Fresh duds for the runner-up. The Toyota Sienna is a veteran of the minivan segment. After replacing the funky-weird Previa in the 1990s, it has been a mainstay among families who want the famed Toyota reliability in a package capable of seating up to eight and hauling nearly 150 cubes of whatever fits through the hatch. Over the years the Sienna has proved itself as an able van, and for 2021 it has been entirely redesigned.
One thing the Sienna can't seem to accomplish? Toppling the Chrysler Pacifica. Chrysler has owned the minivan segment since creating it in 1984; there have been precious few years where the brand hasn't been in the sales lead. If it didn't finish first, it probably finished second - third in a bad year. And in those scenarios, it's likely the Dodge Grand Caravan, a sister product to the Chrysler until 2017, was in the top slot.
So an all-new Sienna begs the question: can it finally topple the Chrysler Pacifica? The Chrysler has impressed segment loyalists with its luxury vibe, great tech, and urbane styling. At first glance, we feel two of those three points were missed. The new Sienna wears styling in line with Toyota's current aversion to elegance. The front end is particularly heavy-handed, with a busy, incoherent of lines and angles filling the space above the massive grille.
Overall, the look is a bit polarizing - people will love it or hate it. Comparatively, the Honda Odyssey is more sterile, looking more futuristic than the Sienna but also more sterile. The Chrysler comes across as more premium due to its lack of fuss and attractive detailing.
A new modern interior. The Sienna's redesign works much better in the cabin. Gone is the old mini-console and dash-mounted shifter; in is a full-size console that looks borrowed from Lexus and a large touchscreen that sits up and atop the dash. Buttons have been chased away and everything has been oriented horizontally, from the screen to the dash trim. It all feels very modern and looks as chic as the cockpit of any crossover.
Lots of storage also permeates the cabin. 16 cupholders dot the door panels, consoles, and armrests. Nooks for phones and tchotchkes abound.
That's all well and good, you say, but what about room? We're glad you asked. Seven- or eight-passenger seating is available, with that eighth seat dependent on if you order a bench or captain's chairs for the second row. We would recommend the latter, as it affords easy entrance into the rear of the vehicle.
With the captain's chairs, Toyota also allows for up to 25 inches of fore or aft adjustment. This affords second-row passengers massive legroom when the seats are in their furthest-back position. At their forward-most position, the chairs tuck up against the front seatback in order to maximize cargo space. You'll exploit this more than you think, as the captain's seats are not removable and they don't fold flat. They do flip forward, however, and doing so just barely allows fitment of a standard 4-by-8 sheet of plywood.
The Honda and the Chrysler don't offer the same range of second-row fore/aft adjustment as the Sienna, but both allow owners to remove the seats entirely; the Chrysler's second row can also fold flat into the floor. Neither competitor has the Sienna's flip-up ottomans, though.
Other neat party tricks that can be found in the Sienna include a vacuum, refrigerator, rear entertainment system, and a camera and microphone system to help you keep an eye on and settle down unruly third-row passengers. Most of these features are limited to the top two trims, which can cross the $50,000 threshold with all the boxes checked.
Tech-laden cockpit. We touched on the touchscreen earlier, but here are a few more details: it measures nine inches across, includes standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and has Amazon Alexa and satellite radio capability. Navigation is standard starting with the midlevel XSE.
A few buttons, as well as volume and tuning knobs, flank each side of the screen. We appreciate their presence, as they make the system effortless to use on the go.
That's not to say the touchscreen isn't easy to use. On the contrary, Toyota's software is user-friendly and disarming. It quickly becomes your friend, and between its intuitive menu management and redundant buttons, you'll never find yourself flustered trying to adjust things on the fly.
In a first for the Sienna, a head-up display is now offered on top trims. Its 10 inches of color readouts can be called up either by voice command or a steering wheel button. Neither the Pacifica, Odyssey, nor Kia Carnival offer this feature, making the Sienna the only minivan to have it.
Hybrid-only. In an unexpected move - and likely a preview of what's to come - Toyota has ditched their faithful 3.5-liter V-6 that has powered innumerable Siennas. In its stead is a hybridized 2.5-liter four-cylinder. It's the only engine currently offered, and we don't expect that to change anytime soon.
The hybrid system consists of the 189-horsepower gas engine mated up to a 180-horsepower electric motor and an accompanying 1.9 kWh battery. Combined total output is 245 horsepower, which is routed through a CVT to either the front or all four wheels. Opting for the all-wheel-drive brings an additional 50-horsepower electric motor that drives the rear axles.
Going all-in on hybridization has dramatically improved gas mileage: while the old van could only muster 18 mpg city and 24 highway, this one pulls off 36 mpg in every drive cycle. It isn't a plug-in, so you won't be driving anywhere solely on electricity, but it is the most efficient gas-powered minivan by a wide margin.
The best part is that the Sienna pulls off this feat while costing thousands less than the cheapest Pacifica hybrid, which can return 30 mpg combined once its battery runs dry. The cheapest Sienna is about $35,500; the cheapest Pacifica Hybrid is $40,000, though it's eligible for a tax credit up to $7,500.
That sort of improvement is nothing less than astounding, but it comes at the cost of speed. We didn't get official test numbers in our drive, but we wouldn't expect the Sienna to do better than an eight-second 0-60 mph run. The non-hybrid V-6 vans feel much faster by comparison, though none are quite ready for a career in drag racing.
Toyota has stepped up its game lately with chassis tuning and handling, and the Sienna is proof the brand's engineers don't discriminate among the many products wearing the badge. With confident brakes, precise steering, and a ride that is the right balance of firm and cushioned, we have to say we enjoyed our stint behind the wheel. It isn't a driver's van, but it rewards the driver with its refined manners and disposition.
Final thoughts. The minivan market has been on the skids for some time now, but the products that remain are some of the best to ever wear the 'minivan' moniker. Though crossovers remain all the rage, those in the know can smile smugly, as they're in on the secret - vans rock. The Sienna has great efficiency, endless room, lots of tech, and styling that is at least interesting, if not universally acclaimed. It's a great option regardless of whether this is your first van or your tenth.
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