When a third row of utility and ample cargo space is desired, the reality is that there aren’t too many sport utility vehicles that can achieve the practicality of a minivan. This is the 2020 Toyota Sienna SE Nightshade, which uses a platform that’s been on the market for a decade now. Starting in the 2011 model year, this generation of Toyota’s minivan has been doing no-nonsense business for families who want to get things done. In the last ten years, updates from the likes of Honda, Chrysler, and Kia have come out, and despite that, the Sienna has carried on. While we’re on the eve of an all-new 2021 model, we decided to take the outgoing one out for one last spin to see if it’s still worth considering.
While the base Sienna CE starts at $35,750, the SE Nightshade is $44,010. It sits in the middle of the Sienna range, which tops out at $54,590 for the XLE AWD with Limited Package. Standard equipment on the SE Nightshade includes an eight-inch infotainment touch screen, dark charcoal leather seating, power sliding rear doors (with jam protection), a power rear liftgate, and tri-zone automatic climate control. The Nightshade package gets a few more exterior accoutrements, including black-painted side mirrors, a rear spoiler, some black chrome trim, and black-painted wheels. On the Salsa Red Pearl of the test car, the black accents look a little goofy – it’s probably something best left for either Super White or Midnight Black Metallic.
Safety wise, all 2020 Siennas get the Toyota SafetySense-P system, which includes a forward collision warning system with autonomous braking and pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure alert warnings with steering assist. The SE Nightshade in particular also gets a blind spot warning system, as well as a rear cross-traffic alert system.
Space for activities inside the 2020 Sienna is probably where it shines best. 1,100 litres (39.1 cubic feet) can be stuffed behind the third row when it’s upright, and capacity grows to a maximum of 2,470 litres (87.1 cubic feet) behind the second row. While the second row slides fore-and-aft by a great amount, it doesn’t fold compactly. It can be removed altogether when hauling stuff as opposed to people, but a second person is recommended to lend a hand. By comparison, sport utility vehicles tend to fold all their seats flat, but then have to contend with higher load floors and less available cargo volume.
With all the seats in place, the 2020 Toyota Sienna SE Nightshade can handle eight passengers in relative comfort on the leather seating surfaces. People of all shapes and sizes will have lots of room up front, as well as in the outboard second row positions. Those seated in the middle-second row and third row will be a little less comfortable, but can still get away with it, even for longer trips. Compared to its Toyota Highlander (reviewed here) cousin, third row leg room is the real difference: it’s a lot better in the Sienna minivan.
The dashboard, controls, and infotainment system of the Sienna are really where it’s starting to show its age. While the screen and interface have been updated in recent years, the plastics and large buttons look outdated, even though they’re ergonomically good. When combined with the menu buttons flanking the screen, gloved hands can still operate core functions, and driver distraction is reduced. Apple CarPlay has been added in recent years, and is a very welcome addition as a smartphone pairing system to overlay onto the older version of Toyota infotainment. Unfortunately, Android Auto users will be out of luck until 2021.
Back in 2017, the Sienna received engine and transmission updates that kept it in the running. Its 3.5-litre V6 benefitted from the addition of Toyota’s D-4S port-and-direct fuel injection system, as well as going from a six-speed to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Peak output is 296 horsepower at 6,600RPM and 265 lb-ft. of torque at 4,700RPM, which are very healthy numbers and are essentially the same as the new-for-2020 Highlander.
Among its peers, it remains one of the silkiest V6 engines, with decent low end grunt. It beats the Chrysler Pacifica’s Pentastar 3.6-litre V6 and Kia’ 3.3-litre unit in this regard, and has a very punchy midrange. The Honda Odyssey’s powertrain, however, does shine a bit brighter than the Toyota. By any stretch, the Toyota elicits a confident exhaust note, and for fans of six cylinder engines, take note – for 2021, the Sienna moves to a hybrid four-cylinder only. Government fuel economy figures for the V6-powered 2020 Sienna come in at 12.6L/100KM in the city, and 9.1L/100KM on the highway. Observed consumption was recorded at 11.9L/100KM in mixed driving. Regular 87 octane fuel is acceptable, and tank capacity is 75 litres.
As the SE model, it may surprise you that this trim level exclusively gets a sport-tuned suspension with unique springs, shocks, and anti-roll bars. This pays great dividends in mechanical grip and turn-in response – we find it hard to believe we’d ever say this about a minivan. As expected, however, this does result in a firmer ride that can be unsettling for passengers on rougher roads. Part of this is as a result of the older chassis that is expected to do business against more modern competition – expect a move to the current Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform to allow drivers and passengers to have their cake, and eat it too, when it comes to ride and handling.
The 2020 Toyota Sienna SE Nightshade is definitely an oldie in the minivan segment, but still manages to be a bit of a goodie. It is on a platform that is definitely showing its age, and its archrival Honda Odyssey (reviewed here) beats it out in most metrics. Even so, the Sienna is built upon a reputation of durability, reliability, and resale value, and the 2020 model is no exception. For those looking to save a bit of money, used examples from 2017 or later get the updated powertrain and TSS-P safety suite, and don’t really give up anything else other than Apple CarPlay, which was added for 2019. For those who insist on a tough new van with a V6 and a warranty, it might be worth looking into snapping up one of the last 2020 Siennas. For everyone else, wait until next year!