Toyota Sienna: An Ultimate Minivan

By Frank A. Aukofer, August 13th, 2016

Despite having to endure prejudice and derogative comments from those with an uninformed mindset, minivans remain the most useful vehicles on the planet.

Manufacturer photo: Sienna conquers obstacle courses called the "everyday life" with a silky-smooth 266-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission
Manufacturer photo: Sienna conquers obstacle courses called the "everyday life" with a silky-smooth 266-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission

There's nothing that comes close to a minivan's passenger and cargo-carrying capability, not to mention long-distance comfort, good performance, fuel economy, and capable handling.

Yes, some of the big truck-based sport utility vehicles offer as much interior room and better towing capability, but they're ponderous beasts with slow handling and little in the way of good fuel mileage. The remaining choice, car-based crossover SUVs, don't have as much space or comfort for passengers. Big commercial vans are uncomfortable.

Nope. If you want it all, a minivan is the choice. It's a shame that some customers who really need the total package reject it in favor of some gas-guzzling behemoth simply because they buy into a stereotype of a minivan as a frumpy vehicle for grandparents with a big brood or soccer moms.

Unfortunately, choices have become more limited. General Motors and Ford got out of the minivan business. Kia dropped out but returned. The ones left are the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest and, temporarily, the Dodge Grand Caravan.

Manufacturer photo: Sienna conquers obstacle courses called the "everyday life" with a silky-smooth 266-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission

The two top sellers currently are the Sienna and Odyssey, and for good reason. Both have well-earned reputations for standing up to family punishment over the long term.

Toyota aims at a broad spectrum of customers. It offers 16 variants of the Sienna minivan, starting with the L model at $29,750, including the destination charge.

Tested for this review was the top-line Limited Premier, which owns the distinction of being the only all-wheel-drive minivan offered anywhere. It is priced at whopping $47,310, but delivers the peace of mind that goes with all-wheel drive, especially in areas of foul weather.

But don't think for a minute that this minivan -- or any other -- is any sort of candidate for off-road duty. It is 16 feet 8 inches long and, with just 6.6 inches of road clearance, would get hopelessly mired in the first groove or wallow it encounters.

On the road, however, it is a star. Straight-line steering is solid and fatigue free, and its handling in traffic and around curves is predictable and fuss free.

Manufacturer photo: Sienna conquers obstacle courses called the "everyday life" with a silky-smooth 266-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission

Power comes from a responsive 266-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 245 lb.-ft. of torque. Power is transferred seamlessly through a six-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels, with traction allocated according to conditions.

The Sienna's city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 16/23/19 mpg, and there's no reason for doubt. Over a week of driving, the tester consistently returned mpg in the low 20s.

The Sienna had all of the usual minivan attributes: power-sliding side doors, a powered rear liftgate, and third-row seats that disappear into the floor for extra cargo carrying. Unfortunately, their manual operation took a bit of tug and grunt to operate; power-folding seats would have been welcome. Second-row captain's chairs could slide and be flipped forward but must be removed for maximum 150 cubic feet cargo capacity.

Besides the usual minivan stuff, the AWD Sienna came with a multitude of extras that would be options on lesser vehicles. Among them: Tri-zone climate control that kept the cavern comfy on 90-degree days, Blu-Ray rear-seat entertainment system, dual sunroof, leather upholstery, navigation with Toyota's Entune suite of entertainment and communications apps, and of course, full safety equipment (much of which is now or soon to be required by the federal government).

The Sienna was extensively overhauled for the 2015 model year. Changes for 2016 are mostly upgrades to existing systems and features, including Entune connectivity enhancements, sonar parking assist warnings, and blind spot monitoring.

Manufacturer photo: Sienna conquers obstacle courses called the "everyday life" with a silky-smooth 266-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission

Overall, the Sienna minivan is a cozy place to travel anywhere

Specifications

Base price $47,310 (as tested: $48,175)
Curb weight 4,705 lbs.
Displacement 3.5-liter
Engine type 24-valve V-6
Epa mileage rating 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 20 gal.
Horsepower (net) 266 at 6200 rpm
Overall length 200.2 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 245 at 4700 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Vehicle type 7-passenger AWD minivan
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