Sienna still a fine people mover, now a hybrid with AWD …
Minivans come and minivans go, but do you feel you could love one? I think you could.
Toyota has been making its Sienna minivan for nearly 25 years and let’s be honest, it still looks like a minivan. That’s the rub for all minivans, they are utilitarian family movers, excelling at the job. Those two sliding side doors make it super easy to load kids into car seats. The third row allows a family to carry up to eight passengers. That huge cargo bay in back will lug a ton of boxes, suitcases, soccer equipment or Pack n Plays.
So why doesn’t everyone with a family of five or more own one?
Kia’s new Carnival (reviewed in August) tries to spiff that image up. But face it, short of adding wings and fireworks (not a great idea for a vehicle) a minivan is still a minivan. Toyota knows it is utility that sells its product, but image does play a role. No, Toyota isn’t adding wings to the 2022 Sienna, it’s going all-in on hybrid power and all-wheel-drive safety. Few minivans offer both, but some (Carnival) offer neither.
Toyota is banking on families wanting to help the environment, of being more socially conscious than, say, pickup buyers. So instead of offering a gas-only version and a hybrid, the Japanese firm, which builds its minivans in Indiana, only offers a 2.5-liter I4 hybrid power system with continuously variable transmission.
The result is an EPA gas mileage rating of 35 mpg city and 36 highway. I got 33.0 mpg in a fairly even mix. That’s impressive. I got just 22.6 mpg in the gas-only Carnival tested earlier.
So Sienna is roomy, has a dependable repair record and good resale value, plus the hybrid system provides smooth operation. The CVT’s shifts are fairly seamless and the interior is nearly as quiet as that of a luxury vehicle.
The downside to the 245-horsepower hybrid system is that there’s just 176 lb.-ft. of torque so acceleration is moderate. To gain more oomph you may crunch the accelerator like a Packers lineman stepping on a defender’s toes, but the moan and groan during heavy acceleration is annoying and really the power modest.
No, this is a cruiser with moderately vague steering but decent ride, although the tested XSE AWD model is supposedly sportier than other versions of the van. C’mon!
Toyota claims the suspension has been firmed a bit, but certainly not so much as to disturb the ride, and toggling to the Sport drive mode is senseless. Like the suspension, that mode firms the steering just a smidge, while acceleration seems mostly unaffected. Oh, and the XSE also adds 20-inch alloy wheels if that twerks your chain.
Certainly it’s good news to have AWD for coping with Wisconsin’s slippery environment. That’s a major plus helping the Sienna stand out, along with the hybrid system.
But honestly the interior and safety features are what may sell a minivan as much as its drivability. Here’s what this Ruby Flare Pearl red ($425 extra) Sienna has to offer.
Safety is a strong point with standard features including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, active lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning, plus automatic high beam headlights.
The tested XSE featured a dark and light gray interior, the seats being a mid-level gray leather-like Softex fabric with a rusty orange stitching to perk its look. That was on the seats and dash while there’s a gray ribbed top to the console, or flight deck. This thing is massive and wide open beneath, meaning a couple beach or diaper bags and/or beach balls could be stored there. Talk about family friendly.
Need a lot of coffee with all those kiddos climbing around and chattering in back? Well, that flight deck also includes four cup holders for the front seat game wardens. For the juice box crowd in rows two and three Toyota includes 14 more cup holders.
That big console also is trimmed in leather arm rests on either side to aid adult comfort on long trips, while the tested van included a $1,415 HD entertainment center with 11.6-inch screen for the rear seats. It comes with two wireless headsets. You may need more.
Standard too are manual second row window sun screens, a benefit when coaxing a wee one to nap while heading to grandma’s house.
Overhead is a small sunroof, which is fine if you’re not trying to let a lot of daylight in. With that screen mounted in the roof a bigger sunroof isn’t even possible.
Toyota’s dash is well arranged and includes a 9-inch info screen that’s simple to see and use. Seats are powered up front and heated, but not cooled. I also found the butt pocket on the driver’s seat a bit snug, and NO, I have not been gaining weight during the pandemic.
Second row captain’s chairs will slide an incredible 25 inches for or aft to accommodate tall or short passengers, or large cargo. The second row will slide all the way back to the third row if no one is seated there. Naturally the third row is split and will fold down into the cargo hold in the rear floor, and the rear hatch is powered.
There are a few missing items though. Toyota doesn’t include a heated steering wheel or a 360-degree camera, which seems odd. And while the driver’s voice is picked up on a microphone and projected to the rear so kids know when parental units have had enough, the convex mirror used to spy on the kids is string-bikini thin, making it tough to see in back.
Things added, for a cost, include a 1500W inverter with two 120-volt outlets for $300, and the XSE package runs a grand. It includes a wireless phone charger conveniently on a shelf mid-dash, a premium audio system, the 9-inch info screen with navigation, 12 JBL speakers with subwoofer and amplifier, and black roof rails.
A few other minor options like a cargo net for $49 and mudguards for $149 push the base price of $44,075 (with delivery) to $47,942. For the record, that’s in the ballpark for a loaded minivan, no matter the manufacturer.
Pricing ranges from $35,775 for a base front-drive LE that seats eight all the way up to $51,935 for the Platinum version with AWD. That places the XSE midrange, as is the XLE Woodland Edition at $45,350. It rides ½-inch higher and includes AWD too.
If power ranks higher on your “must” list than hybrid efficiency consider Kia’s Carnival with 290 horsepower from its V6, or the Honda Odyssey with a 280-horse V6.
Chrysler’s Pacifica isn’t far behind, offering a plug-in hybrid V6 with 260 horses. Pacifica also is available with AWD, so can be equipped similarly to the Sienna. However Sienna wins on daily mpg efficiency and the fact its hybrid system does not require a plug-in charge. Regenerative braking keeps its electric batteries powered.
FAST STATS: 2022 Toyota Sienna XSE AWD
Hits: Roomy, dependable, comfortable ride, smooth operation, quiet interior, great hybrid gas mileage and AWD. Loaded with safety equipment, sunroof, heated seats, sliding side doors, huge storage under tall console, third row folds into floor, video screen for rear seats, rear window sunshades.
Misses: Moderate power, engine groan under heavy acceleration, no heated steering wheel, sunroof is tiny, no 360-degree camera, tiny rearview mirror to see kids, unnecessary Sport mode, front seats have tight butt pocket.
Made in: Princeton, Ind.
Engine: 2.5-liter I4, hybrid, 245hp
Weight: 4,610 lbs.
Wheelbase: 120.5 in.
Length: 203.7 in.
Cargo: 33.5-101 cu.ft.
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
MPG: 33.0 (tested)
Base Price: $44,075 (includes delivery)
Rear seat entertainment system (HD entertainment center w/11.6-inch screen, remote, two headphones), $1,415
1500W inverter w/two 120V outlets, $300
XSE package (wireless charger, black roof rails, premium audio, 9-in. touchscreen w/nav, 12 JBL speakers w/subwoofer, amplifier), $1,000
Ruby Flare Pearl paint, $425
All-weather floor liners, $220
Door sill protectors, $40
Rear bumper applique, $69
Cargo net, $49
Test vehicle: $47,942
Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage