When Toyota set out to redesign their minivan, they tried to make it look more like an SUV. With well over half of all new cars sold in Canada this year being some type of crossover, it’s no surprise they went this route.
Minivan sales are a fraction of what they used to be as millennial car buyers move away from the vehicles their parents used to drive them to school. A “truck” that can easily handle impromptu camping adventures or a snowy country road and still get the kids to school the next day has more appeal than a “boring” van. But when it comes to helping families get around with maximum ease, comfort, and superiority in cargo transportation, a pickup truck is still the best dog.
A good minivan should be comfortable, refined, quiet and offer passengers a myriad of seating options and storage compartments. It should accommodate multiple car seats, and the third row should be roomy enough for adults. It must also be easy to drive and easy to see and above all, reliable. After all, parents already have enough to worry about and their vehicle shouldn’t be added to that list.
The biggest change with this new Sienna is the addition of hybrid power, standard on all versions. In fact, it’s the only way to spec one and the much-loved V6 is no longer offered.
The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder hybrid loses out with the smooth, sonic power of the V6, but makes up for it with prodigious efficiency. This big, heavy minivan produced an impressive 7.0 L/100 km on a smooth mix of city and highway roads.
It doesn’t have the same character as the outgoing V6, but the powertrain is quiet and goes largely unnoticed. And with 245 combined horsepower, it’s not slow either.
The Sienna is built on the TNGA architecture that underpins many new Toyota models. Besides the obvious benefits of being based on an all-new platform and the advancements that come with it, the Sienna expands in almost every dimension.
Toyota has done a great job sculpting the front, sides and rear of this new Sienna, making it the sharpest and, dare I say, sportiest minivan to come out of its factory. They gave it a longer hood, Highlander type bulging character line and hidden door rails to try and hide the van bits but as hard as they tried it’s still a van and looks great has a. It’s what’s inside that counts, however, and here it doesn’t disappoint.
Wiggle your foot under one of the electric sliding doors or press a button on the key fob and it will silently open, revealing a cavernous interior. Lower trims can seat up to eight people with a three-seat bench in the second row, but the XSE I drove had captain’s chairs, making it a seven-seat bench.
The center console, which Toyota aptly calls the “bridge,” flows into the dash just below the 9-inch infotainment touchscreen. It puts the gear shift, drive mode controller, parking brake, cup holders and a few other controls within easy reach. Below deck there is space big enough for even the biggest bags, purses or in my case a large pizza.
Along the full length of the dash there is a nifty shelf which can be used to quickly store items like keys, wallets, glasses or whatever else is in your pockets.
Seven USB ports across the three rows will also allow everyone to plug in their devices, and up to 18 cupholders mean occupants will never be thirsty again.
If the kids get bored, an optional Technology Package for the XSE adds a ceiling-mounted 11.6-inch HD display with two wireless headphones, remote control and HDMI inputs. It also adds a wireless phone charger, digital rearview mirror, wide-angle backup camera with built-in washer, easy-to-talk driver, 120V/1500-watt household outlet, and more.
The third row can be quickly and easily dropped into the floor for a flat cargo area while the second row captain’s chairs are on a “super long slide” rail system that allows the seats to slide up to 25 inches providing enough legroom for even the tallest members of your family. On the Limited trim, these second-row seats come with integrated leg rests for a business-class experience in your minivan. Unfortunately, the captain’s chairs don’t fold into the floor like they can in a Chrysler Pacifica, nor can they be removed.
All Siennas are equipped with Toyota Safety Sense which includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and bicycle detection even in low light, dynamic cruise control, lane departure alert, automatic high beams and a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert.
An optional all-wheel-drive system (not equipped here) has no driveshafts or mechanical linkages. Even without it, this big vehicle feels safe and planted on the road, even in bad weather. I wouldn’t say it’s nimble, but it’s composed and easy to maneuver. The electric motors can even help alleviate understeer and improve cornering ability, but the ride does get a little busy on choppy, broken pavement.
Sport mode increases throttle response and calls on the electric motors to assist the gas engine with a satisfying rush of power that, while not as good as the V6, is more than enough to push past the slower traffic on country roads or the highway.
If we learned to take emotion out of our car purchases, every family would be driving a minivan, however, that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon and until then, there are about a million SUVs to choose from. If, however, you want the ultimate people-carrier that’s easy to live with on a daily basis, the new Sienna with its efficient hybrid drivetrain and optional all-wheel drive might just be the best vehicle for the job.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle ratings were not subject to approval.