-folding third-row seat, JBL audio, and 18-inch wheels. Limited all-wheel drive ($43,040) eliminates the lounge seats and sliding console. Sienna Limited Premium ($45,270) and Premium all-wheel drive ($46,410) add HID headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and Blu-Ray/DVD entertainment.
Eight airbags and a rearview camera are standard on all Siennas.
Measuring 200.2 inches long and 78.1 inches wide, the Sierra is emphatically a large van. Updating for the 2015 model year was a mild update, continuing the Sienna’s basic configuration as an upright minivan with a familiar twin-box profile.
Glamour isn’t part of the package, but few minivan buyers fret about style. Still, Toyota designers have given the Sienna a comparatively modern aura, with a front end that reflects the company’s current design cues. The low grille tapers gently upward, toward a strictly traditional roofline. Utility is evident throughout the Sienna, with no controversial or questionable elements intruding on the basic look.
The Sienna is one of the most comfortable minivans, and ranks among the biggest. A sweeping, wide, contoured dashboard separates the driver and front passenger, giving the latter access to climate/audio controls. Upper models feature sizable color screens, while lower trim levels get smaller, black-and-white displays.
On the down side, horizontal plastic dashboard graining has a dull appearance. Matte woodgraining on upper models isn’t much better.
At least five adults can find comfortable accommodations within the eight-passenger version. Front occupants enjoy pleasant, supportive seats. Between them lies plenty of storage space for small items.
Sienna stands tallest for its second row. The standard bench can slide to expand either cargo or passenger space. The removable segment may be stowed in the cargo space. Twin captain’s chairs can substitute for the bench.
Reaching the third row isn’t too difficult. Once there, expect adult-size space in each direction. Back seats fold nearly flat. With the third row upright, cargo space totals 39.1 cubic feet, growing to 117.8 cubic feet with second-row seats at their forward limit.
All-wheel drive availability is one feature Sienna offers that’s absent elsewhere.
Apart from that, performance is unexceptional. Nothing about the Sienna experience is dramatic. In other words, it’s ideal for a minivan, focused on practical, sensible values.
What matters most are performance issues that relate to safety, such as the ability to accelerate to highway speed promptly, and pass or merge without delay. Handling needs to be agile enough to steer away from a potential collision. Braking must be effective, especially in an emergency. In each of those vital areas, Toyota’s Sienna ranks favorably with its primary competitors: the Honda Odyssey and FiatChrysler’s twin minivans.
Toyota’s V6 engine performs agreeably, emitting a muted sound while delivering smooth, ample power. Of course, acceleration is a bit throttled by vehicle weight, which can reach 4,705 pounds.
Electric power steering can be an issue nowadays, but the Sienna’s setup has proven itself, allowing the vehicle to track well at highway speeds. Relatively quick steering, coupled with a smooth ride, make the Sienna easy to maneuver in urban traffic. The SE edition has a lower body and tighter suspension tuning, yet feels almost like other versions.
Visibility is excellent, and the standard rearview camera provides a 180-degree view. Gas mileage is lower than in the Honda Odyssey, but competitive with other minivans. The front-wheel-drive version is EPA-rated at 18/25 mpg City/Highway, or 21 mpg Combined. All-wheel-drive estimates fall to 16/23 mpg City/Highway, or 19 mpg Combined.
Relatively costly, Siennas come with the usual features, plus some distinguishing extras. Prices can escalate rapidly, moving through the trim-level selection. Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country still beat the competition in flexible seating and engaged driving, though they may not be around much longer. Overall, Sienna is a close match for the highly rated Honda Odyssey. The Toyota Sienna offers all-wheel drive, which makes it a compelling choice for wintry weather.
Driving impressions by Marty Padgett, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.