The Toyota Sienna has been around since the 1998 model year, succeeding the mid-engined Previa, which could be had with a supercharger. Now in its third generation, around since the 2011 model year, the minivan is competing not only against a few other vans, but also with the ever-expanding crossover market. During a week where we directly stacked four minivans against each other, I spent some time with a fully loaded 2017 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD, just to see what options today’s young families have.
The third-gen Sienna was designed with a conservative mindset. Space management and overall quality was prioritized over design. It’s not an unattractive car, but will very easily blend into the sea of other three-row vehicles at the local hockey rink, elementary school, or dance class. Large windows (the front four go down, the last row vents open horizontally) create an airy atmosphere, and two fully opening sunroofs complement this look nicely.
Despite receiving a significant mid-cycle update for the 2015 model year, what’s significant for the 2017 Sienna is a new powertrain. The 3.5L V6 is shared with the new ’17 Highlander, codenamed 2GR-FKS and direct injected. It puts out 296 horsepower at 6,600RPM (up from 266) and 263 lb-ft of torque at 4,700RPM (up from 245). Coupled to a new eight-speed automatic, the results are delivered smoothly and crisply. Even though the old engine/transmission weren’t exactly a weakness for the Sienna, the new setup puts it ahead of the pack of minivans it competes against.
Throttle response isn’t the sharpest, but once the pedal is depressed enough, the Sienna has plenty of get-up-and-go, easily the most rewarding acceleration in the segment. The issue is actually getting the minivan to understand that you want it to hustle – the accelerator must be pushed right to the floor to evoke any sort of response. The transmission changes gears effortlessly, and you’ll never find yourself looking for a sportier setting. Our tester was also equipped with the slip-and-grip all-wheel-drive system. It’s still front-based, but the Sienna is the only minivan that can be had with AWD at all, something that Canadians have shown time and time again that they want.
Toyota has implemented an electric power steering system geared towards comfort rather than sportiness, but it does the job. The 37.4-foot turning radius is exceptionally tight, making child’s play of maneuvering my tight condo underground garage. Out on the open road, there isn’t much in the way of feel, but the Sienna goes where it’s pointed with minimal fuss. We had the chance to drive this van in one of this year’s biggest blizzards, and it performed amicably, a proper beast in the snow. Stability control systems can be shut off if slip is needed.
This test vehicle was equipped with 18” wheels wrapped in meaty winter tires, which look adequate, though not as stylish as the 19s on the sporty SE (reviewed here). The SE has the lowest ground clearance of the Sienna lineup, at 157.3mm, whereas the FWD Limited sits at 161mm. Models equipped with all-wheel-drive sit a bit taller, with a clearance of 164.3mm. The 18s help with ride quality, which is adequate, though the Sienna is still pretty firm-riding. We also experienced a bit of rattling from the second row seats when intact, which was also seen on our test of the SE last fall.
The AWD system does add a bit of weight, resulting in a fuel mileage penalty. This model is rated at 13.4L/100km on the highway and 9.6L/100km city, for a combined rating of 11.7L/100km. When comparing this to the 12.5/8.9/10.9 respective ratings for the FWD model, it doesn’t seem too bad. Over the course of our test, the Sienna returned 13.8L/100km on 87-octane regular fuel, draining the 75L tank in a deceptively quick manner. It must be mentioned that our car was equipped with winter tires, and we experienced very cold temperatures, which inevitably contributed to efficiency.
Being the most luxurious trim that can be had, the cabin on our XLE Limited AWD was equipped to please despite the overall age of the platform. Ergonomics are good, and the interior is lined with nice soft-touch materials, real leather, and faux-wood trim that doesn’t look or feel bad. It’s glossy so it will be prone to scratches, though everything fits nicely and is reflective of Toyota’s consistent quality. Something we didn’t really like were the visible rails for the second row captain’s chairs, into which crumbs and small garbage can fall, never to be seen again. The floor mats are also positioned around these rails, so they are always obvious, adding a touch of cheapness to the otherwise nice cabin.
Ergonomics for the driver are pretty good too, with a comfortable driving position atop the nice leather-lined seats. The power seats are easily adjusted to perfect placement, and visibility all around is very good. Controls for the rear power sliding doors and tailgate are obviously marked and conveniently located. The shift lever on the console is within easy reach even for shorter drivers, though the main screen for the Entune infotainment system is rather far away and requires some stretching even for taller folk.
Rear seat access is pretty important when considering a minivan, something we younger enthusiasts often overlook. The Sienna’s rear sliding doors can be opened with the remote fob, though it’s not as slick as the Chrysler Pacifica (reviewed here) with its hands-free door access. An eight-passenger model is also available, but ours was seven-passenger with the rear captain’s chairs. The third row is remarkably roomy, even for full-sized adults, though no one will be fighting in favour of that seat. Said third row folds flat into the floor with ease, and there’s plenty of storage space even with the seats in place. Unlike the Pacifica or even some crossovers like the Ford Flex, the seats are not power folding, though they’re easy to operate.
Toyota prices the Sienna from $33,420 for the base model, though the XLE AWD starts at $44,130. All-wheel-drive can be had on the LE trim, for as little as $39,580. Our test vehicle adds the $7,315 Limited Package, bringing the price to $51,445 before tax, freight and delivery. For this the car gets front heated seats, JBL Synthesis audio, dual screen rear BluRay capability, 16.4” widescreen monitor in the back, dual power sunroofs, wide-angle reverse camera, HID headlights, premium leather seats, and many other niceties. At the end of the day, it’s a lot of luxury for not a lot of money – this thing is actually decent value.
Challenges begin to arise with the age of the current Sienna. The rear seats cannot be heated, there’s no on-board WiFi, and there’s only one USB port. The Pacifica (reviewed here) offers a vacuum cleaner like the Honda; the Sienna does not. Toyota doesn’t offer fold-flat second row seats either, but they can be easily removed and are reasonably light. The Sienna is weak with regards to driver aids too; with the only safety gizmos here being blind spot monitoring and a reverse camera. No forward collision warning, autonomous braking, or radar cruise systems are available. We expect most, if not all of these things to be rectified for the 2018 model, expected to debut sometime in 2017 as a 2018 model. In favour of sibling rivalry, the redesigned Honda Odyssey is also on its way.
None of these weaknesses mean the Sienna should be written off though – it’s still a thoroughly excellent minivan and a fantastic family choice. The 2017 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD offers some of the most comfortable seats in the class, flexible cargo space, and the best powertrain. Its infotainment is simple to use, the three-zone climate control is useful, and the dual sunroofs are a great party trick. If overall comfort, reliability, and smoothness are at the top of your list, many come close but none match the Sienna. Plus, it’s quite literally the only minivan available with all-wheel-drive, and that should seal the deal for many.