It’s an unspoken rule that buying a minivan is a rite of passage of sorts, the end of youthful freedom and the kiss of death to any sense of cool, or hipness. With all the sex appeal of comfortable shoes, the minivan symbolizes the inevitable surrender to responsibility, and an inexorable slide into boring adulthood. But just like the cushiony welcome of your favourite Birkenstocks, the sheer ease with which it slips into your life makes the minivan pretty hard to resist.
The Toyota Sienna has been around for 23 years and has remained unchanged for the last decade. Toyota’s research has shown them that the typical minivan owner is 37 years old with a growing family, a business, or a hobby or leisure activity. They tend to be loyal – it’s hard to go back once you’ve experienced just how useful these vehicles can be. But they’d appreciate more style and technical innovation and a departure from the frumpiness that’s defined the segment for so long.
Having undergone a complete, ground-up overhaul for 2021, the Sienna enters its fourth generation with a lot more swagger – without losing any of the practical utility that made it one of the best-selling vehicles in its segment.
Now riding on Toyota’s new TNGA platform, the Sienna is now taller, longer, and wider, with a floor that’s 20 mm lower than its predecessor’s without losing any ground clearance.
The new architecture comes wrapped in a design that Toyota claims was “inspired by” Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train, led by a blunt face with swept-back headlights flanking a rather large and angry grille. The enormous stretch of side sheetmetal is broken up by a distinctive character line derived from the Toyota Supra. There are several exterior and interior paint schemes, and three available wheel choices; a 17-inch alloy, 18-inch bright metallic, and a 20-inch dark alloy. Overall, the Sienna makes a valiant attempt to break away from the boxiness so inherent in its segment. But Toyota’s claim that we could think of it as “an SUV with sliding doors” is a bit of stretch.
But like an SUV, the Sienna can be optioned with all-wheel-drive throughout the model lineup and it’s the only minivan to be equipped solely as a hybrid.
In a bold move, Toyota did away with the V6 option, and offers the Sienna with a single powertrain; a 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine with electric motor, for a combined output of 245 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel-drive models come with an additional electric motor at the rear axle with power on demand, and a torque distribution that goes from 100:0 to 20:80 when needed. The maximum tow rating on all Siennas is 3,500 lbs.
The new powertrain helps drop the Sienna’s fuel consumption by a whopping 43 per cent over the outgoing model: the official NRCan rating of new FWD Sienna is 6.5L/100 km combined vis 11.0L for the 2020 Sienna; and 6.7L combined for AWD models compared to 11.7L for the previous model. Those are impressive numbers in a segment where frugality matters. But utility matters even more, and the Sienna achieves those numbers without losing any cargo space since the 1.9 kWh battery pack is located under front seats. There’s no range anxiety, nor searching for charge stations since the battery is replenished by kinetic energy produced by braking and coasting.
Interior space is where the minivan shines. The Sienna comes in either seven or eight passenger configurations, and has 949 litres of trunk space that expands to 2,129 litres with the rear seats folded, and 2,860 litres with the middle and third row dropped. The second row is available in a bench or captain’s chairs in upper trim levels that slide 25 inches fore and aft, and come with an optional ottoman. The third row seats drop in weight from 24 kg to 8 kg thanks to a lightweight resin frame, and can be stowed in one easy motion. Kick-activated power sliding doors are available in upper trim levels.
The front seats are divided by a floating bridge console that come equipped with four cup holders – the Sienna has 16 in total – and a deep storage compartment.
Every Sienna comes standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0, a suite of driver’s aids that includes Lane Tracing Assist, Radar Cruise Control, Pre-collision braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, and automatic high beams. Additional safety features include 10 airbags, LATCH system for up to five child seats, tire pressure monitoring system, and available clearance sonar with rear cross traffic auto brake.
Also standard is a 9-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, seven USB ports, power sliding doors, and heated steering wheel. Other available technologies include a digital display mirror, bird’s eye view camera, wireless charger, and Driver Easy Speak that allows the driver to address the rear passengers via the sound system’s speakers. Also available (standard on upper trims) is an 11.6-inch rear entertainment package with remote and two wireless headphones. Through its dealership network, Toyota offers the Sienna Mobility Package, a wheelchair up-fitting system available on FWD LE and XLE models.
On the road, the Sienna feels solid, soaking up bumps and road imperfections and delivering a quiet, composed ride. It’s not as powerful as competitors Odyssey and Pacifica, but feels nimble enough for merging and passing manoeuvres. There are three drive modes available: Normal, Eco, and Sport, and an EV drive mode button that will let you travel on battery power under 30 km/hr for two kilometres. Over a route comprised mainly of twisty back roads and very little highway, I achieved an overall 8.1L/100 km – which is pretty good for an enormous vehicle with the aerodynamics of a chest freezer.
Arriving in Canadian dealerships soon, the Sienna starts at $39,990 for a base FWD, eight-passenger LE, and goes up to $58,190 for an AWD Sienna Limited. It’s estimated that 67 per cent of Canadian buyers will opt for all-wheel-drive, and Toyota predicts the volume seller will be the $47,690 XSE AWD. A Platinum model with on-board freezer and vacuum will arrive at a later date.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.