By on February 16, 2015

2015 Toyota Sienna AWD winterAmerica’s minivan segment generated only 3.4% of the U.S. auto industry’s new vehicle volume in 2014, down from 5.2% in 2007.

Why do automakers bother? Consider Toyota as an example. Sienna sales in 2014 rose to their highest level since 2007, but instead of accounting for slightly less than 17% of all U.S. minivan sales, the Sienna’s market share climbed to 22.4%, and to 25% over the last three months.


• USD As-Tested Price: $47,495

• Horsepower: 266 @ 6200 rpm

• Torque: 245 @ 4700 rpm

• EPA City/Hwy Fuel Economy: 16/23 mpg


The party doesn’t have as many attendees as it did a decade ago, but the music is still playing. And because so many of the B-list guests gave up, it’s much easier for the remaining characters to be big, big stars.

Standing out from the pack still requires a measure of nonconformity, however. The Chrysler twins have their Stow’N’Go seating and value-oriented pricing. Kia has most recently plumbed the depths of their bag of styling tricks to release an eye-catching Sedona with its own noteworthy interior configuration. Honda’s Odyssey sets a high bar for car-like dynamics and efficiency. Nissan, well, the Quest has basically been rejected by North American consumers. The truly mini minivan from Mazda, the 5, is soon to depart. And the Sienna?

2015 Toyota Sienna AWD frontAside from an aggressive SE model and an eighth seat which in some models can be stowed in the cargo area, the availability of all-wheel-drive serves to differentiate the Toyota.

Refreshed for the 2015 model year and loaned to us for a week by Toyota Canada, the Toyota Sienna offers its consummate experience in XLE AWD form with the Limited package at CAD $50,523.

In the U.S., this van is known as Sienna Limited Premium AWD, and it’s priced at $47,495 including fees. For those willing to forego a lengthy list of features (HID headlights, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear park assist sonar, power liftgate, dual sunroofs, rain-sensing wipers, navigation, driver easy speak, dual-view rear-seat entertainment, leather seating, proximity access, heated steering wheel), the Sienna LE can be had with all-wheel-drive for less than USD $35,000.

LE or XLE or Limited, adding an extra pair of driven wheels to the Sienna does force a couple of key sacrifices compared with the front-wheel-drive versions. There’s no eighth seat, no ottomans in the second row, run-flat tires only, and official fuel economy ratings drop to 16 mpg city and 23 highway from 18 and 25, respectively. We saw only 14.3 miles per gallon, but asterisks abound. Roads were snow-covered for much of the Sienna’s visit, temperatures were well below freezing, there was plenty of city driving and very little time on the highway, and the van was fresh from the factory, flagrantly broken in by the right foot of yours truly. Conditions were not at all conducive to forming accurate predictions of long-term real-world fuel economy.

2015 Toyota Sienna profileBut if an automaker ever wanted to impress a car reviewer with the one remaining all-wheel-drive minivan, a week during which consistent dumps of snow caused a city to buckle at the knees was absolutely the right time.

“Oh,” say you, “front-wheel-drive and winter tires are fine.” And yes, that’s true. I drove a couple of front-wheel-drive cars with winter tires during the same span of time, as well as an all-wheel-drive Ford Escape on all-season tires. The difference: the other vehicles, Escape included, needed our driveway at least partially cleared in order to vacate the premises. In a city like Halifax, full of steep hills and slathered in ice, there was a level of dexterity required for the other vehicles to get underway. The Sienna was unencumbered by such limitations.

Does a new Sienna buyer need all-wheel-drive? No, but on the shores of the north Atlantic in a winter that suddenly turned awfully wintry, the AWD upgrade was conspicuous in its effectiveness, not least because the system so instantly and imperceptibly shuffled power to the proper Bridgestone Blizzak-shod wheels.

On other counts, the Sienna is better than it used to be. Parents in school parking lots will continue to appreciate the feather-light steering, but the Sienna is noticeably less barge-like in routine driving. Gone is much of the float that beset the 2011-2014 Sienna, but while the updated van (thanks to a stiffer unibody with 142 extra spot welds, according to Toyota) is a superior handler, it still doesn’t have the finesse of the Odyssey. Nor is its ride as firm, thankfully, as the Sienna is as unflustered on rough roads as one can reasonably expect from any vehicle of any kind. Victory is mine, saith the 119-inch wheelbase.

Suspension noise too easily makes its way into the cabin, as does the growl of the 3.5L, 266-horsepower V6 when under heavy throttle. (Teamed with a smooth 6-speed automatic, it’s a decently punchy engine, if that matters to the typical minivan buyer.) Yet overall, the Sienna is memorably quiet, aided by Driver Easy Speak, which amplifies the driver’s voice for rearward occupants through the speakers, not so you can shout at your children more easily, but so normal conversation volume can be maintained. It didn’t work as well here as in the Highlander, however, nor was the JBL audio system all that impressive. Blame minivan acoustics. There’s an awful lot of vacant space to fill with high quality sound.

Space? Uh, yeah. There’s some of that. Cargo volume rings in at 39.1 cubic feet. The third row is fine. The first two are as capacious as anticipated.

The second row is legendary.

No, the middle seats don’t fold into the floor, and for some that’s the worst omission in the history of minivan features. But they’re not that heavy, and their forward/backward range of motion is a stunning thing to behold. Bring child to you. Send child away.

2015 Toyota Sienna interiorOwners of former third-gen Siennas will quickly spot the interior changes in the front of the 2015 Sienna. Improved material quality is appreciated, but the rearranging of climate controls, buttons, knobs, and screens are what really propel the Sienna forward from laughingstock to class-competitive status. The Entune system is straightforward. Better yet, in a season where the HVAC system gets a constant workout, the temperature and mode settings are finally sensible.

We’ll be reviewing the all-new Kia Sedona before winter ends. While it’s easy to criticize what we perceive to be a faulty Grand Caravan-cancelling FCA strategy, it will be interesting to see what comes out of the Windsor, Ontario plant next. That leaves the two top-selling Japanese brand alternatives, and the means by which you establish the class leader depends on priorities. Available all-wheel-drive and a gargantuan second row may thrust the Sienna into the winner’s circle for some, particularly those who fight wintry battles for three to five months. The fan of driving whose altered lifestyle no longer agrees with S2000 ownership will favour the on-road behaviour of the Odyssey.

Regardless, there can be little argument that these versatile, capable, expansive minivans (or should we say maxivans?) offer more vehicle per dollar than any other type of modern automobile. You may choose to avoid the $50K adaptations, but don’t let that be a pox on the overall Sienna house.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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38 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2015 Toyota Sienna AWD...”


  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    We could just call them “vans”. The reason “mini-” was a required prefix at the introduction was because full-size vans were still entrenched in the public consciousness as viable passenger vehicles (mostly as conversion vans), and now you’d be hard-pressed to find any full-size passenger van outside airport shuttle duty.

  • avatar
    jmo

    I’d love to learn more about the typical buyer of this specific trim level. The price is almost exactly the same as a base model Q7, ML or GMC Yukon.

    I can certainly understand why someone would want a highly optioned mainstream vehicle, but folks like deadweight are driven to distraction by the concept.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Don’t forget Hummer. Everything should be BOF, 4×4, and 6.2 ltr V8 powered.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      I have a coworker who makes a few hundred thousand a year, has three kids under two years old, and lives in a rural part of western Massachusetts. He bought one of these last week, after test driving it – and no other vehicles – simply to verify that he didn’t hate it, because he didn’t see anything else that fit his needs. He traded in a GMC Terrain.

      I suspect he’s the typical buyer, and that there are a good number of people like him. Toyota has that market entirely to itself.

    • 0 avatar
      Pareto

      I would be the typical buyer for this. Need to carry 4 people and a lot of stuff for skiing and camping. Want the bells and whistles. None of the SUVs have anywhere close to the space of the Sienna (cargo volume in ft3 to 2nd row – i.e. with everyone inside):

      Sienna: 87
      Q7: 42
      ML: 38
      Yukon: 58

      Take that into consideration, as well as pricing for comparably equipped SUVs, and to me at least the Sienna starts making really good sense.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        I think that is one of the value proposition of a minivan in general. I have my beater which is a minivan and I drive it sans third row – seats four and ridiculous cargo capacity in one package.

        I think the LE Sienna is a great deal – loaded up – I don’t know – unless as you noted you need cargo capacity AND seating capacity. Then it makes more sense, but I would likely go down the trim ladder.

    • 0 avatar
      qest

      I have the same thing from MY 2011. What do you want to know?

      I would have upgraded to the 2015, but they still reserve the radar cruise control for front-wheel drive only, so I’m holding out a bit longer.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Tim Cain specializes in reviewing vehicles coming in Manufacturers’ “It Makes Us Wet & Sloppy With Sexual Scintillation To Think of Our Customers Ordering Their Vehicles With This Level of Options” trim.

      A rough riding, suspension noise prone, 1998 Battlestar Galactica dashboard Toyota Minivan for 50k, in which the transmission will inevitably fail within 40,000 miles (or worse yet, just out of warranty).

      Oh what a feeling. Yota.

      Give me a new $19,000 Dodge Caravan with the 8 speed and 3.6 liter Pentastar with a 10 year/100,000 mile warranty and I’ll tint the windows all around and throw some Nokians or X-Ice tires on it, put in some aftermarket leather and other niceties in it, and I’ll have 25k left over for a really, really nice something (maybe a mint, newer MX-5 for summer months).

      • 0 avatar
        Truckducken

        Dude, enjoy the depreciation! Meanwhile, I do believe you are thinking of the Odyssey regarding tranny failure…and at its early 00’s worst that issue was an order of magnitude less prevalent than Mopar’s running transmission fiasco. The Siennas have a solid gearbox. Also, as with pretty much any minivan, you can option up Mopars $15-20K over a reasonable level (there are T&C trims close to $40K), so your price comparison is kinda overstated. You can buy a new Sienna for under $30K and have a reliable vehicle that’s still worth something in five years, or you can go the other way. I’ve owned all three brands, and it’s hard to beat the Sienna.

        • 0 avatar
          ingram1225

          Sure… if you want to pay $1300-1500 to replace the water pump by 60-90K miles. Yeah, that’s real. Sienna’s dual pulley water pumps have a high fail rate at those miles listed above.

          The mopar 6speed was fixed around 2012… there are no complaints about it being broken, just that it sometimes shifts rough when rudely engaged by a lead foot.

          For me, I am in the market. I like the Sienna and the interior, I like the small things like a projector head light and BSM/RP assist on trims above LE, but the hollow trash can sound of the door, the water pumps, light colored not so kid friendly grey or off white seats, and the more bulletins and recalls than a T&C (model year 2016 at NHTSA), plus more standard family n kid friendly features on the T&C, has me leaning towards a T&C.

          For me, I am looking for a T&C 2014 or 2015 with low to acceptable miles on it…. or leasing a Sienna SE or XLE premium.

  • avatar
    John R

    There are few things as satisfying as an AWD car with winter tires. It’s like having your Final Fantasy character at level 100 before the game even starts.

    As an aside, it may be because I was born in Panama, but I don’t how Canadians can stand it. In a past life I had a two-week project in Plattsburgh, NY…in January. This place was about 50 miles from Montreal. On one of the warmer days it got up to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

    NEVER AGAIN. Not unless your city’s name is Vancouver or it’s the middle of July.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      +1 for the FF7 reference.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Living south of the Mason Dixon line with virtually no winter is WONDERFUL. Did the Midwest thing with brutally cold, snowy winters AND hot, muggy summers; I don’t miss it for one single second.

      If front wheel drive won’t get me where I need to go about 360 days of the year it’s time to move.

      Incidentally, the Toyota van seems nice. I’m sure it makes dealing with living in a frozen hell hole momentarily tolerable (sort of like a Humvee with a/c might make Afghanistan almost tolerable).

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Here’s what I’m very over. Stubby gearshifts sticking out of the dashboard. Give back column shifts to minivans.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    We’ve got a 2011 LE version. Ultimate snow country utility vehicle. I’ve pulled 4×4 trucks out of the ditch with it twice, using a tow strap.

    Run flats and lack of stow and go seats are a downside mandated by the presence of the AWD transfer case, I believe.

    The second row seats DO have an amazing range of motion, but that advantage is erased by the fact that when they are removed, the seat track assemblies remain fixed to the floor. Very annoying.

    We just returned from a 1100 mile skiing road trip consisting of mostly highway miles at lower speeds, and averaged nearly 22 mpg with Blizzaks. The older, better driving version (but noisier) go a few mpg better mileage.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    I just bought the 2wd XLE version $36315 discounted to $31845. This is my first van and my first Toyota. I wanted something easier to get into. It is a foot shorter than my Grand Marquis, which I am keeping for a second vehicle. The van will be used mostly for long interstate trips and eventually our DD.

  • avatar
    salguod

    Maxivan? Well,modern minivans are large but can’t compare to the Dodge Maxi-Van from the 70s. An example:

    http://hooniverse.com/2011/04/10/hooniverse-van-tastic-weekend-a-1979-dodge-custom-maxi-van/

  • avatar
    djoelt1

    We are the target market for minivans. And, we make way more than the average minivan consumer so cost is not an object. We have children that are 6, 8, and 8. Yet, we don’t have a minivan, and likely won’t ever have a minivan.

    When our 8 year olds where born, we bought a B5 Passat (used) and it worked just fine – great mpg, easy access to rear seats to buckle in kids and place snap in car seats, tons of luggage room. Then, a surprise 3rd child. We kept the Passat since again, we needed to buckle kids seats for them and thus needed them seated near doors.

    When the kids reached the point where they could buckle themselves, we bought a used Ford Freestyle. Good mileage and handling, under 4000 lbs (minivans are pushing 4500 at this point). Much less luggage space than a minivan but there was plenty of space for a week long trip.

    In a few years I think we will replace it with the long wheel base Ford Transit – because it is smaller and lighter than the current crop of minivans that are no longer mini by a long shot.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    There is a serious 80s control panel vibe happening there in that photo – the shape and angle, everything. I like it!

    I was very impressed at the Lexus-ness of the 2011 Sienna Ltd AWD I rode around in.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Almost $48K with fullsize truck grade fuel economy in AWD trim.

    I’ve felt for a while the Sienna is the best minivan choice out there (haven’t done any seat time in the new Kia) especially in the lower trim levels – $35K won’t get you much in a 7 passenger with some cargo room behind the third row SUV – but it gets you a nice minivan.

    But when you tickle $48K — there just seems to be a lot of better options unless you specifically need two sliding doors.

  • avatar
    jdogma

    Will a 4×8 sheet fit in flat on the floor?

  • avatar
    Luke42

    Timothy,

    Did you have any problem with the sliding doors freezing shut?

    My FWD 1st generation Sienna has only two design flaws, both of which have to do with ice accumulating on the body.

    The first is that the sliding doors freeze shut at even the smallest hint of freezing rain or “wintery mix”.

    The second is that, after 10 years on the road, the driver’s and passenger’s side window glass tore away from the open/close mechanism. I had to buy new glass for both, since re-glueing a new metal carrier to the window glass was “not supported” and replacements were only sold with the glass.

    Did you see any evidence of these type of snow and ice engineering problems on the new Sienna?

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      No, and no.

      Generally speaking, I can’t say I’m a fan of power doors and tailgates simply because of the slow speed at which they operate. But when parked on a slope – and for kids almost all the time – the power doors are terrific.

  • avatar
    passive

    Living in Halifax, being on the hunt for a minivan, and watching my mom’s Subaru navigate our frozen hellscape so effectively makes this a particularly timely article. This model is out of our budget now, and our kids are at the age that it would quickly become a $50,000 canvas for food, art supplies and bodily fluids, but still a very interesting read, and I’ll have to look at the used market.

  • avatar
    gsp

    I am the target market for these minivans. It is a third vehicle that does cottage/”summer home”, skiing and general road trip duty. It fits extra kids/nanny. Unlike SUVs with third row, you can fit a ton of cargo in the back when the third row is used. Top of the line Toyota and Honda are all over our neighbourhood. Way more practical than all other options save a Suburban which is a pig on fuel. Ours is a 2007 Honda Odyssey Touring with 90k miles on it and we have owned it from day one. Looked at the newer Honda, but it is basically the same van with a less luxurious interior (less leather, more pleather, TONS of hard plastic). Honda still don’t have AWD which is what I am waiting for… if they don’t get it in the next version I will be buying a Toyota, poorer handling be damned. Honda is resorting to gimmicks like vacuum cleaners instead; not going to get me to upgrade. BTW no transmission problems yet…

    Our other family cars are a 2013 Panamara GTS and a 2012 X5 diesel, so we are not totally stereotyped “minibrain” soccer mombuyer.

    BTW my kids under ten ALWAYS pick the minivan as the preferred vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      ingram1225

      “BTW my kids under ten ALWAYS pick the minivan as the preferred vehicle.”

      I have a 2011 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD (the japanese BMW) with bose/sunroof package and an installed aftermarket dvd player… and yet, my 5 year old wants me to get a minivan.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    We own a 2012 awd limited and will likely trade in for a CPO ’15 next year ,much nicer interior and supposedly less road noise. We traded in an Enclave, and it’s more user friendly for us. Nothing against the Enclave,it was reliable and quiet, but high step in and smaller 3rd row made it difficult for our elderly parents as well as less fuel efficient. The awd is actually more sure footed than our ML350 in deep snow . Quite a few luxury SUV to Sienna converts in our neck of the woods, off the top of my head I know of Q7,Escalade ,q56 owners who happily made the switch. It’s not perfect but hits its intended mark.

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