Toyota's first mainstream minivan dates back to 1991 when we were introduced to the imported egg-shaped Previa. That van never really caught on, but when it was replaced with the more traditional Sienna in 1998 Toyota really started to gain some market share in the segment. Fast forward to 2021 and the Sienna is in a constant battle with top competitors such as the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica. Admittedly slightly biased having owned a 2011 Sienna until this past year, I can attest to its reliability, functionality, and ability to withstand the beatings of three children. The previous generation Sienna was around for ten years and can be seen everywhere, but it was due for a significant update and that it received for 2021.
The all-new Sienna sports a bolder, more aggressive design that rides on a new chassis platform that was designed, engineered and assembled in the USA. All models come standard with a hybrid powertrain that pairs two electric motors with a high-efficiency 2.5L DOHC 4-cylinder engine to deliver 243 horsepower. The transitions from electric to gas are noticeable and the ride is somewhat sporty. The Sienna feels grounded and is fairly agile for a minivan. Fuel economy is impressive with an estimated combined rating of 35 MPG.
The Sienna comes in six trim levels known as LE, XLE, Woodland Edition, XSE, Limited, and Platinum. Both the Woodland and Platinum models are new for 2021. Standard features include LED headlights, integrated backup camera, Android Auto/Amazon Alexa/ Apply CarPlay integration, second-row bench with stowable center seat, 8-passenger seating, three-zone climate controls, Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, blind spot monitor and more. Base prices start at $34,560 for an LE and can climb into the mid $50,000 range for a well-equipped Platinum model with options such as the rear seat entertainment, digital rear-view mirror, cross bars and more. Primary competitors include the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, and Kia Carnival while secondarily it competes with a long list of three row-mid-size crossovers. After a week in the Sienna Platinum here is what stood out...
Hybrid Powertrain (+/-)
New for 2021, the Sienna is offered exclusively with a hybrid powertrain that produces 245 horsepower with a continuously variable transmission. The transitions between gas and electric were noticeable and louder than expected. The engine lags a little when pushed at highway speeds and overall feels like its working harder than necessary. My old 2011 Sienna was equipped with a 3.5L V6 that felt more powerful and less labored on the highway. Around town though, it was quieter and easy to drive despite being a larger vehicle.
Selectable EV, NORMAL, ECO and SPORT driving modes let the driver tailor the van's driving personality. NORMAL mode is ideal for everyday driving; SPORT mode unlocks boost from the hybrid system for improved acceleration response; ECO mode extracts maximum mileage from the fuel and battery, and EV mode allows electric-only driving at low speeds for short distances.
Despite the aforementioned power concerns, I did enjoy driving the Sienna and think its rather grounded and composed. Considering its size and shape, handling was impressive. It has definitely improved over the previous generation with tighter steering and more nimbleness around corners. It delivers a smooth ride over road imperfections. The electronic on-demand AWD system also aids in the cornering agility by reducing understeer to give the Sienna a more confident feel.
All-Wheel Drive (+)
Toyota has been offering a Sienna with AWD since 2004 and was the only company doing so until Chrysler added an AWD Pacifica to its 2021 models. It's currently the only minivan to pair a hybrid powertrain with AWD and the system is available on all trim levels. The AWD system is updated to an electronic on-demand system that uses a rear-mounted electric motor to power the rear wheels when it detects slippage at all speeds. The system works seamlessly and requires no guess work from the driver. It will offer peace of mind to drivers who frequently drive in snowy or wet conditions.
Fuel Economy (+)
When the Sienna arrived with a full 18-gallon tank, it offered up an estimated 550 miles of range. EPA fuel economy is estimated at 35/36/35 MPG city/highway/combined. After a week of driving, I averaged 34 MPG in primarily suburban driving. These ratings are better that both the Odyssey, Carnival, and standard Pacifica, but fall short of the plug-in hybrid Pacifica.
Exterior Styling (+/-)
The new look is notably different with a wide front fascia, LED lighting, and bold character lines. It's a look that you'll either love or hate and I'm on the fence depending on the angle and lighting. Toyota states that the front design borrows inspiration from the Japanese bullet train to appear sleek, speedy and confident. The headlights sit higher and mold into the flared fenders. Silver accenting separate the lights from the hood and bring your eyes to the center the van. The lower fascia is one massive opening contrasted slim LED fog lights that are pushed to the bottom corners further showcasing the Sienna's wider stance.
The profile has sharp definition with a prominent character line that starts at the bottom of the front doors and moves up to the rear taillights. The lines highlight the Sienna's prominent wheel arches and give the van a much more defined look beyond a box (or egg) on wheels. The proportions are good with an appropriate wheel base and overhangs in the front and back. Around back, Sienna is spelled out across the center and the LED taillights flow with the sculpted angle design that looks sporty and serves a purpose aerodynamically. Opt for the XSE models for an even sportier look with dark 20" 5-spoke wheels, aggressively unique front and rear bumpers, and exclusive interior accents. Kudos to Toyota for pushing the envelope after 10 years of sameness, but did they push to far is the question?
Interior Layout (+)
I equate the front of the Sienna to the kitchen island as it has so much usable space for passengers which is ideal for parents. The space feels open thanks to a layered horizontal approach with one large infotainment screen at the center and slightly angled to the driver. Below that is the bridge center console that provides plenty of surface area for mobile devices, keys, snacks, four cupholders, and more. It's dubbed the bridge console because below the center portion is a wide-open storage space that is easily accessible and big enough for even my wife's giant purse. Toyota implements a traditional gear selector and wireless charging that are all appropriately placed. Everything is well-built with soft touch materials and feels durable enough to withstand the wear and tear of a family van. This is completely different take on the space than the competitors and one that I personally like.
Seating for seven or eight is available depending on your chosen configuration and trim level. New for 2021 is the introduction of Super Long Slide second-row captain chairs that slide 25-inches. This feature is available XLE and up models and provide plenty of room to recline and pop up the built-in ottoman or stretch out your legs. Thought its worth noting that the second-row seats are non-removable which limits the utility of the van should you need to haul something other than people.
The seats themselves are comfortable and supportive all around. Sienna offers plenty of elbow room in every seat. Cloth upholstery is standard, but both synthetic and genuine leather is available. Also available are heated and ventilated front seats, heated-second row seats, and a heated steering wheel. For families with little ones, there are five sets of LATCH connectors for car seats that are easy to access and use.
All Siennas come equipped with a 9" infotainment touchscreen at the center of the dash that integrates with Amazon Alexa, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay. An available premium JBL Audio system will improve the quality with 12 speakers including a subwoofer and a 1,200-watt amplification to deliver an impressive sound experience. The infotainment system is user friendly with simple menus and ancillary physical controls to compliment the touch screen. The graphics are updated, but not as modern as what you'd find in the competing Kia Carnival.
Also offered is a digital rear-view mirror which utilizes a camera in the back of the van to show unobstructed video in the "mirror." This feature takes some getting used to, but ultimately provides a better view of what is behind the Sienna free from all the distractions inside. Directly in front of the driver is an available 10-inch color head-up display that projects a good amount of information on the windshield including speed, hybrid system indicator, driver assist alerts, and more. And finally, there are cameras everywhere including standard backup camera with projected path and gridlines. An available bird's eye view camera with perimeter scan will provide a 360-degree view of the van's surroundings.
Rear Seat Camera (-)
One notable tech feature missing from the Sienna is a rear seat view camera that provides the front passengers with a view of the rear seats through the infotainment screen. All of the competing minivans offer this feature which is a huge convenience for parents with rear-facing children.
Kick-type Hands Free Sliding Doors (+)
Standard on XLE and above trims, this feature opens the sliding doors via the kick of a foot under the sensor. Simply have your keys on hand (in a pocket or bag) and move your foot under the door without ever reaching for the handle and the doors will open. This is a handy feature that many parents will appreciate who often have more in their arms than they are capable... including a child.
Cargo / Storage (+/-)
Overall cargo space is lower than all of the competition with 101 cu.ft. and this is in most part because the second row cannot be removed. I probably couldn't haul a couch in this one like I could my old Sienna with removable seats. With the second-row seats all the way forward there is 75.2 cu. ft. behind them and behind the third row is 33.5 cu. ft. The third row does easily fold flat into the floor and available built-in storage bins behind the third row created levels and hidden storage for items you want to keep in the van at all times.
Standard Safety (+)
Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 comes standard on all trim levels which adds to the overall value and reassurance that comes with purchasing a new Sienna. The comprehensive list of features includes the following:
* Pre-Collision System with Daytime/Low-Light Vehicle and Pedestrian Detection, plus Daytime Bicyclist Detection
* Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control
* Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist
* Automatic High Beams
* Lane Tracing Assist
* Road Sign Assist
After a long run in the previous generation, it's refreshing to see an all-new Sienna. Overall, it is a vast improvement from the previous model with better fuel economy, more tech, and more safety. It continues to offer impressive handling that is controlled and grounded. It offers a completely new look that will certainly standout in the school pick-up lines. While many are gravitating towards three-row crossovers, minivans such as the Sienna are very practical and are worth a test drive.
First Impression Summary:
Test Vehicle: 2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum
Exterior Color: Cypress Green
Interior Color: Black & Java Softex
Notable Options: Advanced Technology Package ($725) and Star Gaze Fixed Panoramic Roof ($1,400)
Price as tested: $43,100 (with destination charge)