Toyota Sienna minivan continues to impress
By Jim Bray
Can a minivan be sporty?
Well, I guess it depends on your definition of "sporty," but the current Toyota Sienna comes as close to being a "sports van" as any I've driven over the years. Oh, Porschefiles and aficionados of stuff like "Zoom-Zoom" may not find it truly sporty, and in the grand scheme of things it probably isn't, but I find it quite amazing just how driveable this minivan is.
Even with a damn CVT transmission!
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Sportiness is probably not something most minivan shoppers seek out, but if you can get it and you enjoy the art of driving, why not?
And that brings us to the second year of the fourth iteration of Toyota's minivan. Sure, it's still as utilitarian as before – if not more so – but it's also pretty darn decent to drive. It feels more like a big SUV than a minivan and, while that doesn't necessarily (or usually, even) translate into "Whee! behind the wheel" it can be if you're driving something like an Alfa Stelvio, a Mazda CX-5, an Acura MDX, Porsche Macan or a Jaguar F-Pace.
Now, I'm definitely not saying a Sienna is to a Stelvio as a Corolla is to a Caterham, but you really need to spend some seat time in a Sienna to see just how good it is.
Yet you can't even get it with a V6 any more! Instead, however, you get a four-cylinder gas engine coupled to hybrid technology that not only can increase your gas mileage (if you drive it right), but the electric oomph gives more get up and go as well.
As I said in my initial review of this generation of Sienna: "If Toyota had done this 25 years ago, when our kids were of the minivan age, I might not have dragged my feet on buying one until they'd grown up and moved out and it was once again safe to ignore minivans."
According to Toyota, the Sienna (designed and built in North America, if that matters to you) "delivers a combination of room, comfort, convenience, fuel efficiency and versatility that other types of vehicles can't match. Starting with an all-new minivan structure based on the TNGA-K Platform, the goal was to optimize everything that is great about minivan function, while wrapping it all into a bold, sexy, and provocative design, expanding the definition of what a next generation minivan should be."
Siennas look like a minvan – well, duh! – but even here, its exterior design eschews the bland smoothness of most minvans in favour of a tad more aggression. It's a minivan that looks as if it means business.
And apparently it does. Toyota's Hybrid System II cranks out 245 total horsepower, which is the oomph from the combination of gas and gaia goodness, and the company claims a combined fuel consumption of 7.1 L/100km. That doesn't seem like a lot of power to me, but it's enough for normal conditions – though I never had a chance to drive it loaded (neither the vehicle nor myself!) nor did I exploit its claimed 3500 pounds of towing capacity.
Power comes on smoothly, and noisily thanks to the damn CVT (Toyota says it's quiet but they, well, exaggerate), and you can exploit various driving modes to help tailor the experience to your state of mind or the state of the roads. NORMAL mode is self explanatory, SPORT mode gives you some extra hybrid boost, ECO sucks all the joy from life itself, and EV mode lets you drive using the electric-only capability, which means it's pretty well useless unless you're trying to be outrun by pedestrians.
There's a fake "manual mode" on the CVT that lets you increase the regenerative braking. It's meant for hilly areas and the like, places where you could use some engine braking.
The interior is thought out extremely well. The driver's seat (at least in Toyota's XSE AWD seven passenger sample) is very comfortable, power operated, and offers an excellent driving position. Between the front seats is a tall, bridge-like centre console that looks more as if it's from a car or SUV than a minivan. It offers abundant cup holders, a large, covered storage space inside for whatever you're attempting to smuggle, and there's also an open storage area below that's perfect for purses, laptops, ordinance, etc..
The instrumentation is also laid out (and thought out) clearly and logically, and the LCD screen that sits on the top of the centre stack was near enough for me to reach without stretching, and it even works with polarized sunglasses better than many Toyotas.
The front passenger seat is nice, too; Toyota's sample's front seats were heated and powered. The second row of the sample was a pair of nice captain's chairs, but you can also order a bench seat and up the seating ante to eight.
The sport van impression goes away once you're past the B pillar, but that's because you get the real minivan stuff back there – lots of room, sliding side doors (which you can activate by kicking your foot – just like my wife activates me!), and a third row that's (at least with the captain's chairs) pretty easy to access.
Toyota's sample included its nifty Digital Display Rear View Mirror (it comes with the $5,755 Technology Package). It's very cool and I loved trying it, but it's best used sparingly. I love the wide viewing angle you get from the video display that replaces the conventional rear view mirror's view, but it also takes you "virtually" out of the driver's seat and makes the vehicle's rear end disappear – so instead of seeing the vehicle around you, you only get the view behind, like a higher, wider, panoramic back-up camera, only better.
Toyota says it's designed to give drivers an extra view when the back of the van is chock full of stuff and blocking the conventional mirror's view backward. I can dig that.
That Technology Package also gets you stuff like: Apple CarPlay compatibility, Android Auto compatibility, LED Fog Lamps, Intelligent Clearance Sonar with Rear Cross Traffic Brake, wireless charging, nine-inch Touch Screen, premium JBL audio with 12 Speakers, a Wide-Angle Backup Camera, a very handy Rear Camera Washer, Rear Seat Entertainment System, HDMI Inputs and two Sets of Wireless Headphones.
It seems like quite a bit of extra cash for a vehicle that, in this trim level, already starts at $48,590, but the stuff it gives you is pretty good. It would be nice if you could save some money by eschewing a lot of the nannies Toyota (and everyone else) crams into their vehicles these days. But you can't. Again, I can't blame Toyota alone for this, and at least their nannies are mostly shut offable.
TOYOTA SAFETY SENSE 2.0:
STAR SAFETY SYSTEM:
Plus, the usual stuff like traction control, antilock brakes, etc. etc. Makes one wonder why one would bother learning to drive well when the vehicle can just push you out of the way.
Okay, that's an exaggeration, but not a big one.
Overall, while I still would rather be torn apart by wild dogs than buy a minivan, if I absolutely had to, I'd probably get the Sienna. It's a great minivan, but it's more than that: it's also a great vehicle. Warts and all.
Copyright 2022 Jim Bray