The verdict: Toyota calls its minivan the “swagger wagon,” but an update for 2017 failed to give it enough pep to outshine competitors in Cars.com’s 2016 Ultimate Minivan Challenge.
Against the competition: Parents are used to making sacrifices (sleep, personal space, mental health…), and the Sienna – more than other minivans – requires them to trade road comfort for family convenience features.
For 2017, the Sienna gets a little more power and a new eight-speed automatic transmission. It competes with the Chrysler Pacifica and the Kia Sedona; compare the three minivans here. It also competes with the Honda Odyssey, which has been redesigned for 2018. Read about it here.
Exterior and style
Despite what your friends say, the words “minivan” and “style” aren’t mutually exclusive, and several automakers are succeeding with head-turning designs; the Sienna is not one of them. Its latest redesign – for the 2015 model year – brought a more streamlined grille and sharper, more dynamic headlights, but that wasn’t enough.
The muscular, studded front end of the Kia Sedona is both dramatic and handsome, and the Chrysler Pacifica exudes class with its polished face and sleek silhouette. The Sienna lives somewhere in the middle – dullsville.
how it rolls
Like cramming a Dustbuster into the couch to rescue long-lost Cheerios, the Sienna is a chore to drive. It’s both slow and moaning, unpleasantly loud. Its gruff engine noise is a constant presence in the cabin, and the high levels of road noise had me checking to make sure all the windows were rolled up.
I tested an all-wheel-drive model, and while its updated 3.5-liter V6 powertrain adds 30 more horsepower and direct injection for 2017, it doesn’t feel any faster. The added weight of all-wheel drive bogs it down. The minivan is sluggish from a standstill, and the busy and rough new eight-speed automatic transmission took its time providing more power for passing.
However, it might be a valid compromise for families in the Snowbelt, as the Sienna remains the only minivan to offer all-wheel drive; it is an option on LE, XLE and Limited trims. It proved capable over a winter weekend, muscled easily in hard-packed snow and maintaining good grip on icy side streets in my neighborhood.
However, the security of having all-wheel drive again comes at a cost. Two-wheel drive versions are EPA rated at 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined. That’s significantly higher than the AWD model’s 18/24/20 mpg. Even so, numbers for both releases are up this year; the 2016 Sienna was rated 18/25/21 mpg with front-wheel drive and 16/23/19 mpg with AWD.
Against competitors, the Sienna 2WD’s estimated combined mileage matches the Chrysler Pacifica and beats the Kia Sedona by 2 mpg. But on a 260-mile trip with my family of five (and our stuff), I averaged 20.5 mpg in mostly highway driving — well below the EPA’s estimate on the highway.
On the highway, the Sienna’s handling is comfortable, with good bump absorption. Despite its length, it’s also surprisingly manoeuvrable thanks to one of the smallest turning circles in its class. However, body tilt is unavoidable, especially in tight turns, such as freeway exits.
While its driving experience isn’t refined, the Sienna’s interior steps it up a few notches. The interior of the Limited Premium I tested was well appointed; its leather seats, contrast stitching on the dashboard, and high-gloss wood paneling give it a tasteful ambience. It feels good too, with many key touchpoints – like the dash and upper door panels – wearing soft, textured plastics. Quality and design are found in lower trim levels; even the mid-level SE trim has leather front seats.
Space in the second row is exceptional thanks in part to the captain’s chairs with generous sliding travel. I was able to fit my twins’ rear-facing infant seats into these chairs, slide them all the way back, and then walk past them to access the third row. But neither the Sienna nor its competitors can match the ultra-flexibility of the Pacifica. Storage and departure second-row seats, which easily collapse into the floor for more cargo space.
The Sienna is also available with a second-row bench seat, which has three seats.
The third row is adequately sized for kids, but lags competitors in terms of space: with 38.3 inches of headroom, it offers slightly less than the Pacifica (38.7) and Sedona (38.9). The Sienna has two sets of third row lower locking anchors and two upper tether anchors, making the third row very flexible for car seat accommodation. Click here for the full car seat check.
Cargo and storage
As a mom with a lot to store, I appreciate the Sienna’s major storage capabilities, from its best-in-class cargo space to its dual glove boxes and large center console box. In the second row, the floor-mounted cupholders are set too low for easy use when attached to the captain’s chairs, but Toyota did a great job with the third row. Each side has two cup holders and a small covered storage bin the right size for snacks and stickers.
Out back, there’s 39.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, putting the Sienna at the top of its class, ahead of the Pacifica (32.3) and Sedona (33.9). Double stroller? Absolutely. Two portable cribs? Totally. Folding the 60/40 split third row opens up space to 87.1 cubic feet of space. That’s again exceptional in the segment, more than the Sedona’s 78.4 cubic feet and just short of the Pacifica’s 87.5. Fold the second and third rows for a maximum cargo space of 150.0 cubic feet – best in class.
Maneuvering the seats is not easy, however. The problem is getting the third row back to its seated position. The unsightly two-step process requires a lot of muscle and isn’t something I’d like to do often. It’s an easier and smoother maneuver in many other vans.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The media and climate control panel aren’t easy on the eyes; it’s a cluttered and confusing array of screens, dials and small buttons. Once you understand the lay of the land, the controls are all within easy reach of the driver and the system is easy to use. The standard Entune the infotainment system’s glossy 7.0-inch touchscreen was responsive, with an intuitive menu structure and large, clear on-screen buttons; a 6.1-inch screen is standard.
My test van was also equipped with Toyota’s Easy Speak voice amplification system, which projects the driver’s voice via a hands-free microphone to the third-row speakers. With a 6 year old who wants to converse nonstop, I was eager to test the voice saver. In the third row, my little talker had no problem hearing my amplified voice, but Little Miss Chatty thought I sounded so funny, she asked me more questions than usual and finally said to turn it off; she was “tired of playing this game”. It made two of us.
Kids will probably be more impressed with the optional DVD entertainment system’s 16.4-inch flip-up screen, which can show two videos side-by-side and has an SD card slot and RCA and HDMI inputs; it is also Blu-ray compatible. Parents will appreciate the two pairs of wireless headphones.
Unlike the Chrysler Pacifica and Kia Sedona, the 2017 Toyota Sienna did not pass the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety van crash tests due to a score of acceptable (among the possible scores of good, acceptable, marginal or bad) in the small frontal overlap test.
A reversing camera is standard on all trim levels; a useful 180-degree reversing camera is available. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is standard on SE Premium, XLE and Limited trims. Toyota Pre-Collision Systemwhich uses audio and visual alerts as well as automatic braking to avoid an accident, is optional on the top Limited model but not available on other trims.
Value in its class
The 2017 Toyota Sienna starts at $30,690 including destination; all-wheel drive adds about $2,000. That’s a few hundred dollars more than the 2016 version and priced above the Pacifica ($29,590) and Sedona ($27,695).
The 2017 Toyota Sienna remains the only available all-wheel-drive minivan and is a strong contender in terms of two-wheel-drive fuel economy and cargo-hauling capabilities, but the Sedona and Pacifica get the job done faster, more quietly and with more style – or should I say… swagger?