The state of the minivan art is advancing quicker now than perhaps ever before, with onboard vacuums, connectivity features aimed at gadget-happy families, high-res displays, trick folding seats, and the like, all aiming to capture your family-hauling buck. Unfortunately for Toyota, its Sienna doesn’t offer most of what some newer vans do.
For example, the aging Sienna has but one USB port and one HDMI input, both located in the front row. There also is no provision for in-car Wi-Fi. The new-for-2017 Chrysler Pacifica has six USB ports across all three rows and two HDMI ports devoted to second-row passengers, as well as available Wi-Fi connectivity. The Toyota’s front center console is fixed (likely due to the 120-volt AC outlet located on its rear face) and isn’t particularly versatile. The Honda Odyssey offers a removable console that features a flip-up trash-bag ring. There’s no onboard vacuum cleaner on the Sienna’s options list, while both the Chrysler and the Honda can be equipped with that feature. And you probably know that the Sienna doesn’t offer second-row seats that fold into the floor; nor does any other competitor except Chrysler, with its Stow ’n Go seats.
CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVE
This is not to say that the Sienna is unsatisfactory; it comes standard or can be equipped with most every other minivan feature one could want, and a Toyota finished first out of three in our most recent minivan comparison test. Indeed, the Sienna has much to recommend it, including a powerful V-6, a smooth transmission, ample hauling room, and Toyota’s reputation for reliability. Its split third row folds easily with the pull of a lever on each side (although the larger side takes a bit of muscle to move). The Entune infotainment touchscreen found in our top-spec Limited test model is quick and responsive to inputs, and the system’s few quirks—such as needing to touch the capacitive button marked “Apps” to find the navigation function if you’re not on the home screen—are easily learned. There also are knobs for volume and tuning, a blessing these days; we did wish they stood out a bit higher from the face and had knurled edges to make spinning them easier, though. And the Sienna earns top Good marks in all but one Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash test, scoring one Acceptable in frontal-offset performance, while NHTSA has bestowed its top five-star overall crash rating. (It’s worth pointing out that some competitors were better in the IIHS offset test, notably the Odyssey and the Kia Sedona, and most minivans match the Sienna’s NHTSA rating.)
Those worried about safety should note, too, that this Sienna Limited required a worst-in-class 191 feet to stop from 70 mph in our test. We haven’t measured a minivan with braking results this poor since our long-term test of a 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan.
The Toyota’s third row is fairly roomy, too, 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 test vehicle. (A second-row bench is available in select Siennas.) Even adults can sit in the back row for at least a little while, although the bottom cushion lacks enough thigh support for longer journeys. 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 for device charging, so woe to those whose tablet runs out of juice with no charging cable long enough to reach one of the two household outlets in the Sienna. There are three 12-volt DC sockets, but you’d need that variety of charger or a plug-in USB adapter to use them.
We like the B-pillar buttons for the power-close doors, and we like that 14 cupholders are available for beverage cradling. While the interior materials will win no plaudits from aesthetes—the fake wood is egregiously fake, for instance—the rough-and-tumble plastics and vinylish leather upholstery are acceptable and are likely to stand up to lots of abuse. We found the driver’s seat far more comfortable than the broad, flat cushion might suggest and emerged ache-free after driving several hundred miles in a day. One minor annoyance: With the third-row seats folded, the floor is peppered with handles, rough Velcro, and bag hangers that can be tough on knees when you scramble into the back to load or unload cargo.
The Sienna drives just as it ought to, which is to say, without any bothersome drama. It’s a pod intended to convey you and yours around town in serenity, a job at which it excels. The steering is light and accurate, making parking a snap, and it doesn’t let the van wander at higher velocities, tracking true. The ride is smooth and quiet—perfect for having the little ones nap 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 impacts that isn’t there with conventional rubber.
CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVE
As mentioned, the 3.5-liter V-6 offers plenty of power, but it does get a bit coarse and winded at higher rpm. The six-speed automatic transmission operates nearly undetectably. For 2017, the Sienna will get more power and an eight-speed automatic transmission. It doesn’t really need extra horsepower, but the new transmission should help improve fuel economy—which is good, because the Sienna’s mileage isn’t great.
An important factor is the Sienna’s one exclusive feature in the segment: optional all-wheel drive, which means more work for the engine and, according to Toyota, adds 145 pounds to the curb weight. All-wheel-drive versions like our test van are rated at just 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway; we achieved 20 mpg in more than 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 under even the lightest throttle application, even while cruising at 70 mph. The Sienna’s numbers improve to 18/25 mpg with front-wheel drive, although that city figure matches the Honda and Chrysler competitors, those vans are both rated at 28 mpg on the highway. The all-wheel-drive system doesn’t appear to bring much to the dynamic equation, either—its most tangible benefit was in off-the-line acceleration—more of a security blanket for those concerned with getting stuck in nasty weather. We’d save the premium and apply it and the fuel savings to a set of winter tires for foul-weather months.
But choosing to forgo the Sienna’s sole distinctive selling point puts the Toyota at an even clearer disadvantage against newer, more feature-rich competitors, particularly in pricier trim levels. Buyers who believe that the latest in technology and connectivity are lower priorities, however, will be satisfied, as the Sienna continues to excel at the core minivan mission: hauling people and their stuff in a flexible and comfortable package.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 7-passenger, 4-door van
PRICE AS TESTED: $48,356 (base price: $35,130)
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 211 cu in, 3456 cc
Power: 266 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 245 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 119.3 in
Length: 200.2 in
Width: 78.1 in Height: 71.3 in
Passenger volume: 156 cu ft
Cargo volume: 39 cu ft
Curb weight: 4771 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 7.3 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 20.6 sec
Zero to 110 mph: 26.0 sec
Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 7.8 sec
Top gear, 30-50 mph: 4.1 sec
Top gear, 50-70 mph: 4.9 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 15.7 sec @ 89 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 117 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 191 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.76 g
EPA city/highway driving: 16/23 mpg
C/D observed: 20 mpg
C/D observed highway driving: 23 mpg
C/D observed highway range: 450 mi
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