In the face of fresher competition from Chrysler and a new version of the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna remains a popular choice, as Toyota’s well-earned reputation for reliability is a compelling notion for buyers of a hard-use vehicle like a minivan. There’s also the fact that Toyota has strived to keep the Sienna in the hunt.
For 2017, that effort takes the form of a new powertrain. The Sienna’s 3.5-liter V-6 is a familiar size and configuration, but this engine is all-new. Swiped from the Highlander, the engine can switch between the typical Otto cycle and the fuel-sipping Atkinson cycle, and it also employs port and direct fuel injection (sometimes simultaneously) as needed. Despite the high-tech features, it’s still happy to drink regular fuel. The new V-6 pairs with an eight-speed automatic that’s a worthy upgrade from the previous six-speed. Eight forward ratios may not make any headlines next to the Pacifica’s nine-speed gearbox and the 2018 Odyssey’s nine- and 10-speed units, but the Sienna’s transmission is pretty adept at choosing the right ratio, something that can’t always be said of the Pacifica.
With the new powertrain, the Sienna is good for an EPA-rated 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway with front-wheel drive, as on our test example (all-wheel drive lowers the city number by 1 mpg and knocks 3 off the highway figure). Those figures put the FWD Sienna about on par with the Pacifica’s 19/28 city/highway EPA ratings, and it ties the outgoing Odyssey. Our observed mileage was 20 mpg; we’ve seen 20 and 22 mpg in two recent tests of the Chrysler and 22 mpg with the older and soon-to-be-replaced Honda equipped with a six-speed auto.
The Toyota’s new ticker pumps out a robust 296 ponies, 30 more than before, along with 263 lb-ft of torque, up from 245. That horsepower figure is tops among minivans, and this particular Sienna is the quickest we’ve tested, scooting from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. And should mom or dad be emboldened to take the family minivan to the drag strip, they can be confident in its ability to outrun any Pacifica or pre-2018 Odyssey that shows up, based on our quarter-mile results of 15.5 seconds and 93 mph. In everyday driving, the Sienna responds with alacrity. Gun it on a freeway entrance ramp, and the Sienna lunges forward, to the point of even inciting a bit of torque steer in front-drive models like our test car. (We also have tested the Sienna with all-wheel-drive, a feature the competition does not offer.)
See the SE
Our Sienna was the SE Premium trim, a purportedly sporty model that comes with its own specific tuning for the suspension and power steering. The result won’t be confused with a BMW M5, but the firmer suspension at least wards off the woozy ride motions that often afflict minivans. The SE’s 19-inch wheels are wrapped in 50-series tires, so there’s still a decent amount of sidewall to cushion sharp-edged bumps. And while the steering offers no road feel, its elevated effort levels keep it from being annoyingly overboosted, another common minivan affliction. At 0.73 g on the skidpad, the Sienna trailed the last Odyssey (0.77 g) and Pacifica (0.78 g) that we tested. The Toyota’s 184-foot stop from 70 mph places it between the two.
We recognize, of course, that a minivan is judged less by its own moves than by how well it moves people and their stuff. The Sienna’s second-row chairs are fairly comfortable, and Toyota even fits a removable center seat, which is standard on this SE (and some other trims); it’s a narrow perch suitable only for a skinny passenger, but could be useful for dealing with a last-minute addition to the carpool. The second-row buckets do not tuck into the floor, as on Stow ’n Go–equipped Pacifica models, but the seats can slide all the way forward, snug up against the front seatbacks, to make room for large cargo. They also can scoot all the way back to nudge up against the third row, meaning that passengers (or their parents) can parse out legroom as needed between the second and third rows. Assuming the middle row isn’t in its most rearward position, the third row is quite habitable, and includes pop-open vent windows with sunshades. Behind it is a deep well for luggage, an advantage that minivans have over nearly all three-row crossovers. The 39 cubic feet of cargo space back there not only eclipses that of the Chrysler (32 cubes) and the Honda (38), it ties the immense Chevy Suburban.
Up front, the driver enjoys a supportive seat, although some may find that, even though the steering column tilts and telescopes, the steering wheel is rather far away. Toyota, thankfully, retains a conventional gearshift lever, and the Sienna’s analog instrument cluster is highly readable. Standard on the SE and above is a configurable TFT screen between the main gauges showing trip-computer info, a digital speedometer, or audio info, among other things. The sharp and clear infotainment screen in the center of the dash is abetted by volume and tuning knobs. The climate-control system uses large knobs and a few physical buttons, making it easy to use. Our SE had a practical, all-black interior with white contrast stitching and bits of carbon-look trim providing some not-terribly convincing racy touches. Nor can we endorse the SE’s special bodywork, which consists of lower side skirts and different front and rear fascias that only serve to make this big box look even bigger. Toyota, though, must be enamored of it, since it’s making the SE’s side sills standard on all models for 2018.
Not So High Tech
The Sienna’s age shows, however, in the lack of USB ports for second- or third-row occupants; and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not supported. The rear climate controls and A/C vents are somewhat awkwardly located on the ceiling behind the driver’s headrest, although the rear climate also can be adjusted via the main HVAC controls.
The 2018 version of this van (which has already been revealed) addresses some of this model’s shortcomings. Toyota is adding Wi-Fi on the LE and higher trims and, on top-spec models, a 360-degree-view monitor, and the ability to stream video from Android devices to the rear-seat entertainment system. More significantly, the 2018 model makes standard automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and automated high-beams. Currently, only the top-spec Limited Premium offers automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, and they’re optional. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are standard on the SE Premium and higher, and optional on the SE.
That the 2017 iteration of this Toyota trails in tech and features may not be a critical failing to some buyers, however. For minivan shoppers who don’t have to have the latest gadgets, this Sienna continues to be an easy-to-live-with vehicle that gets the basics right.