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2021 Toyota Sienna: more competitive than ever (and the 2016-2020 minivans)

Toyota’s first minivans were slow sellers; then the Van and Previa were replaced by the Sienna. In 2017, Toyota was the top seller in the US, with 198,124 Siennas sold—nearly double the Odyssey. The Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Pacifica, together, only hit 243,470. But then, in a sinking market, the Sienna fell to 87,781 in 2018 and to 73,585 in 2019, when it was fourth place in sales.

2021 Toyota Sienna

The completely new 2021 Toyota Sienna, based on the TNGA platform, may rocket it back to the top. Toyota chose once more to copy the Pacifica in many ways, while adding new features and making many features standard. Standard safety features include dynamic cruise control (based on radar), lane departure alert with steering assist, lane tracing assist, automatic high beams, road sign assistance, and a pre-collision system with pedestrian and low-light detection. The latter can automatically stop if it senses a collision with a car, bicyclist, or pedestrian, even in low light. Finally, buyers get two very handy features—rear cross traffic alerts (for backing out of spaces when you're between two SUVs) and blind spot monitors (which aren't available at all on, say, the Honda Civic). Buyers also get ten airbags, including curtain side airbags for every row.

2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum

The second hybrid minivan ever (after the Pacifica PHEV), the Sienna is only sold as a hybrid, with 33 mpg combined fuel economy. It’s on the new TGNA platform, which is far better than the old panoply of platforms for both ride and cornering; it should be quieter, too. The minivan has a sophisticated trailing-arm multi-link rear suspension and a far more rigid body than in the past. Noise was reduced, particularly in “conversation” frequencies, partly through a higher strenght body, and partly through extra insulation.

As for the engine, there is the usual “one option”—but it’s an unusual option. Chrysler makes an optional plug-in hybrid, using its normal V6 engine (okay, a modified version of it); Toyota uses a single engine, too, but it’s a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder dual-cam hybrid. The result is 243 horsepower (not quite up to the Pacifica’s 260 hp/262 lb-ft, but close to the Odyssey’s 248 hp/250 lb-ft). The standard Pacifica is rated at just 19 mpg city, 28 highway; the Sienna, at 33 mpg, combined; the Pacifica hybrid, on gasoline only, is only rated at 30 mpg (in fairness, the Pacifica is rated at 82 MPGe in PHEV mode). Toyota pointedly reminds potential buyers that there is no need to buy a battery charger or plug in their van (Chrysler has a built-in slow charge mode that only requires 110V, but many buyers do buy a charger).

The Sienna has EV, normal, economy, and sport modes; EV mode provides electric-only driving at low speeds, for short distances. A sequential shifter provides more regenerative braking, for driving in hilly areas; it’s similar to downshifting but returns energy to the battery. The gasoline engine uses intelligent variable valve timing on the intake—driven by an electric motor—and a conventional intelligent variable valve timing system on the exhaust. The cooling system, using an electric water pump and thermostat, and the oil pump are both variable-output designs to increase efficiency.

2021 minivan gauges

Grades are base, LE, XLE, XSE, Limited, and Platinum only. A clever new feature for parents is the Driver Easy Speak, a built-in PA system to reach the rear of the cabin. Oh, and there are 18 cupholders, and a 7-inch customizable display on the dash (just like the Chrysler). A clever additional feature is predictive efficient drive (PED), which memorizes road and traffic conditions; if the driver takes the same route often, with PED on, the vehicle predicts upcoming slow-downs and stops, and can increase economy on its own.

Unlike the Pacifica, the Sienna Platinum comes with a ten-inch color heads-up display, controlled by voice and a steering-wheel switch; it shows key information at eye level, including navigation directions. A JBL 1200 watt stereo with 12 speakers, and 1080p HD rear video is optional. The base model comes with a nine-inch touch screen, six speakers, CarPlay/Android compatibility, seven USB ports, voice recognition, and satellite radio, with optional WiFi.

An optional 360° camera setup helps the driver to see potential obstacles, including children and animals; Curb View makes tight parking possible without any risk of scuffing the 20-inch wheels.

2021 sienna dashboard

The all wheel drive system, not available on the Pacifica Hybrid, uses a separate electric motor for the rear wheels; it can operate at any speed, and can send up to 80% of torque to the rear wheels (or 100% of torque to the front wheels) if needed. Torque distribution can be shown on the display, along with numerous other bits of information.

The 2021 Sienna includes a four-zone climate control system (one more than Chrysler), heated second-row captain’s chairs with ottomans and a “long slide,” a power tilt and telescoping steering column with heated steering wheel, digital rear-view mirror, 10-inch color head-up display, and 12-speaker audio.

The major downside: you can’t remove or stow the center seats, as you can on a Dodge or Chrysler.

Features in common with Pacifica are doors where you wave your foot underneath for automatic opening; a blind spot monitor standard, along with rear seat reminder for parents. AWD is optional on every model; the Sienna also has an optional vacuum (on Odyssey, and for Pacifica only on the top model) and a real refrigerator (which seems to be unique). It will be built in Indiana and is arriving late this year.

Feature On...
Express power windows, all positions; 3/36 full warranty; 5/60 rust; 8/100 hybrid All
Power sliding side doors; 8-way driver’s seat; three-zone filtered climate control; second-row sunshades LE and up
Hands-free power sliding doors/hatch, four-zone filtered climate control, nicer, heated front seats with seatback pockets, power driver lumbar support, four-way adjustable front passenger seat, front and rear parking sonar XLE and up (not XSE)
Leather heated/ventilated front seats, power tilt/telescope steering column, power adjustable front seats (driver 8-way, passenger 4-way), vacuum, storage box (Limited only) Limited
Refrigerator, 10-inch color head-up display, 360° view Platinum
Spare tire, tow hitch Optional

2016-2020 Sienna minivans

The 2016 Sienna launched with a 266 horsepower V6, hooked up to a six-speed. The 2017 models gained an eight-speed automatic; the direct-injection V6, coded C-4S, was good for 296 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque, topping the Chrysler Pacifica (which had a nine-speed) and the Dodge Caravan (six-speed). Either Sienna minivan came with a standard 3,500-pound tow prep package.

2016 Toyota Sienna

The Sienna, through this run, could be purchased with all wheel drive — unlike any competitor. In addition, the Sienna SE had a lowered, sport-tuned suspension with 19-inch wheels, side-skirt body elements, and “smoke-look” trim, trying to play the part of the “swagger van” — more successfully, perhaps, than the old Dodge Caravan R/T. Inside, the SE had special gauge styling and heated front black-leather-trimmed seats with white stitching.

The Sienna, which replaced the Previa, was originally created for North America, styled by Toyota’s Calty Design Center in Newport Beach, California; some development took place in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is built in Indiana. All powertrain components, including the HV battery, are covered by a ten year, 150,000 mile warranty.

The basic minivan

The interior retains its choice of seven or eight seat configurations, sold in five trims: L, LE, SE, XLE, and Limited. The seven-seat setup uses captain’s chairs in the middle row, instead of a bench seat. Buyers needing wheelchair help can get the LE and XLE with a 330-lb-capacity Auto Access Seat from Toyota Mobility.

As with all modern minivans, the Sienna is a unibody design — albeit one with an “anti-vibration sub-frame.” The front suspension is based on MacPherson struts, while the rear is a torsion-beam style — the same architecture as the Toyota Corolla. Steering assist is now electrical for easier tuning, lower weight and fewer parts, with no chance of a power steering fluid leak. A power liftgate is standard on the SE, XLE and Limited grades.

Sienna V6

The interior has 150 cubic feet of space with the second row of seats removed, and the third row stowed; in this way it can fit a 4x8 plywood sheet. The second row of seats can slide 23 inches to balance second and third row legroom. The Limited has leather seat trim, with middle-row dual armrests, leg and foot support, and (except with AWD) a sliding center console accessible to both front and second-row passengers.

Those with bench second-row seats can take them out and stow them in the left side of the rear-storage area, leaving a cup holder and storage tray between the two remaining seats. Access to the rear seats is eased by the Tip Up and Long Slide feature. The 60/40 split third-row seats fold flat with one motion; the Limited FWD has power seat lowering and raising. Even with all seats in use, the Sienna can hold four large suitcases.

2018 Sienna cosmetic changes included a larger lower grille and larger fog light compartments; and the SE lower rocker panels was used on all trimlines. New colors for 2018 were Toasted Walnut Pearl, Alumina Jade Metallic, and Parisian Night Pearl.

Controls and minivan-special features

Air conditioning, shifter, and multimedia are in a single panel. A trip computer sits with the gauges — a 3.5-inch black and white version (2016-17 only) or a 4.2-inch color one, depending on trim; the color version can show navigation or music information, and became standard on the 2018s. Audio controls are accessed from a four-way switch on the steering wheel. As with other minis, there are three temperature zones, with a separate rear control panel.

The optional pushbutton driver’s seat center armrest can adjust to numerous positions, and can return to its last position even after it’s been stowed. The Limited has a heated steering wheel.

dashboard

A special mirror in the overhead console lets drivers quickly see all passengers; the optional and unique Driver Easy Speak lets the driver use the minivan’s rear speakers to make themselves clearly heard without turning around.

Finally, the Sienna has an optional Dual View Entertainment Center, which uses two viewable displays within a single 16.4-inch widescreen image. The system has Blu-Ray, HDMI input, and SDXC inputs, which can play from one or two sources at once; one pair of wireless headphones and a remote control are included.

Digital goodies

The 2018 SE gained an acoustic windshield, while the Limited garnered laminated front-row window glass, to quiet the interior. The entire line gained a 4.2-inch color between-gauges display; Limited Premium buyers can opt for the “Bird’s Eye View monitor,” essentially a 360° camera system.

In the 2016-17 minis, only the SE and XLE could be upgraded to “Entune 3.0” with dynamic navigation and apps; Limited came with it, standard, along with JBL audio, sound staging, and “Clari-Fi” for higher sound quality. The optional rear-seat video system could stream from Android devices.

inside the sienna

The 2018 Sienna upgraded the systems, and all had five USB ports covering all three rows. Now, the L got Entune 3.0 with Connected Navigation (Scout GPS Link with Moving Maps), while LE, SE, and XLE gained Entune 3.0 and WiFi Connect for up to five mobile devices for 4G LTE coverage (also standard on Limited). All the Entunes had backup cameras and Siri Eyes Free compatibility. The JBL system was limited to Limited.

The Entune apps were Destination Search, iHeartRadio, NPR One, OpenTable, Pandora, Yelp, and Slacker Radio. Data services, via subscription, included a fuel price guide, sports scores, stocks, traffic, and weather. Entune apps can be opened by pressing a switch on the steering wheel, then speaking the name of the app; the apps are all voice-command-capable and can be updated “over the air.”

Specs and comparisons

2018 specsToyotaDodgeChryslerHonda
Horsepower296283287248
Torque263260262250
EPA mpg19/27*17/2518/28**19/28
Gears869 
First gear5.5194.1274.71 
Top gear0.6730.690.48 
Wheelbase119.3121.2121.6 
Length200.6202.8203.6 
Width78.178.779.6 
Ground clearance6.2 - 6.65.65.1 
Drag (cD)0.30*0.320.30 
Headroom
F/R***
41/38.339.8/37.940.1/38.7 
Legroom, total: 114.4115.5116.6 
Cargo volume (seats out)150 c.f.n/an/a 
Cargo volume (seats folded)117.8 c.f.140.3140.5 
Passenger volume164.4158.6  
Behind second row87.1 c.f.78.987.5 
Behind third row39.1 c.f.31.132.3 
Weight4,430 - 4,6154,5104,330 

* 18/24 mpg, cd = 0.31 with AWD
** Chrysler Hybrid is rated at 32 mpg combined, or 84 MPGe with a full charge, and weighs 4,943 pounds
*** Without moonroof or sunroof

Other specs:

 FrontRear
SuspensionMacPherson strutsTorsion beam, coil springs
Sway bar diameter1.020.79
Brakes12.9” vented disc12.2” disc

Tire sizes were P235/60R17 on L, LE, and XLE, P235/55R18 on Limited and all AWD models, and P235/50R19 on SE.

Weight was 4,430 for L, 4,505 for LE, 4,605 for SE, 4,590 for XLE, and 4,615 for Limited — all with front wheel drive. All wheel drive added around 150 pounds.

Safety and such

From the start, the 2006 Sienna came with eight airbags, including front-seat-mounted side airbags, and side curtain airbags for all rows. Active front headrests prevent whiplash in some collisions. The optional Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert systems (SE, XLE, Limited) work to avoid common accidents; the Blind Spot Monitor detects cars in the “blind spot” area for safer lane changes, while the Rear Cross Traffic Alert uses bumper-mounted sensors to spot oncoming traffic while backing up.

The Pre-Collision System (PCS) was optional on the Limited grade; Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), essentially stability control with engine and steering inputs, was also optional on that trimline.

All the 2018 Siennas had a generous dose of safety gear: a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, and distance-based (using radar) cruise control, with active braking across the board. That came on top of electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, stability control, traction control, and “Smart Stop,” which applies the brakes to prevent a head-on collision.

Safety Connect, which comes with a one year trial subscription, includes automatic collision notification (it will summon emergency services after a collision), a stolen vehicle locator, an emergency button, and roadside assistance.

The warranty includes three years or 36,000 miles comprehensive, powertrain for 60,000 miles or five years, and corrosion for five years; there are two years or 25,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance and roadside assistance.

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2021 Toyota Sienna minivans: all hybrid, all the time!