The 2021 Toyota Sienna and 2021 Toyota Venza are both all-wheel-drive hybrids

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By Eric C. Evarts

As the world seems to be heading towards electric cars, Toyota is banking on what is beginning to look more like yesterday’s technology: hybrids.

The company launched two new models on Monday that will only be sold as hybrids: an updated 2021 Sienna minivan and a revived Venza two-row midsize SUV.

Both vehicles are part of Toyota’s long-promised effort to “electrify” every model it builds by 2025. Unlike, say, Tesla, when the company says “electrify,” it doesn’t mean cars that plug in, only cars that include electricity. engines that supply part of the motive power, i.e. hybrids.

When the company first made the commitment to make all its models hybrid in 2011, it promised to do so by 2020. At this point, the company is pretty close, with hybrid versions of nearly all of its mainstream cars and SUVs, but no trucks or off-road models. (Toyota sells a hybrid version of its CH-R small SUV in Europe but has not announced any plans to introduce the hybrid in the United States)

The Sienna was one of the last holdouts. Minivans, with all their interior space reserved for passengers, are notoriously difficult to find room for a battery. That’s doubly true for an all-wheel-drive minivan, and since Chrysler dropped its all-wheel-drive version of the Town & Country in 2004, it’s the main reason to choose the Sienna over other minivans. .

And for a company that built its recent reputation on more environmentally efficient hybrids, Toyota found itself with an egg in its face when Fiat Chrysler, known as an industry laggard when it comes to fuel economy and emissions technology, beat it to the hybrid minivan punch with the Pacifica Hybrid in 2017.

Tens of thousands of families in the early 2000s were inspired by Toyota’s hybrid technology (and many of them owned Priuses as commuters) and wanted the same environmental credentials for their family cars. But Toyota delayed building a hybrid Sienna, even though it added the technology to a wide range of other models, including the Camry and the three-row Highlander SUV. (This Highlander hybrid and the 2011 Prius V were the closest these buyers had ever gotten to their dream Toyota hybrid movers.)

Refrigerator compartment on the back of the front console of the 2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum

With a hybrid powertrain, this is Toyota’s only way to sell the new 2021 Sienna. The new hybrid system uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that Toyota says will deliver 33 mpg combined. That’s up from 21 mpg for the 2020 Sienna, even with all-wheel drive. Toyota’s hybrids use a unique electric all-wheel-drive system without a mechanical driveshaft from the gasoline engine to the rear axle. The rear wheels are driven solely by a separate electric motor which is electronically synchronized with the front drivetrain.

Toyota hasn’t announced any horsepower ratings. In other applications, including the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and the new Venza, this powertrain puts out 203 to 219 horsepower, which doesn’t seem like much for a minivan. Using a quiet, torquey power supply for starts will make the Sienna a bit more powerful. With the new hybrid powertrain, Toyota rates the 2020 Sienna to tow a hefty 3,500 pounds.

For buyers looking for a hybrid, three things set the new Sienna apart from the Pacifica hybrid: all-wheel drive, towing capability (not recommended with Pacifica hybrids), and lack of range while significant electricity. The Pacifica Hybrid can operate as a purely plug-in vehicle for 32 miles. It also has a V6 rather than a four-cylinder engine and is rated at 30 mpg running on gasoline.

Integrated vacuum cleaner in the 2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum

The new Sienna also has excellent minivan characteristics. Its second-row captain’s chairs can move back more than two feet to transform the Sienna into a roomy limo that will put most SUVs to shame for its comfort. And it offers an integrated electric refrigerator and a vacuum cleaner behind the front seats.

For 2021, Toyota will offer the Sienna in its top three trim levels, the sporty XSE, the luxurious Limited and the ultra-luxury Platinum. More affordable LE and XLE models are expected to follow.

2021 Toyota Verso

2021 Venice

Toyota’s other new hybrid, the 2021 Venza, uses the same four-cylinder hybrid powertrain as the Sienna.

As a five-seat, two-row midsize SUV, it’s based on the three-row Sienna and falls in the range between it and the smaller RAV4, which Toyota calls its “adventurous” SUV.

This gives an indication of who Toyota hopes to sell Venza to. The Venza will be more comfort and luxury oriented than the RAV4, and is Toyota’s answer to the Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe.

Like the Sienna, the new Venza will offer standard electric all-wheel drive, and Toyota has announced that the hybrid system will develop 219 horsepower, which gives a good indication of the Sienna’s power. It will be rated at 40 mpg in the base LE trim.

2021 Toyota Venza StarGaze Roof

The new Venza will offer a fixed, non-opening “StarGaze” panoramic glass roof that electro-chromatically adjusts from clear white to frost white. Unlike most of Toyota’s hybrids, which use a stepless electronic continuously variable transmission, the Venza allows the driver to manually select certain gear ratios.

A new Predictive Efficient Drive mode remembers routes to maximize fuel economy when traversing hills, maximize electric power when going uphill or around town, use the engine harder on highways and recharge the battery when going downhill.

The 2021 Venza will go on sale this summer, followed by the 2021 Sienna in the fall.

These aren’t the last new Toyota hybrids this year. The company is also expected to introduce a plug-in version of the RAV4 hybrid with 39 miles of electric range later this year. And we can always hope that it will be followed by the hybrid version of the CH-R.

Eric Evarts has been bringing readers timely information on energy, environment, technology, transportation, business and consumerism for 25 years. He spent most of that time in busy newsrooms at The Christian Science Monitor and consumer reportsbut his articles have been widely published in media such as Nature Outlook magazine, Cars.com, US News & World Report, AAA and TheWirecutter.com and Fortune Magazine. He can tell readers how to get the best deal and avoid buying a lemon, whether it’s a used car or a bad mortgage. Along the way, he’s driven more than 1,500 new cars of all types, but the most interesting are those that promise to reduce the nation’s dependence on oil and those that improve the environment. At least compared to an old clunker they could replace. Please follow Evarts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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