Toyota has announced significant changes to its popular Sienna minivan, which is entering its fourth generation for the 2021 model year. The automaker says the 2021 Sienna is completely new, including the powertrain, which means a new elegant shape, a hybrid-only range and an innovative new interior layout.
The new Sienna’s aggressive stance is eye-catching, but it’s Toyota’s under-the-hood updates that will win buyers over rivals in a somewhat struggling segment led by Honda’s Chrysler Pacifica and Odyssey. Minivan sales barely hit 199,000 through September 2020. A slice of the midsize SUV category that includes the popular Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee – which offers families an alternative to minivans for kids – sold more than 732,000 units during the same period, according to MotorIntelligence.
That’s why big changes are needed to draw attention to Toyota’s Sienna. For 2021, the entire lineup relies on a hybrid powertrain consisting of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor for a total system output of 245 horsepower. (All-wheel-drive versions get an additional electric motor that powers the rear wheels on demand.) Toyota says the powertrain can deliver an EPA-estimated combined 36 mpg, which is best in the segment.
The system recharges as the vehicle moves using regenerative braking, the intensity of which can be controlled using the “shifters” in the cockpit. The hybrid system also contributes to the van’s handling characteristics by controlling torque to minimize jerky movements during acceleration and deceleration. On top of that, all Sienna versions are rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds, which is enough to tow a small boat or compact trailer with ease.
The Sienna has been available with all-wheel drive for years, but the introduction of a hybrid changes how it works for the better. Instead of a transfer case and additional driveshaft components, the van uses a single electric motor to apply torque to the rear wheels when needed. It works behind the scenes and without driver intervention.
Once dubbed “The Swagger Wagon” when it was last rebooted in 2011, the styling of the new minivan takes a few leaps forward. Its design is inspired by Japan’s famous bullet trains and includes raised headlights, slim LED fog lights and deeply sculpted flanks. The sporty XSE version comes with dark 20-inch wheels and more aggressive bodywork front and rear.
Inside, a new “bridge console” sits high between the driver and front passenger and houses the gear lever, cupholders and a small storage area. It is open underneath to store large items like a purse or a small bag. The second row seats are available with an extended sliding feature that allows them to move up to 25 inches fore and aft and opens up the possibility of using the new optional ottoman feature in the vehicle.
The 2021 Sienna will start at $35,635 after a destination fee of $1,175. The minivan is offered with two years or 25,000 miles of complimentary ToyotaCare, which covers factory scheduled maintenance as well as two years of unlimited mileage roadside assistance. The new Sienna will hit dealerships in November 2020.