People love to hate on a minivan. But if they haven't driven one or seen one lately, they might be in for a surprise. In addition to a slew of family friendly features, these people haulers are packed with technology, safety and lux-level amenities.
The 2021 Toyota Sienna
is all-new for this model year, and it's a great example of how good the minivan has gotten. SUV contours
When the 2021 Sienna was delivered, and I stepped outside to receive it, I had to blink and shake my head a bit. I thought they'd mistakenly brought me a Highlander. While this is still clearly a minivan with its sliding side doors, the overall profile is more SUV than "mommobile."
With the heavily contoured side panels and pinched rear, it borders on handsome.
The interior had clever cubbies as well as a clean design, attractive finishings and plenty of cup holders.
Not to mention the fact the test vehicle was painted the new Cypress Green, which was a stunner in and of itself. Sienna goes green
One of the most interesting things about the new Sienna is it only comes as a hybrid. It's available in front-wheel- or all-wheel-drive configurations, but the only powertrain is a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine paired with two electric motors. Total power output is 245, which is a 51 horsepower drop over the previous generation.
Yeah. I said drop. But I'm going to tell you, I didn't miss it. Much. It was plenty fast to merge with highway traffic as well as pass at highway speeds.
The upside: fuel economy. The AWD version boasts a city-and-highway combined rating of 35 MPG.
My husband and I put this to the test as we drove more than 800 miles round trip from Chicago to Duluth, Minnesota, so I could run a half marathon. I averaged between 32 and 33 while I was driving, and my husband (who drives a little faster than I do) averaged around 31 mpg. I think that's excellent considering this vehicle weighs 4,725 pounds (for the AWD Platinum trim), and we weren't driving 55 MPH the entire way.
While Toyota is currently taking a beating in the media for its lack of battery electric vehicles, I'll point out that our 6-1/2-hour drive, which became an 8-hour drive due to traffic, would have become much, much longer if the Sienna were electric instead of a hybrid. The long haul
So, yeah, we spent a solid 16 hours in the Sienna. And the verdict is: This is one very comfortable vehicle. Whether we were in the driver's seat or one of the passenger seats, both my husband and I found the Sienna seats to be just the right amount of firm versus squishy.
I'm about 5-feet-tall and weigh 95 pounds, whereas my husband is about 5-feet, 8-inches and weighs 190 - and we both managed to find our sweet spot in terms of comfort and good driving position.
And since I was coming back to Chicago after running a half-marathon, I'll be honest, my husband did the lion's share of the driving, and I did a lot of sleeping.
We both appreciated the plethora of cup holders for water, coffee, more water and still more water. From the bottle holders in the doors to the four (yes, four!) cup holders on the center console we were very well hydrated.
I also appreciated the under-console storage to hold our bag-o-snacks. I really hate taking too many pitstops on a road trip if the point of drive isn't the actual drive. So, we only stopped for gas and the call of nature - which we, surprisingly, only need to do twice.Second-row bliss
With its max-slide second-row captain's chairs, the middle row has become a highly adjustable and comfortable place to sit. The test vehicle was the Platinum model, so in addition to four accessible cup holders, this vehicle had quad-zone HVAC controls, rear-seat entertainment and heated seats.
I would have loved to have those HVAC controls and heated seats as a kid because my parents were habitually freezing me out, so this is a huge win - especially because each outboard position can adjust the temperature for themselves.
Third-row passengers, however, are out of luck and at the mercy of those second-row passengers. Storing stuff
In addition to the nifty under-console space, there are a ton of places throughout the 2021 Sienna to set things or stow stuff. I appreciated the ledge on the dash to place phones and my toll pass. The console bin was deep and could easily fit a small purse or tablet.
One of the coolest storage spaces, though, was in the rear. Like all minivans, there is a deep well behind the third-row seats for extra storage. But the test vehicle included removable bins in the back that provided covered storage. What's more, those bins were plastic, so you could put smelly, dirty, wet running clothes and shoes (or anything else that might be messy) back there without mussing up the carpet. All you have to do is wipe them out when you're done. Don't need them? Simply take them out and leave them at home.Picking nits
While I really liked the 2021 Sienna, there are a few things that could be improved.
First, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are wired in, and I really wish they were wireless. Cord management can be a bit messy, and I found my husband must have had a bum cord because he couldn't connect to Auto when it was his turn to drive.
Now let's go back to that third row. While the seats are oddly comfortable, these passengers are constrained by the whims of their second-row counterparts in terms of HVAC and legroom. Plus, the third-row windows are kind of dinky, and there aren't USB charge ports on both sides of the vehicle. So, you have to hope whoever is paired back there is the sharing sort.
Finally, while I like the idea of the kick activated liftgate and side doors, I had a hard time getting them to work. The liftgate was 50/50 in terms of me getting it to work, and I'm not sure if it's because of my small feet or something else. I also wasn't fond of the location of the kick activation for the side doors. Instead of being in front of, you know, the side doors, they were illogically placed under the front doors. Once I figured out where they were (there's an emblem telling you where to kick), they worked fine. I just thought the location was odd.The bottom line on the 2021 Sienna
People who have minivans swear by minivans. They are so functional and comfortable for a long road trip. Plus, visibility and handling are far more carlike than an SUV, which makes it easier to drive for most people.
This new generation of the Toyota Sienna gets some great tech, cool features and much needed handsome styling. It might even be enough to woo an SUV owner over to the minivan side.