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2016-20 Toyota Sienna: more competitive and powerful than ever

Toyota’s history with minivans started with slow sellers; then the Sienna took off (helped by the Odyssey’s transmission problems), and in 2017 they sold 198,124 Siennas in the US. That made it America’s best seller, with nearly double the Honda Odyssey’s 2017 US sales — 198,124 to 100,307 — within striking range of the combined Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Pacifica (243,470).

2016 Toyota Sienna

Then Chrysler started fighting back as the minivan market faltered, and in 2018, the Sienna plummeted to just 87,781 U.S. sales; 2019 U.S. sales were just 73,585, well below Dodge, Honda, and Chrysler (in that order). A completely new 2021 Toyota Sienna, based on the TNGA platform, may rocket it back past Honda, Dodge, and Chrysler (especially since the Dodge Caravan is to be replaced by the Chrysler Voyager).

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.

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.

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 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.


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
EPA mpg19/27*17/2518/28**19/28
First gear5.5194.1274.71 
Top gear0.6730.690.48 
Ground clearance6.2 - 
Drag (cD)0.30*0.320.30 
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:

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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