So, which is the best minivan in the North American market?
You are probably thinking that I might have an answer at the end of this review. After all, I have written about all of them – the Chrysler Pacifica (two of them, for the record), the Honda Odyssey, and the Kia Carnival (although, they still want to call it an MPV…by the way, have you seen the video we did for it?).
However, there is one more. Perhaps the most important one among the four (five, if you include the Chrysler Voyager) available to families and businessfolk alike. That would be the 2021 Toyota Sienna.
Why is this minivan so important? First off, it is the fourth generation of Toyota’s popular family hauler. Secondly, it is the only one sold in this segment with a hybrid driveline standard. Lastly, it still has all-wheel drive.
The entire driveline on this Platinum tester is significant. The point of putting a hybrid in the Sienna is to not only reduce emissions and improve fuel economy. It is also a proven driveline, as it is shared across several Toyota and Lexus models.
Toyota replaced its venerable 3.5-liter V6 with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine attached to Toyota’s parallel hybrid electric motor. In all, it puts out 245 net horsepower between the gasoline and electric motors. A continuously variable transmission is connected to the system driving either the front wheels or to all four of them.
Our tester had the latter all-wheel drive system. That did a good job keeping the Sienna on the road during some rainstorms we had in the Twin Cities during my time with it.
As for the driveline’s performance, I was surprised that it drove this 4,700-plus pound minivan with relative ease. It puts down torque, but not tire blipping performance. Besides, you want more than adequate power to keep you and six other people comfortable while racking up the miles.
Certainly, you can pass well with the 2021 Sienna. It might not be the quickest off the mark, but it can handle highway speeds like a pro. That is what you want from this hybrid-powered minivan.
The biggest selling point for the 2021 Sienna is its fuel economy. I averaged 35.4 MPG. This is not a typo, it’s a real figure. It is also too good to be true. However, if you have driven any Toyota (or Lexus) with this specific hybrid driveline, then you should expect anything from 35 MPG and beyond in terms of fuel consumption.
Its hybrid driveline is not the only headline for the 2021 Sienna. There’s more to it.
For example, the exterior design takes the best of Toyota’s current styling cues and sculpted them together. The both the front and rear end reminds you of a Camry. The side glass silhouette could be mistaken for a Highlander.
Putting them together, you have one of the most distinctive minivan designs in the marketplace. You can spot a Sienna very easily now. It refuses to blend in a parking lot, which is a very good thing in this segment.
Where the Sienna took the biggest leap from its last few generations was in the interior. It starts with a new instrument panel features a lot of utility, practicality, information, and entertainment. I love the shelf that runs from the center stack to the passenger door, which includes the wireless charging pad. There is a suspended console that houses a cool shifter that breaks a lot of vehicle’s molds. The instrument cluster on the Platinum tester features a large seven-inch customizable digital information screen planked by two analog dials.
Making driving more engaging is a wide ten-inch head-up display. I am now convinced that very vehicle should have such a display to help thwart distractive driving.
My Platinum tester also featured a nine-inch touchscreen infotainment module on top of the center stack. JBL provided 12 speakers of lovely sound throughout the cabin. The second- and third-row passengers also get an 11.6-inch high-definition entertainment screen that dropped from the ceiling, along with two wireless headphones and a remote control. Somehow, the single wide screen made more of a better rear passenger compartment entertainment choice, as some third-row passengers would have to try to watch their favorite movies from the two seatback-mounted screens found on other models.
The leather-wrapped front seats in this Platinum tester were comfortable and provided some support for longer drives. The second-row captain chairs were equally comfortable and can be heated during the winter. You also have the longest rake adjustment in the business for these second -ow seats, sliding all the back to the third row. There is ample room in the third row for two adults or three children. Access is through an accordion-like folding mechanism in the second row.
For those of you who were wondering, there is an ottoman feature for the second-row captain’s chairs. To get that, you must get the front-wheel drive model instead of the all-wheel drive version I tested. I was looking forward to checking that out…
Access to the rearmost passenger area can be done without using your key fob or door handle. Just kick below a sensor underneath the front doors on each side to open up the sliding side doors. The liftgate is also foot operated. Not only did these make for better access to the Sienna while laden down with groceries, luggage, or anything loaded down in your hands, it also prompted an old A Tribe Called Quest track to be played in my head while testing these features.
Behind the third row of seats, you get a deep 33.5 cubic foot well of space for luggage, groceries, and your haul from the garden shop. Those seats fold down for a near-flat loading space of up to 75.2 cubic feet to the second row. With all of the rearmost seats folded, you have a total of 101 cubic feet of usable cargo space.
Driving a 2021 Sienna is a rather soothing experience. Not because of the hybrid driveline, but in the actual ride-handling mix. It is a soft riding machine that is quite poised on the highway or on some country backroad. It handles quite well, with minimal roll and lean through the corners and an overall composed and confident feeling when dealing with evasive maneuvers.
The steering system is very good overall. The turning radius is very good, as was on-center feel. The braking system threw up some concern. It was a combination of vacuum boost combined with the hybrid system’s regenerative system. However, the pedal feel was fine, as were normal and panic stops.
For this 2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum AWD example, the sticker price came to $54,582. Keep in mind that this is the top-of-the-line model with the maximum available equipment included. You do have a choice of five Sienna models – each of them with the available all-wheel drive system. Pricing for the Sienna lineup starts at $34,460.
My time in the Sienna yielded two questions. One, is it the best minivan in the market? To be honest, I’m still figuring that out. Since I have worked with all of the minivans/MPVs sold in this country, I am working on a piece that will answer that question. Stay tuned, readers!
The second question has to do with the sticker price. Is it worth over $54,000? Considering how minivan prices have now hurdled over the $50,000 barrier, in a relative sense you do get a lot for that money. The Sienna offers a high level of quality inside and out, along with safety and convenience features that you might not find on the other minivans/MPVs.
If there is one thing to take away from the 2021 Toyota Sienna is that we are witnessing a dedication to deliver a great minivan for families and businessfolk who truly need one. The space, flexibility, technology, safety, and overall quality are primary reasons top consider one. If you are not convinced, drive one, experience the silence from the driveline, and watch the fuel economy screen. Those points alone should answer your own questions.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by Randy Stern