2021 Toyota Sienna first drive review: Minivan versatility, economy-car efficiency

Some vehicles can haul a load of passengers, others are supremely comfortable and plenty of others deliver incredible fuel efficiency. Plot these attributes on a Venn diagram and the 2021 Toyota Sienna would land smack-dab in the middle. It can accommodate up to eight adults, plus it’s appropriately cushy and amazingly economical. For drivers that haven’t completely turned their noses up to minivans, the new Sienna makes a strong case for itself.

One of the best arguments in favor of this Toyota is fuel economy. After a good ol’ thrashing on a wide variety of roads, I averaged just shy of 35 miles per gallon in my Platinum-trim, all-wheel-drive tester. That’s practically economy-car efficiency, plus it’s right in line with this Toyota’s window sticker. According to the EPA, it should return 35 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 35 mpg combined. Front-drive models are rated at 36 mpg across the board, and all-wheel drive is available across the lineup.

Delivering that astonishing real-world efficiency is a hybrid drivetrain, which is standard in all 2021 Siennas. Yep, a traditional V6 is no longer offered. This gasoline-electric propulsion system, which is built around a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a 1.9-kilowatt-hour nickel-metal hydride battery pack mounted underneath the front seats, delivers 245 horsepower, a good bit less than you get in either a Honda Odyssey (280 hp) or non-plug-in-hybrid Chrysler Pacifica (287 hp).

2021 Toyota Sienna is a hybrid-only van with lots of functionality
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As you might expect, the Sienna’s performance is perfectly adequate but hardly thrilling. It feels a bit tepid around town, exactly where you’d expect a hybrid with immediate torque provided by electric motors to shine. Paradoxically, this van seems punchier out on the open road, accelerating more vigorously. Still, a little extra giddy-up would be appreciated, especially if you’re hauling a full load or towing anywhere near this van’s 3,500-pound limit. When working hard, the Sienna’s fuel-sipping drivetrain also sounds a bit distressed, louder and more grumbly than I recall the Toyota Highlander Hybrid being, which has basically the same powertrain. Minor gripes aside, it’s hard to argue with the economy this family-hauler provides.

Riding on a derivative of the automaker’s ubiquitous TNGA platform, the 2021 Sienna grows slightly compared to its predecessor. It’s a fraction of an inch wider and 3.1 inches longer. Additionally, the wheelbase is 1.2 inches longer and the floor is a bit lower. The Sienna’s new foundation also provides greater rigidity, giving it an impressively solid feel, while a new independent rear-suspension design improves handling and refinement. This minivan’s ride quality is supple, with little coarseness from the road filtering through to the cabin. Its interior also remains impressively hushed, even at highway speeds. Handling is benign and predictable, with a bit of body roll when pushed through corners, though my Platinum model’s Bridgestone Turanza tires mounted on chrome-clad 18-inch wheels give up long before you could ever get yourself in trouble, howling even when mildly pushed. Braking performance is good, though the pedal does feel rubbery and a bit unnatural as it progresses from regenerative to friction braking.

There are plenty of storage cubbies inside the 2021 Toyota Sienna.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

But this is not something your passengers are ever going to notice. The Sienna’s aft accommodations are lovely, especially with the super-long-slide bucket seats, which are standard equipment on all seven-passenger models. Recliner comfortable, they move 25 inches fore and aft for stretch-out room, plus on front-drive Limited and Platinum models they also come with fold-out ottomans for even greater luxury. As for this Toyota’s third-row seat, no, it doesn’t feature any integrated leg-rests, but it is plenty spacious for adult passengers and is very cushy.

When it’s time to haul cargo instead of people, those long-slide second-row seats are, unfortunately, nonremovable — well not without some tools and a service manual. This is because they contain airbags. Ditto for eight-passenger models; their second-row seats cannot be taken out, either. The Sienna’s second-row seats do, however, fold and push all the way up to the back of the front buckets, providing a generous amount of interior space, 6.5 feet from the backrests to the rear hatch, though it still has significantly fewer cubic feet of room than either an Odyssey or Pacifica. Fortunately, this Toyota can still haul 4×8 sheets of building material, with the plywood or drywall somewhat awkwardly resting on top of the second-row seat’s headrests. 

The new Sienna’s cabin is thoughtfully designed and well built. Some of its interior materials are rather ordinary, but nothing is chintzy or frail feeling. There are also plenty of places to put things, with a large cubby running across the dashboard and generously sized door pockets. I love the design of the center console, which looks like a bridge running from the dashboard back between the front seats. That console also makes the Sienna feel cozy yet open at the same time.

Second-row comfort is one of this minivan’s major selling points. 

Craig Cole/Roadshow

One disappointing aspect of this minivan is the infotainment system, which runs on a standard, 9-inch, tablet-style touchscreen. Bright and clear, it’s easy to reach, though the software is mediocre at best, unattractive and not particularly intuitive. Toyota really needs to improve its multimedia offerings these days, as well as the back-up and 360-degree cameras, which are gritty looking and quite inferior to what’s offered in other vehicles.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. The Sienna offers plenty of other tech, much of which is very handy. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. A 10-inch color head-up display is included on the Platinum model, making it easy to keep track of vehicle speed and navigation prompts without taking your eyes off the road. A 12-speaker JBL sound system is available, as is a crisp, 11.6-inch, 1080p HD rear-seat entertainment screen. Ensuring everyone’s devices stay fully charged, seven USB ports are sprinkled throughout the cabin. Two handy standalone options the Sienna can be had with include a 1,500-watt power inverter with a household-style outlet on the back of the center console and another one in the cargo area, plus a digital rear-view mirror, which gives you a much wider field of view behind the vehicle. The 2021 Toyota Sienna can also be ordered with an integrated vacuum cleaner and a mini refrigerator, though these features will not be available immediately at launch due to supplier issues.

As for driver-assistance tech, Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard on every version of the Sienna. This suite includes helpful features like automatic high beams, road-sign recognition and pedestrian detection. Adaptive cruise control with lane centering is included, too, and it works as advertised, attentively adjusting speed based on traffic conditions and doing a commendable job keeping my tester in the middle of its lane. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are both standard on all grades, too, which is great news.

Thanks to its crazy fuel efficiency and lounge-like interior, the new Sienna is an all-star minivan.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

The Sienna’s looks have grown on me since I first checked out a prototype model, but that front end, which was inspired by Japanese bullet trains, is still a bit much, with its massive grille and swept-back headlamps. But hey, I appreciate Toyota taking a risk here, and things do get better the further back you go. This minivan’s powerful rear fenders flow neatly into its distinctive taillights, giving it a shapely look in profile. The molded-resin tailgate is also surprisingly stylish, with its integrated spoiler.

A base, front-wheel-drive, LE version of the 2021 Toyota Sienna starts at $35,635, including $1,175 in destination fees. The range-topping, all-wheel-drive Platinum model shown here stickers for around $51,460, which is still a reasonable sum. I say “around” because it’s a prototype model; an official figure is not available at the time this is published.

There’s not too much competition in the minivan segment right now. Having reviewed most of the available contenders, at the end of the day, I think Honda’s Odyssey is a bit better to drive and the Chrysler Pacifica more attractive, but this Toyota is still an undeniably good family transporter, especially with those throne-like second-row seats and stellar fuel economy. 

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