The 2016 Toyota Sienna posts some of the best gas-mileage and crash-test scores among minivans; only the Chrysler vans are more flexible.
Minivans aren't the most drool-worthy vehicles on the road—they're the ultimate family vehicles, and everything gives way (or should) to the concerns of shuttling up to eight passengers in ultimate safety and comfort.
The Toyota Sienna is one of the shrunken set of minivans that does a great job at both of those tasks, while posting at least average scores in the basics of pleasing drivers' eyes and hands. It's good at saving fuel; great at carrying passengers and very good at hauling cargo; it's proven very safe, and over time, very reliable. To top it all off, it's at least the equal of the Honda Odyssey and Kia Sedona in seating flexibility and driving engagement—though all still lose that scrimmage to Chrysler's pair of people-haulers, the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Pacifica.
Few of us shop for minivans based on style, but Toyota at least makes the effort to bring the Sienna into a modern flow. The front end shares the latest Toyota design cues, with a low grille that tapers upward softly into a roofline that does nothing to upset tradition—not like the Honda Odyssey's lightning-bolt side cue, or the Nissan Quest's ape of the Ford Flex. It's a tidy take, free of controversy, and full of utility, since the regular, rectangular shape plays out directly into vast interior space. The cockpit's styled with a bit of drama, and a bit too much grainy plastic, but it's organized with care. For 2015, most models received a new grille and updated headlights and taillights. A revised interior includes easier-to-operate controls in some areas, as well as new gauges and larger center screens.
All Siennas come with a 3.5-liter V-6 with 266 horsepower, coupled to a 6-speed automatic. Performance is brisk, although gas mileage has dipped overall in the past several years with the loss of the base 4-cylinder engine, while it rose on the rival Honda Odyssey. Handling isn't quite as crisp as the Odyssey, but the Sienna's electric power steering and independent suspension are sorted out well, without much body roll. The SE version has slightly more direct feel, although to be fair it's a very subtle distinction to be drawn—one we think gets missed by most minivan shoppers. The Sienna does hold the distinction of being the only minivan still available with all-wheel drive.
Minivans are all about space and functionality. At more than 200 inches long, and more than 78 inches wide, the Sienna's a big van. There's space everywhere, even in the third row. The front seats get a regal seating position, and even in the second row, a pair of airline-style reclining bucket seats are available (now only on front-drive Limited models). The basic bench is comfortable, with expansive head and leg room—and it slides on an elongated track so that either second- or third-row leg room can be expanded. It also aids in loading passengers into the third row. The second-row seat can be removed entirely, but does not fold away into the floor—the Chrysler minivans' special trick. The third-row seat does fold flat, and with it stowed and the middle seats pushed forward, the Sienna has 150 cubic feet of cargo space.
Standard safety features include curtain airbags and stability control, while Bluetooth is available, and blind-spot monitors are now standard on upper trims. A rearview camera is now standard across all trim levels. There's also an additional airbag, located in the front seat cushion, to bring the total to a class-leading eight. And Toyota has increased the number of LATCH anchor points from three to four. Crash-test scores have been good—just a star or two shy of perfect.
All Siennas come with dual sliding side doors; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; a CD player and aux jack; a tilt/telescoping steering wheel; and three-zone climate control. Upscale versions add a power tailgate and power sliding side doors; steering-wheel audio controls; leather upholstery; heated front seats; a dual sunroof; and a huge 16.4-inch-wide LCD screen and a Blu-Ray player to keep the two back rows of passengers entertained.
The front-wheel-drive version is rated at 18 mpg city, 25 highway, 21 combined—competitive with Dodge and Kia, but behind the Honda Odyssey's 19/28/22 mpg rating. Opt for all-wheel drive, and the Sienna's mileage ratings fall to 16/23/19 mpg, down 2 mpg on either cycle compared to the front-driver.