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2015 Toyota Sienna Test Drive Review
The updated 2015 Toyota Sienna is, for the first time in its history, more appealing than the Honda Odyssey.
Thanks to numerous upgrades, the 2015 Toyota Sienna is the best version of
this minivan yet and our new favorite in the class. While it doesn't look
very different from last year's model, it boasts improvements in almost
every respect, and perhaps most importantly in the area of safety.
Look and Feel
Families can be funny. Members can be loving and supportive but also demanding and quite unreasonable, all within the span of 60 seconds. Two days before Thanksgiving, I called my sister, who had graciously agreed to host this year, to see what I could bring. I was thinking a casserole. She was, too, along with a salad, dessert, two long folding tables, and 10 folding chairs.
Thank goodness I had a Toyota Sienna test vehicle for the week. It handily swallowed all of the above, as well as my two kids and husband, plus a healthy serving of patience for dealing with the people that you sometimes have to force yourself to love. And thanks to the improvements Toyota has made for 2015, the latest Sienna is no longer a car that you have to force yourself to love if you didn’t get a Honda Odyssey.
A minivan that I have long considered superior to its competition is no more. The Sienna might look the same as ever, but thanks to improvements related to safety, handling, and interior materials, the updated 2015 Sienna is, for the first time in its history, more appealing than the Odyssey. Them’s fightin’ words around these parts, the drought-parched suburbs of Los Angeles, but you can’t stay on top forever unless you’re willing to embrace change.
The fact that my test vehicle was a Sienna Limited Premium with all the bells and whistles may have influenced my opinion. It priced out at $46,590 with the $885 destination charge. That’s a stunning amount of money for a minivan, but in it were features such as power sliding doors, power folding third-row seats, front and rear sunroofs, a navigation system with live traffic information, a pimped-out rear seat entertainment system, an ungraded JBL audio system, and lots, lots more.
Besides, that window sticker is perfectly aligned with midsize, 3-row crossover SUVs.
From a design standpoint, Toyota also updates the Sienna’s grille and taillights for 2015 and for years has successfully hidden the sliding door tracks beneath the rear side window glass, but a minivan is still a minivan and will never be curvy and sculptural. These are boxy and wedge-shaped vehicles designed for maximum space efficiency, not for sex appeal.
For many people, that’s okay. For them, a car doesn’t have to be a reflection of their personality. For others, it’s not. They’d trade some flexibility and utility for something a little more aggressive, or outdoorsy, or active lifestylish.
Whatever floats your boat. If it is practicality you seek, a tool to make your daily life easier, Toyota now offers the best version of the Sienna yet.
One of the Honda Odyssey’s strengths is that it doesn’t wallow and float when you drive it. Instead, it feels connected and secure, almost fun to drive. Toyota’s Sienna now takes a page out of the Honda playbook, battening down the underlying structure and the suspension to deliver improved ride quality and handling.
Even when specified with the luxurious Limited trim level, the Sienna feels much more connected to the asphalt than before and manages its weight during cornering with greater confidence while still delivering a comfortable ride for passengers. The electric steering, also recalibrated for 2015, delivers precise results at all speeds, while the brakes are easy to modulate and effective during panic stops—even in a rare spate of SoCal rain.
No, a minivan will never handle like a sports sedan, but even a minivan can be enjoyable to drive, and Toyota really delivers with the Sienna.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine certainly helps in this regard. Pressing the right pedal unleashes 266 hp from Toyota’s workhorse engine, delivering smooth, broad-shouldered acceleration in any situation. Complementing the engine, a 6-speed automatic transmission sends power to the minivan's front wheels, courtesy of quick, seamless gearshifts.
This powertrain can tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped, and the EPA says to expect 18 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway, with an average of 21 mpg in combined driving. My test vehicle returned 20.1 mpg, which is great considering that it was often loaded with out-of-town guests and plenty of gear.
Denizens of the arctic tundra—also known as New England—will note that the Sienna is the only minivan available with all-wheel drive, delivering greater traction on the slippery stuff and making it even harder to justify spending as much money on a smaller and more cramped 3-row midsize crossover SUV.
Form and Function
Still vying for the front passenger seat? Don’t bother. The Sienna Limited’s second-row captain’s chairs are as comfortable as they come, big and soft with ottoman-style leg rests that extend. An illuminated, sliding center console extends to provide cupholders to second-row occupants, and if you slide the captain’s chairs all the way back and deploy the entertainment system’s screen, you’ve got an executive lounge back there. My kids were ballin’.
Should it suit your family’s needs, other versions of the Sienna can seat 3 people in the second row, bringing total passenger count up to 8. That assumes, though, that you’re cramming 3 people into the third-row seat, too, which might be ill advised.
The last row of seating is not the torture chamber that many such locations tend to be, providing a decent amount of legroom and thigh support. The triple-zone climate control system helps to ensure everyone’s comfort, too. The problem is the width of the seat and the potential width of your passengers. Understandably then, 2 passengers in this location will be more comfortable than 3, and while it’s never an ideal situation to be a third-row passenger in the first place, as long as the second-row passengers scoot their seats forward a bit, all will be right with the world.
The driver and front passenger enjoy premium accommodations as well, thanks to touches like a new dashboard with logically placed knobs and buttons and revised instrumentation that glows a pretty blue at nighttime. The center touchscreen infotainment system is a next-generation version of Toyota’s Entune technology, looking and working more like a tablet computer than ever.
More importantly, in the Sienna Limited, high-quality materials are rendered with a designer’s touch. With its stitched leather and the upscale Chestnut and Black color theme, my test van’s interior looked more like something out of a Lexus than anything appropriate for Toyota family-hauler duty.
And, of course, the Sienna excels at carrying stuff, too. With the second-row seats removed and third-row seats folded, the Sienna can carry up to 150 cubic feet of cargo; however, removing the heavy second-row chairs is neither a quick nor an easy task. Better to keep ‘em in the van, fold the third-row seat into the floor, and enjoy 87.1 cubic feet of space (almost as much as a Chevy Tahoe with all seats folded down).
To haul the aforementioned Thanksgiving gear, this arrangement was a requirement. Let’s say, though, that it is your week for carpooling the soccer team. With the third-row seats in use, you’ll still have 39.1 cubic feet of cargo room, a deep well of space that’s plenty big enough to tote athletic gear, a week’s worth of groceries, or what-have-you.
Pardon the grumpy-old-lady rant, but when I was a kid, I used to love going on road trips with my parents. With only a cassette player and maybe three tapes, we would poke around various locations of the American west, and we would love it. This lasted well into my teenage years, but then I deemed my parents too ghastly embarrassing to be seen with my über-cool self.
Nowadays, my own kids are still in the “I LOVE my parents! They’re the BEST!” stage, yet they grimace every time we mention a lengthy road trip. That is, unless we have a test vehicle with a rear-seat entertainment system. Then they scamper aboard and stare vapidly at the Star Wars trilogy or the Despicable Me duo until the destination is ahead. There’s very little conversation, no looking out the window at the wonders of the world, no family singalongs, no road-trip games. But, by golly, there’s no whining, either. Except for requests for more Goldfish crackers and gummy bears.
With all its entertainment features, this Sienna Limited test vehicle had me covered. The rear seat screen was the super-wide kind that can play either a DVD or Blu-Ray disc in wide format, or split the screen so each kid can choose a different form of entertainment. There are also HDMI input jacks for gaming. I also liked the Sienna’s new Driver Easy Speak system, which is basically a PA system for the minivan. With this, no one can ignore you and say they didn’t hear you from the third-row seat.
Up front, Toyota’s latest Entune infotainment system includes a tablet-style screen with reasonably responsive and intuitive touch controls that are flanked by handy primary buttons and knobs. This version, equipped with a 7-inch display and paired with a premium JBL audio system and a navigation system, provides a full suite of connectivity apps when connected to your smartphone, delivering easy access to Pandora and iHeartRadio, Facebook Places, Yelp, OpenTable, MovieTickets, and more. Additional highlights include advanced voice recognition, USB 2.0 fast-charge ports, and HD predictive traffic and Doppler weather overlays.
People who love their families want to keep them safe, and the 2015 Sienna does that better than it ever has. For starters, you can secure four child safety seats in the updated Sienna, thanks to the installation of an extra set of LATCH anchors. But this isn’t the main upgrade to the minivan’s safety levels.
Toyota pulled no punches when it came to equipping this 2015 Sienna with the latest in safety technology. In particular, I’m impressed that most versions of the Sienna can be optioned with a blind-spot monitoring system at a reasonable cost, without the addition of a bunch of other expensive equipment. I think it’s a critical feature that can cut down on collisions.
My test vehicle also had a cross-traffic alert system, which beeps when you’re reversing and it senses a car or pedestrian coming your way and proves to be a useful feature. My Sienna’s dynamic radar cruise control and Pre-Collision System constantly scanned the road ahead, ready to automatically prepare the cabin for a collision and brake the van prior to impact. The dynamic cruise control worked fairly smoothly and seamlessly, keeping up with holiday traffic and slowing down with traffic ahead so that all I had to do was steer while navigating L.A.'s network of freeways.
Thanks to a revised airbag system, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2015 Sienna a 5-Star crash-test rating, with top scores in all parameters. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the Sienna a Top Safety Pick, though it is worth noting that the van scored the second highest rating of Acceptable in the small-overlap frontal-crash protection. That’s one way a Honda Odyssey remains superior.
At the same time that I’m impressed with the Sienna’s safety technology and crash protection levels, I’m befuddled by how Toyota reserves Safety Connect service, which includes Automatic Collision Notification and an SOS emergency button, for only the most expensive Limited model. Sure, this is a subscription service following the free trial period, but it definitely ought to be offered as an option on lower-priced variants.
After all, isn’t one of the points of buying a minivan in the first place your parental mission to keep your family safe?
You can look at the cost of my loaded Sienna Limited Premium test vehicle, at $46,590, and either clutch your chest in feigned heart failure or cock one eyebrow and realize that compared to an equally loaded crossover SUV, that actually represents a good value. It really is all about perspective.
Get down to details, and the Sienna’s cost effectiveness has proven decent, if not extraordinary. Historically average ratings for reliability, depreciation, and the costs associated with ownership don’t help, and the previous Sienna did not fare particularly well in J.D. Power quality surveys due in part to interior materials that did not look or feel substantial.
That’s changed now, and with all of the other upgrades, the latest Sienna enjoys an improved outlook. Add observed fuel economy of 20.1 mpg, which is right in the same neighborhood as the EPA’s 21-mpg estimate for combined driving, combined with free scheduled maintenance during the first couple of years of ownership, and the Sienna’s value equation gets even better.
Believe me, I was not expecting to discover that a mid-cycle refresh would catapult the Sienna to the top of my recommended minivan list, but that’s exactly what has happened.
Liz Kim has worked within the world of cars for 15 years, at various points reviewing and writing about, or analyzing and marketing, everything automotive. It’s no wonder that she married a fellow automotive journalist. Liz can be found examining and assessing the latest vehicles when she’s not busy keeping the peace between, and the schedule for, her two young daughters.
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