Home Automobiles Steve Says This Sienna Hybrid Is “The Best Minivan Of All-Time”

Steve Says This Sienna Hybrid Is “The Best Minivan Of All-Time”

If you’re shopping for a new minivan you’ve picked a good time. 

First of all, there are only 4 models from which to choose so that makes life simpler but more importantly they’ve all been recently refreshed or completely redesigned with the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica midway through their product cycles and the Kia Carnival and Toyota Sienna the all-new vans on the block. 

And this week I’m getting to know the 2021 Sienna Limited – now the penultimate trim just below the new Platinum grade. 

It’s available in front or all-wheel drive and comes with a standard, gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain that takes MPGs from 21 to 36.

That’s an amazing leap forward that families on a budget will certainly appreciate and bests all competitors other than the Pacific Hybrid which, because it has a plug and the Sienna does not, can travel 32miles using electricity alone before the gas engine even turns over.  

Despite that plug-in “disadvantage,” the Sienna’s bladder-busting 648 mile driving range obliterates the rest of the class.  As a matter of fact, it can go farther on one tank of gas than any other new vehicle on the market.  Well, a 2WD F-150 Hybrid with the optional 26 gallon tank can go 2 miles more, but you’re not interested in that.

I won’t bury the lede.  This Sienna is arguably the best minivan of all-time.  From its provocative new styling that now presents as even more premium and handsome than the Pacifica’s to its Lexus-infused aura I, and everyone I’ve been transporting this week have been raving about the Sienna’s sophistication and family-friendly personality. 

This Limited grade is exclusively a 7-seater so if you need 8-passenger accommodations you’ll have to slide down to the base Sienna LE or XLE.  But no matter which of the 5 grades you choose you’ll be driving a hybrid – a bold move by Toyota but one that makes complete sense.  Because there’s virtually no degradation in powertrain fluidness from the previous  V6, this combination of a 4-cylinder gas engine, electric motor and hybrid battery pack catapults the Sienna into a smarter, more efficient stratosphere. 

If you’re curious, Toyota uses older nickel metal hydride batteries here as opposed to more modern lithium-ion cells so there is a 110 pound weight gain and horsepower has decreased from nearly 300 to 245 but with the added torque from the electric motor I swear you’ll never miss the V6, plus this one can do quite a bit of pure EV motoring, even at higher speeds which makes the driving experience that much smoother and quieter. 

In the neighborhood or in the parking lot you may never have the gas engine fire.  Thus 36mpg city, highway and combined is an over 70% improvement which will save the average family $850 a year at the pump.

Most minivan shoppers place the actual drive pretty low on the priority list but for those of you who care the Sienna is brilliant.  This new platform that’s been proliferating through their car lineup over the past several years is rock solid. 

The Sienna feels like a Lexus from behind the wheel and it’s just as quiet inside.  The hybrid powertrain is perfect, and the suspension feels like you’re riding in a premium sedan.  So whoever’s sitting over here is going to have an easy time getting the family around whether you’re driving to school or on vacation.

The driver’s seat is really comfortable and the ergonomics afforded by this new bridge console are excellent. 

Everything, including the bigger 9” touchscreen is easily within reach.  And it feels very wide up here so the driver and co-pilot have plenty of personal space.  But why has the height adjustable passenger seat become so elusive?  So odd. 

But I love the feel and look of this entire area, while this below console storage bin and deep cubby provide key minivan storage solutions. 

The camera mirror is also a nice get, particularly for times when cargo is blocking the rear view but this teeny little conversation mirror is practically useless.   

Foot-activated doors are very cool but sometimes it can be a guessing game as to where exactly you should be kicking.  Which is why this is so clever.  Down here on the rocker panel there’s a symbol that shows you where you should be placing your foot. 

And it’s not actually in front of the door that you want to open.  It’s placed right here.  Which makes this system much more convenient because that’s for the kids and you’re up here.  

Both sliders and the rear hatch can be opened with your foot, via the key fob or through overhead console switches.  For times when the 3rd row is in place, there’s a very deep well you can fill with all sorts of gear. 

If you need more room and only have 4 onboard these seats manually fold into the floor – something Toyota calls Split & Stow.  It is a little bit of a reach so power operation wouldn’t be a terrible idea.  And then for maximum cargo room you’ve got to slide and collapse these captain’s chairs as far forward as they’ll go until they lock into place. 

And now you’ve got room for all kids of minivan adventures but you might be wondering why these 2nd row seats are still here at all and well, we can blame Chrysler for that expectation. 

We’ve all heard of Stow ‘N Go, that’s Chrysler’s patented fold into the floor seating innovation that everyone loves but only they have.  It’s brilliant and a huge factor in the minivan buying process.  To try and make you forget about that Toyota offers these long slide 2nd row seats with ottomans.  They’re really comfortable.  But note: you can’t get the cool ottomans if you choose AWD, even at the Platinum level.    

Slide back and stretch out.  As long as no one is in the 3rd row this is first class, sleeper seat travel with window shades throughout and a central video display that can be used to stream from your device or hardwired via HDMI. It includes 2 sets of wireless headphones but a disc player it is not.  Everyone who has ridden back here has raved about the comfort.  There are also separate climate controls overhead. 

But as for getting into the 3rd row, the ease of configuration isn’t as fully baked as some other minivans.  Sure, the one handle sliding motion is great but these seats don’t return to their original position without some additional wrangling so that’s slightly annoying.  But the 3rd row seats also recline and as long as the older kids don’t go full bed mode in the 2nd row space is adult –friendly just like a good minivan should be.        

Toyota has made buying the Limited easy because there is only one optional package: the $1,915 Entertainment Package with the drop down screen which also includes a power inverter for running camping gear and the like and the digital rearview mirror.  The only other option on this one is the carpeted floor mats for an MSRP of $50,010.  Translate that to a 36 month, 36,000 mile lease with $3,300 down and you’re looking at about $650 per month. 

At the Sienna’s low end the price is closer to $36,000 while a loaded an all-wheel drive Platinum is about $54,000.   

Speaking of the Platinum, maybe you’re curious as to what you’re missing out on.  Well that extra $3,200 scores you 20” wheels as opposed to the 18s here, a full 360 degree bird’s eye view camera, head-up display, a heated steering wheel, heated 2nd row seats, and rain sensing wipers.  But this Sunset Bronze paint- you can’t get it on the Platinum.  So chalk one up for the Limited.  

Both the Limited and Platinum also receive the same Premium infotainment system which includes a surprisingly adept 12 speaker JBL audio system with a hard hitting subwoofer.  It’s compatible with Amazon Alexa, comes with a smart navigation system that can learn your routes to maximize hybrid operation efficiency and still has the Driver Easy Speak feature to better reach the kids in the 3rd row with an amplification of your voice through the speakers.  And I love this shelf but I hate the clutter of wires.  

Having a wireless phone charger yet not offering wireless phone projection is akin to using the self-checkout at the grocery store but still having to pay the cashier.  It completely misses the point.    

Heated and ventilated seats help to assuage my wireless CarPlay frustrations and the myriad safety features such as adaptive cruise control with lane centering and steering assist make long trips a breeze. 

There’s also traffic sign recognition, and auto high beams.

There are drive modes too, including Sport.  How about that for a minivan?  It truly is one of those vehicles you could seemingly drive all day and never tire.

So minus the Pacifica’s ace in the hole with its more creative seating configurations – the personal importance of which only you can decide –  the Sienna has bumped itself to the top of the class.

By TestDriveNow Auto Critic Steve Hammes for SouthFloridaReporter.comJune 7, 2021

Additional Auto Reviews by TestDriveNow