The state of the art in minivans is advancing faster than ever before, with on-board vacuum cleaners, connectivity features aimed at gadget-loving families, high-resolution screens, nifty folding seats, and more, all aimed at to capture your family transportation money. . Unfortunately for Toyota, its Sienna doesn’t offer most of what some newer minivans do.
For example, the aging Sienna has only one USB port and one HDMI input, both of which are located in the front row. There is also no provision for in-car Wi-Fi. The Chrysler Pacifica, new for 2017, has six USB ports in all three rows and two dedicated HDMI ports for second-row passengers, along with available Wi-Fi connectivity. The Toyota’s front center console is fixed (likely due to the 120-volt AC outlet on its rear side) and isn’t particularly versatile. The Honda Odyssey offers a removable console with a fold-out trash bag ring. There is no on-board vacuum cleaner on the Sienna’s option list, while the Chrysler and Honda can have this feature. And you probably know that the Sienna doesn’t offer second-row seats that fold into the floor; nor any other competitor, except Chrysler, with its Stow ‘n Go seats.
That’s not to say the Sienna is unsatisfactory; it comes standard or can be equipped with most other minivan features one could want, and one Toyota finished first out of three in our latest minivan comparison test. Indeed, the Sienna has a lot to recommend it, including a powerful V6 engine, smooth transmission, ample hauling space and Toyota’s reputation for reliability. Its split third row folds easily with the pull of a lever on each side (though the wider side takes some muscle to move around). The Entune infotainment touchscreen found in our top-end Limited test model is quick and responsive to inputs, and the few system quirks, like needing to touch the capacitive button marked “Apps” to find the navigation feature if you’re not on the home screen—are easy to learn. There are also buttons for volume and tuning, a blessing these days; we wish they stood out from the face a little more and had knurled edges to make them easier to turn. And the Sienna earns top marks in all but one of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) crash tests, earning an Acceptable rating in frontal offset performance, while NHTSA awarded its highest rating. overall five-star collision. (It’s worth pointing out that some competitors were better in the IIHS lag test, including the Odyssey and Kia Sedona, and most minivans match the Sienna’s NHTSA rating.)
Those concerned about safety should also note that this Sienna Limited took a class-worst 191 feet to stop at 70 mph during our test. We haven’t measured a minivan with such poor braking results since our long-term test of a 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan.
The Toyota’s third row is also quite roomy and easy to get to, whether you choose to slide the second row forward or slip between the captain’s chairs fitted to our Limited tester. (A second-row bench is available in some Siennas.) Even adults can sit in the back row for at least a little while, though the lower cushion lacks thigh support for long drives. Each side of the third row has a headphone jack and an individual volume knob for the rear seat infotainment system. As mentioned, however, there’s no USB port to charge the device, so woe to those whose tablet runs out of juice without a charging cable long enough to reach one of the Sienna’s two home sockets. There are three 12-volt DC outlets, but you would need this variety of chargers or a plug-in USB adapter to use them.
We like the B-pillar buttons for the power-closing doors, and we like that 14 cupholders are available for rocking drinks. While the interior materials won’t win plaudits from aesthetes — the faux wood is blatantly faux, for example — the raw plastics and vinyl leather upholstery are acceptable and likely to hold up to plenty of abuse. We found the driver’s seat to be much more comfortable than the wide, flat cushion suggested, and emerged pain-free after covering several hundred miles in a day. One minor drawback: with the third-row seats folded down, the floor is strewn with grab handles, rough Velcro and bag hangers that can be hard on the knees when rushing in the back to load or unload goods.
The Sienna drives as it should, that is, without any awkward drama. It is a pod intended to transport you and yours around town with complete peace of mind, a job in which it excels. The steering is light and precise, making parking a snap, and it doesn’t let the van wander at higher speeds, faithful tracking. The ride is smooth and quiet – perfect for little ones to nap on during a road trip – although the stiffer sidewalls of the run-flat tires fitted to all-wheel-drive models like ours introduce some harshness to the impacts which is not there with conventional rubber.
As mentioned, the 3.5-liter V6 offers plenty of power, but it gets a little coarse and sluggish at higher revs. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts almost undetectable. For 2017, the Sienna will get more power and an eight-speed automatic transmission. It doesn’t really need the extra horsepower, but the new transmission should help improve fuel economy, which is good, since the Sienna’s mileage isn’t great.
A big factor is the Sienna’s segment-exclusive feature: optional all-wheel drive, which means more work for the engine and, Toyota says, adds 145 pounds to the curb weight. All-wheel-drive versions like our tester are rated at just 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway; we achieved 20 mpg over 800+ miles, and our 200-mile test at a steady 75 mph matched the EPA’s highway mileage estimate. It can’t help matters that the AWD system – if the gauge cluster’s AWD Monitor feature is to be believed – sends torque to the rear wheels even under the lightest throttle application, even while driving at 70mph. The Sienna’s numbers improve to 18/25 mpg with front-wheel drive, although that city figure matches Honda and Chrysler rivals, these vans are both rated at 28 mpg on the highway. The all-wheel-drive system doesn’t seem to add much to the dynamic equation either – its most tangible benefit was off-the-line acceleration – more of a safety blanket for those worried about getting stuck in bad weather. We would save the premium and apply it and the fuel savings to a set of winter tires for the bad weather months.
But choosing to forgo the Sienna’s only distinctive selling point puts the Toyota at an even greater disadvantage against newer, more feature-rich rivals, especially in more expensive trim levels. Buyers who believe the latest technology and connectivity are lower priorities will be satisfied, however, as the Sienna continues to excel at the minivan’s primary mission: to transport people and their belongings in a flexible and comfortable package.