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2021 Toyota Sienna Test Drive Review

2021 Toyota Sienna

Toyota’s minivan gets new style, and a hybrid powertrain—finally.

8.3 /10
Overall Score

Toyota’s minivan got a major makeover for 2021, now entering its fourth generation of production since debuting as a 1997 model. For the first time, the Sienna gets a hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain, and not only that—it’s standard equipment. The Sienna Hybrid is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA-K) platform, shared with the Highlander and other current Toyota models.

Look and Feel

9/ 10

Outside of John Travolta’s praise of the Oldsmobile Silhouette in 1995’s Get Shorty, minivans have never been fashion icons. Toyota’s designers have done their best to change that with the new Sienna Hybrid, within the confines of the genre. At first glance, the Sienna manages to present with a more SUV-like appearance. A wide grille helps emphasize the minivan’s width, and LED headlamp arrays give a sleek look, horizontally arranged and integrated into a panel that also houses a proud Toyota logo. From the side, the Sienna actually manages to have an assertive stance. Many engineering resources have been expended on reworking the sliding side doors, which are nicely sculpted with a body line that swoops up from the rocker panels to bulge over the rear wheels. This change from slab-sided flat doors required rethinking the hinges and slides to tuck the door in, and it’s a great look. Alloy wheel sizes from 17-inch (LE and XLE), 18-inch (Limited, XSE AWD, Platinum AWD), and 20-inch (XSE FWD and Platinum FWD) fill the arches, and look great in bright, metallic and dark finishes, depending on grade. From the rear, the Sienna has a big rear window but still manages to look wide and low (for a minivan). Fit and finish on the exterior is Toyota quality—which is to say, superb.

Inside, there’s a similar emphasis on width with horizontal lines. While not quite managing the SUV feel, the Sienna doesn’t feel like a school bus, either. The seating position is higher than a sedan’s, not quite the command seating of a full-size SUV, but pleasant for a comfortable ride. The dashboard is simple and uncluttered, with most of the controls clustered on the upper part of the center stack, just below the infotainment screen. The center console houses the gear selector lever with a few controls below, a pair of open cup holders, another pair of cupholders covered by a hinged lid, and a big storage compartment beneath the center armrest. The console forms a bridge between the dash and the storage compartment, leaving a tray below, big enough for a handbag—a very smart touch. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is nice and beefy, and the materials and surfaces throughout have a good feel.

The second and third rows are both comfortable for adults, and the second row (either a pair of captain’s chairs in seven-passenger versions or a bench seat in eight-passenger) slides fore and aft to configure the space for maximum utility and comfort.

Performance

8/ 10

Even though Toyota has long been a leader in hybrid vehicles, the 2021 Sienna Hybrid is the company’s first hybrid minivan. The long wait has been agonizing, but the good news is the engine, motor, and battery combination in the Sienna is a proven one, very similar to the setup available in the current Highlander Hybrid. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors combine to produce 243 horsepower. Front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard, and all-wheel drive (AWD) is available on all trim levels. AWD is accomplished by a separate electric motor driving the rear wheels with 54 hp and 89 lb-ft of torque, which eliminates much mechanical complication.

The Sienna uses an electronically controlled continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), as opposed to a conventional stepped gear automatic transmission. CVTs have their fans, as they can deliver power smoothly and efficiently, and help maximize fuel efficiency. In the Sienna Hybrid, the CVT is a little disappointing, as it tends to blunt throttle response, droning up to speed rather than leaping. But that’s the tradeoff of a hybrid and a minivan—a little less fun behind the wheel. Many drivers will never miss the lack of punch. Four selectable drive modes (Normal, EV, Eco, and Sport) can be punched up with a center console toggle; “Sport” being a euphemism for “somewhat livelier.”

Handling has been improved significantly over the outgoing Sienna, thanks to new TNGA front suspension and steering and independent rear trailing arm suspension. Body roll is minimal, and the Sienna Hybrid eats up the miles with comfort and ease.

Which brings us to the big news for the Sienna Hybrid: EPA fuel economy numbers. FWD Sienna Hybrid models are predicted to achieve 36 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, 36 mpg combined, while AWD models are rated at 35/36/35 mpg combined.

Form and Function

9/ 10

Perhaps more than any other class of vehicle, minivans are judged heavily on their convenience functions. A minivan has to cater to its driver, sure, but it also has to provide a high level of function to its front-seat passenger, second-row passengers, and even to the peanut gallery in the third row. The third row, by the way, is standard on all grades. It’s a 60/40-split bench that stores away into the floor easily. The second row slides up to 25 inches, which makes it super easy to get into the third row when necessary. Each row has storage cubby space and cupholders, and all four side doors have bottle holders. All told, the cabin has 16 cupholders (15 with the spare tire option).

Another minivan function is cargo handling. The Sienna is ready to be the family workhorse, actually capable of carrying a full four-by-eight sheet of plywood inside with the tailgate completely closed. Because of the capability of the second row, there’s plenty of flexibility for loading luggage and freight, either behind the second row through the tailgate, or in front of the second row, through the side doors. Nominal cargo measurements are 33.5 cubic feet behind the third row; 75.2 cubic feet behind the second row; and 101.0 cubic feet behind the first row. With that sliding second row, though, those measurements can be juggled to fit cargo. If you have to tow, Sienna can handle up to 3,500 pounds. As a hybrid, the Sienna must carry a big battery, which could have eaten up cargo space. Its 288-volt Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery pack is cleverly tucked in under the front seats in a single stack design, and it doesn’t impact cargo space at all. It comes with a 10-year/150,000-mile warranty, so it should be conveniently tucked away for the majority of most families’ ownership.

Both side sliding doors and the rear tailgate are power-operated and respond to kick motions to open and close—a family-friendly feature that will be greatly appreciated by parents of small kids.

Tech Level

9/ 10

Beyond the technology in its hybrid powertrain, the Sienna packs in a ton of standard and available technology features. A nine-inch touchscreen is standard in all grades, giving access to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa, SiriusXM (with a three-month trial), one USB media port, and six USB charging ports throughout the cabin.

In terms of standard connectivity, the Sienna comes with a year’s trial of Safety Connect and Remote Connect (on XLE and above); a ten-year trial of Service Connect; and a three-month trial of AT&T WiFi Connect with up to 2 GB of data included. Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming is included on all trim levels. Qi-compatible charging is standard on Limited and Platinum models, available on all others. A 1500-watt inverter with a 120-volt AC outlet is optional on XLE and above to power and charge devices (or a coffee maker).

Audio and multimedia systems march upwards with trim levels, from a six-speaker stereo on LE up to a Premium Audio + JBL package on Limited and Platinum (available on XLE and XSE) with 12 speakers, Dynamic Navigation, and surround sound. A rear-seat entertainment system is available on XLE and above, with a ceiling-mounted wide-screen 11.6-inch 1080p display that folds down for viewing. The system includes a remote and two wireless headphones and accepts an HDMI input on the back of the center console.

The driver is treated to several tech features. A color multi-information display in the center of the instrument panel (4.2-inch on LE, XLE, and XSE; 7-inch on LTD and Platinum) features the odometer, fuel economy, trip information, and alert messages. In Platinum trim models, a 10-inch color Head-Up Display (HUD) displays speedometer, navigation, and hybrid system information (a class first). Limited and Platinum models can upgrade to a digital rearview mirror, a feature that swaps out the actual reflected view in the mirror with the rear video camera feed. This can be a great feature when carrying a full load of passengers, or when passengers are using the rear-seat entertainment system, which can block the view of a conventional mirror. Remote keyless entry is standard with push-button start, upgraded to Smart Key System on XLE and above.

Safety

7/ 10

The Sienna Hybrid comes with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which includes full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control, lane-tracing assist, pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicyclist detection, lane-departure alert, automatic high beams, and road sign assist. This suite of driver assistance systems is standard on all trim levels, as is the Star Safety System (enhanced vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and smart stop technology. The Sienna gets fitted with 10 airbags and has LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) connectors—five locations for eight-passenger vans, four locations for seven-passenger models. A rear-seat reminder system is also standard, which might be very important for families who have five child seats in their vans. It’s very easy to lose track of all those kids.

A tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) is also standard across the board. An inflator kit is standard on all models. Buyers can still opt for a spare tire. The spare tire location (in the wall of the cargo space) has been changed for safety and convenience—it used to be mounted underneath the vehicle, which was not ideal for roadside tire changes.

2021 Sienna crash-test ratings have not yet been released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The 2020 Sienna received “Good” ratings from IIHS for Moderate Overlap Front, Side, Roof Strength, and Head Restraints & Seats, “Adequate” for Small Overlap Front: Driver-Side, and “Marginal” for Small Overlap Front: Passenger-Side. It got a Five-Star Overall Rating from NHTSA.

Cost-Effectiveness

8/ 10

The 2021 Toyota Sienna Hybrid will be available in five trim levels, each with standard FWD or available AWD. Pricing starts at $34,460 for LE FWD/$36,460 for LE AWD; $39,750 for XLE FWD/$41,750 for XLE AWD; $42,000 for XSE FWD/$42,760 for XSE AWD; $46,700 for Limited FWD/$48,500 for Limited AWD; and $49,900 Platinum FWD/$50,460 Platinum AWD. There are a few options and packages available, including the $1,415 Rear-Seat Entertainment (on all but the LE trim level), $200 AC Inverter Output (all but LE), and $75 Spare Tire (all), but for the most part, the trim levels represent comprehensive walks up the ladder commensurate with price. By comparison, the 2020 Toyota Sienna started at $31,640 for LE and went up to $48,055 for Limited Premium.

The only other current direct competitor for the Sienna Hybrid is the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, which starts at $39,995 and goes up to $49,140 (2020 pricing). The remainder of the field of minivans is gas-powered, no hybrid options available, including the Honda Odyssey (starting at $31,790); Kia Sedona (starting at $30,400); Dodge Grand Caravan (starting at $27,530); and Chrysler Voyager (starting at $27,235).

The Sienna Hybrid carries Toyota’s 36-month/36,000-mile basic warranty, 60-month/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, 60-month/no mileage limit corrosion warranty, and eight-year/100,000-mile hybrid-related component warranty.

If you’re at a life stage where a minivan is a smart choice, you should definitely consider the 2021 Toyota Sienna Hybrid when you’re shopping. It’s not an SUV; it’s not a station wagon; it’s one of the best minivans Toyota has built so far. And that’s saying something.

Updated

Jason Fogelson has reviewed hundreds of cars, trucks, SUVs, motorcycles and ATVs for websites, magazines and newspapers. He is based in the Detroit area.

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