let’s be honest. If we really – really – needs three rows of passenger accommodation, a van is the most logical option. A crossover or SUV with a triple seat usually invites compromise, whether in the form of awkward third-row access or legroom only suited for those who are decidedly short on limbs.
A minivan solves these problems, although it seriously undermines its cool factor, given society’s stereotypes of two-door sliding-door vehicles. Still, a few bright bulbs recognize that there is a market for these things, usually for customers who don’t care what society thinks of their transportation choices.
Toyota has completely overhauled its Sienna for the 2021 model year, introducing new styling and a hybrid powertrain. Learning from its experience as a Prius supplier, this new Sienna features a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine working in tandem with two electric motors to produce 245 horsepower. Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 also brings benefits such as dynamic cruise control and lane keeping assist. The entry-level LE trim comes standard with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive can be added for $2,000.
Modern assembly lines and supply chains often dictate that it is cheaper for an automaker to simply outfit base models with some of the same features as their more expensive brethren rather than design a new button layout or a new door panel. Nowhere is this more evident than the Sienna LE. Heated front seats keep the parent units warm while warring factions in the back can choose their own temperatures with standard tri-zone climate control. Both sliding doors are motorized and have a practical window sunshade. A heated steering wheel that adjusts for reach and rake greets the driver with the same gauges that appear on more expensive versions.
Every Sienna, including the LE, gets a 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system that works with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. They are seven (Seven!) USB ports scattered inside, one more than the total number of speakers. The lack of satellite radio capability is a disappointment, but Driver Easy Speak ensures that carpet rats in the far row of seats will hear (but not necessarily heed) parental exhortations.
What we would choose
With so much standard kit, it’s easy to recommend the $39,990 Sienna LE for those shopping in the minivan segment. Making the way to all-wheel drive isn’t in the cards for us; we’d rather spend that money on a set of heavy-duty winter tires, pocketing the difference and enjoying better fuel economy. Upgrading to the $42,990 XLE trim brings hands-free functionality to power doors, 4-zone climate control and a few other toys. Once you’re ready for that penny, you might as well be ready for a pound and for the $45,690 XSE model and its captain’s chairs, premium audio and jazzy exterior.
As for the rest of us, we’re sticking with the base LE, appreciating the savings (and creature comforts) while ignoring those that spring epithets about uncool minivans.