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2014 Toyota Sienna Test Drive Review
The 2014 Toyota Sienna Limited’s second-row lounge-style captain’s chairs transform this minivan into a first-class ticket for passengers, because they provide serious stretch-your-legs space.
Few people actually want a minivan. Rather, these are vehicles purchased primarily for their utility and functionality by practical people who, most likely, will own one for as short a period of time as possible while raising their offspring. As such vehicles go, the 2014 Toyota Sienna is a good one, even if it’s not the best one.
Look and Feel
Out of 10
Toyota launched the redesigned 2011 Sienna in a sport-tuned SE trim level, supported by a hilarious “Swagger Wagon” rap delivered by the unlikeliest of duos: a typical suburban Mom and Dad. As a father myself, and a big fan of minivans and a guy who likes to drive, this vehicle and this ad campaign grabbed my attention, made me laugh, and at one point I watched the commercials on You Tube. For fun. Do you know how hard it is to make a minivan fun or even remotely cool? Especially one wearing a Toyota badge? Not easy.
Toyota did not stick with the entertaining Swagger Wagon couple. I’m sure the company had its reasons, like scoring a weekly product placement on one of the most popular and acclaimed sitcoms on television, “Modern Family.” Now, four years later, the Sienna remains America’s favorite alternative to the Honda Odyssey, co-dominating a segment once owned by Chrysler.
Prices start at $27,780, including the $860 destination charge, for the base Sienna L model. If you’re wondering what you might be missing by going with the most affordable model, take a look at the equipment list for the popular Sienna LE ($31,350).
The Sienna LE adds upgraded exterior trim, dark tinted rear privacy glass, power sliding side doors and rear bumper protection. Eight people can sit inside this version of the Sienna, which is equipped with upgraded easy-clean fabric, and the driver gets an 8-way power adjustable seat, the second- and third-row passengers get manual window sunshades, and triple-zone automatic climate control keeps everyone comfortable. A center console with an illuminated center console storage bin and cupholders for the front and second-row occupants is standard for the Sienna LE.
In addition to these features, the LE model is equipped with Bluetooth connectivity and music streaming capability, satellite radio, a USB port and upgraded speakers. A trip computer and a reversing camera share a small screen, and let’s not forget about the heated side mirrors, the auto-dimming rear-view mirror, the universal garage door opener and the overhead console with map lights, a sunglasses holder and a conversation mirror that lets you spy on the kids in both rear rows of seats.
There are three ways to improve upon the Sienna LE. You can go sporty, like the Swagger Wagon mom and dad, with the Sienna SE ($34,720). You can go upscale with the Sienna XLE ($34,505). Or you can go fully pimped with the Sienna Limited ($41,990).
The Sienna SE adds a sport-tuned suspension, sport-tuned steering, 19-inch gunmetal-finish aluminum wheels wrapped in more aggressive tires, fog lights and sportier styling. Inside, the Sienna SE has seats with leatherette bolsters and cloth inserts, a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel and sport-themed instrumentation. A power tailgate is also included for this trim.
The Sienna XLE builds on Sienna LE equipment with automatic headlights, an upgraded grille finish, a power sunroof and 17-inch machined-finish aluminum wheels. Leather upholstery, heated front seats, Optitron gauges, woodgrain trim and power quarter vent windows are also included for this model.
The Sienna Limited features XLE equipment plus a premium grille finish, front and rear parking sensors, 18-inch aluminum wheels in a 10-spoke design and auto-dimming and power folding exterior mirrors with turn-signal indicators embedded into the housings and puddle lights to illuminate the ground near the doors. The Limited model’s interior features Smart Key passive entry with push-button start, a premium audio system, 2-tone leather seats, memory for the driver’s settings and woodgrain trim on the steering wheel. Second-row lounge-style captain’s chairs are standard, along with a Blind-Spot Monitor, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and one free year of Safety Connect services including Automatic Collision Notification.
My test vehicle was a Sienna Limited with every option except all-wheel drive. It included a Convenience Package (HID headlights, automatic high beams, rain-sensing wipers), an Advanced Technology Package (Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Pre-Collision System, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, Hill Start Assist Control) and a Premium Package (Dual View rear seat entertainment system with a 16.4-inch screen, dual 120-volt power outlets, RCA jacks, wireless headphones, navigation system with real-time traffic, panoramic reversing camera). A set of floor mats brought the grand total to $48,185.
Dipped in Predawn Mica paint, my Sienna Limited looked appropriately upscale, though my preference is the sportier Sienna SE. Still, can you name a good-looking minivan? I can’t, and while the well-balanced Sienna displays evidence of having been “designed,” most notably in terms of the grille, hood contours, hidden sliding door tracks, taillights and tailgate stampings, it’s still basically a box sitting on four wheels.
Maybe that’s why Toyota emphasizes style over substance on the inside. From the oddly offset speedometer to the asymmetrical climate-control layout, the unusual texturing on the plastic and the sweeping spear of fake wood, Toyota attempts to inject some personality into the Sienna. Trouble is, these vehicles are purchased for utility and functionality, and personality sometimes gets in the way of such goals.
Out of 10
Every 2014 Toyota Sienna is equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 engine, which generates 266 hp at 6,200 rpm and 245 lb-ft at 4,700 rpm. A 6-speed automatic transmission powers the front wheels, and Toyota is the only car company that still offers all-wheel drive as an option for a minivan. The EPA says my Sienna Limited should have returned 21 mpg in combined driving, and I averaged 19.3 mpg.
This Toyota V6 is one of my favorites. It snaps to attention when you get on the gas, revs freely and feels stronger than its power ratings might suggest, even in the 4,515-pound Sienna Limited. That means getting up to speed in order to merge onto the freeway is no problem. It also means that the Sienna easily tries to spin its wheels when you’re pulling out of the mall parking lot onto a busy city street.
In part, the Sienna’s snappy responsiveness is due to a 6-speed automatic transmission that isn’t shy about making sure the driver can take advantage of the power and torque curve. It also holds a lower gear while ascending a mountain grade, but in my experience, it doesn’t shift down for extra engine braking when descending the other side. A manual shift gate makes it easy for the driver to choose a lower gear, though.
Don’t tell the other Swagger Daddies, but I think I liked the electric steering in this Sienna Limited more than the sport-tuned setup in a Sienna SE I reviewed a couple of years ago. In the Limited, it’s not too fast, it’s not too slow, and it’s not at all imprecise. I was impressed by how easy it was to direct this version of the Sienna down a twisty mountain road, or to bend it left through a suburban intersection on a green arrow or to resolutely aim it along arrow-straight rural highways.
I still prefer the Sienna SE’s suspension tuning, but I concede that most people will like the plusher underpinnings supporting my loaded Limited test vehicle. They deliver a smooth ride combined with decent handling and a relatively flat cornering attitude for such a tall and heavy vehicle. The all-season tires give up pretty early if you attempt to explore maximum cornering velocity—no surprise there. Naturally, they pose no problems in the Sienna’s natural habitat: grade-school pick-up lines, the Trader Joe’s lot or the gravel parking area at the soccer field.
There are a couple of areas where Toyota can improve the Sienna. My wife and I both thought the Sienna was loud on the freeway. Wind noise, tire noise, engine noise—it’s all present and accounted for.
Worse than that, my test van’s brakes heated rapidly during mountain descents, causing them to shudder and rumble, and that was with just one person aboard. Previously, I’ve driven Siennas equipped with stout, fade-free brakes, so perhaps my test vehicle had seen some hard miles before I was handed the keys.
Form and Function
Out of 10
Minivans take a whole bunch of abuse on a regular basis, so maybe Toyota feels it's pointless to provide soft-touch materials on the dashboard and upper door panels, or to choose a simulated wood that at least tries to simulate wood, or to install a headliner that doesn’t look like it's covered in lint from the dryer, or to employ plastic that doesn’t creak when the slightest bit of pressure is exerted upon it. Glance at a Sienna’s interior, and you might say: “Hey, that looks nice!” Sit in one for hours, though, and you’ll change your tune. On a positive note, though, it sure is easy to clean.
In striving for style, Toyota has created a few ergonomic deficiencies with regard to the control layout. I had trouble reaching the stereo tuning knob and the navigation buttons on the right side of the touchscreen display, and I’ve got freakishly long arms. Likewise, the climate control system’s Sync button and the front passenger’s temperature controls required me to lean over to use them.
To Toyota’s credit, there’s no shortage of storage space inside a Sienna. Dual gloveboxes, a gigantic center console bin and even a rubber-padded purse holder on the floor in front of the console stand ready to hold your belongings. In my Sienna Limited test vehicle, that center console splits and slides to the rear to provide easily reached cupholders to the rear-seat occupants, and in combination with the optional Premium Package, features video-game jacks and a 2-prong 120-volt power outlet. Hooks designed for plastic grocery bags are offered on the front seatbacks and in the trunk on the third-row seatbacks.
Depending on the trim level selected, a 2014 Sienna seats 7 or 8 people in 3 rows of seats. The power adjustable driver’s seat is reasonably comfortable, feeling large and wide even for me, a large and wide individual. I found it odd that a leather-lined minivan approaching $50,000 didn’t have ventilated front seats, but the main reason I qualified “comfortable” with “reasonable” is that I couldn’t find a good place to rest my left elbow, because the door armrest is too low and the upper part of the door panel is too far away and coated in hard plastic.
Similarly, the Sienna’s front passenger’s seat is reasonably comfortable. Equipped with 4-way power adjustment in my loaded Limited test vehicle, it lacked height adjustment, so occupants may find the seating position too low behind the plastic edifice of a dashboard, like my wife and I did.
Honestly, she and I would both rather ride in the Sienna Limited’s second-row lounge-style captain’s chairs and let someone else drive. These seats transform this minivan into a first-class ticket for passengers, because they slide all the way back until they’re touching the third-row seat, providing serious stretch-your-legs space. Equipped with an excellent dual-view, 16.4-inch entertainment screen and a power overhead glass roof that slides open, my Sienna test vehicle lacked only black paint to make my kids feel like VIPs riding around L.A. in a limo. Of course, the Disney-addled princesses don’t yet know what a VIP is, even if they always act like one.
Manual second-row side window sunshades, standard for most Sienna models, are perfect for new parents with kids in child seats, especially babies in reverse-facing seats. If you plant adults back there, they’ll appreciate how the dished seat design almost hugs the body while providing excellent thigh support and a great view out.
Two adults will also fit quite nicely in the Sienna’s third-row seat, and because the second-row seats slide, it's really easy to make sure everyone is comfortable. The sliding seats also ease entry to and exit from the third row, along with doors that slide wide and big grab handles mounted to the B-pillars to assist folks with few abdominal muscles in hoisting themselves out. Notably, I thought that the SofTex leatherette used on the third-row seat actually felt softer and plusher than the real leather on the other seats.
With a full house aboard a Sienna, the van will still carry 39.1 cubic feet of cargo in its trunk. If you don’t need the extra seating, fold the third-row chairs into the well in the cargo floor, and you’ve got a whopping 87.1 cubic feet of cargo space. For reference, that’s more cargo room than a new 2014 Toyota Highlander has with both rows of seats folded down. To maximize cargo room, the second-row seats can be removed and stored in your garage in order to create 150 cubic feet of space for your stuff.
Out of 10
Given its price, my Sienna Limited test vehicle’s technology was adequate. The infotainment system looks dated in terms of screen size and resolution, but I sure did appreciate real, old-fashioned knobs and buttons with big lettering and actual words instead of indecipherable symbols. Plus, when we popped a movie into the DVD player, it started playing without any additional fiddling with the screen or a remote control. It’s almost as though Toyota assumes that if a DVD is in the DVD player, people in the back want to watch a DVD.
Unfortunately, I found the Sienna’s Bluetooth fussy to use. I connected my phone easily, but that wasn’t good enough to allow me to stream music. When attempting to choose Bluetooth through the Audio menu, the system kept offering me a “Connect” option for a device. But when I pushed that virtual button on the screen, the system attempted to access an iPhone belonging to some dude named Crick instead of my already-paired device. Worse, I could not edit in order to get rid of Crick’s iPhone, and Crick’s iPhone wasn’t one of the four devices displayed as previously connected on the “Connect Phone” menu. Good thing I was happy to listen to satellite radio.
During my week with the Sienna, I needed to pick up my wife’s SUV at a dealership selling and servicing a competing brand. Wisely, the “Dealerships” selection in the navigation system’s “Point Of Interest” menu offers help with routing to only Lexus and Toyota facilities. It makes sense, and I mention it only as a point of interest in and of itself.
Out of 10
Except for a 3-star crash protection rating for the front-seat passenger in a frontal-impact crash, as assigned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2014 Sienna boasts impressive crash-test ratings. Furthermore, my test vehicle was equipped with a panoramic reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high-beam headlights, Safety Connect service with Automatic Collision Notification, a Blind-Spot Monitor, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and a Dynamic Radar Cruise Control system with a Pre-Collision System that automatically tightens the seat belts and prepares the braking system for maximum stopping power when it detects the possibility of a collision.
That all sounds pretty good, right? Here’s why I downgraded the Sienna for safety. I lopped off a point for the 3-star crash-test result. I chopped another point for the van’s lack of a Lane-Departure Warning system, a useful feature for a minivan, a vehicle in which parental distraction is a common owner-installed accessory. Then I cropped 2 more points because Toyota reserves all the good stuff for the most expensive versions of the vehicle.
At the very least, Safety Connect services and the Blind-Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert ought to be available for the most popular version of the Sienna, the LE model.
Out of 10
Offering more interior room, greater passenger comfort and better fuel economy than a typical 3-row crossover SUV, the 2014 Toyota Sienna delivers value and practicality. It can even be optioned with all-wheel drive, just like a crossover.
With that in mind, though, I averaged 19.3 mpg in combined driving, short of the EPA’s 21-mpg estimate. Also, according to ALG, the Sienna receives a 3-star rating for holding its value over time, and despite the fact that it comes with free scheduled maintenance for the first 2 years or 25,000 miles of ownership, it gets an average rating from Consumer Reports and Cars.com for how much it will cost to own over time.
Fortunately, reliability predictions are favorable. The Sienna just earned an award for dependability in the latest J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, and Consumer Reports expects reliability to prove better than average.
There’s no shortage of deals on the 2014 Sienna, either. As this review is written, minivan buyers can take advantage of zero-percent long-term financing, factory-subsidized lease rates or a $750 cash rebate. In fact, according to TrueCar, most people are paying a few hundred bucks under invoice when buying a Sienna.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.