2015 Toyota Sienna AWD Drive - Three Mans And A Van
2015 Toyota Sienna LTD AWD
* A cautionary tale.
Traversing the [s]great[/s] state of Wyoming with hundreds of pounds of men, gear (including a Chairman Mao stencil) and snacks needs no fewer than 14 cupholders.
(Two cupholders were used for drinks, the rest were used for toy cars and various empty wrappers.)
Building a family car isn’t a trick. Rather, it’s a compromise between size and economy, comfort and capability, familiar and futuristic. Anyone can build a battleship, but moving it down the road at 25 miles per gallon requires some finesse.
This isn’t a story about the Littoral combat ship. Instead, it’s a story about three overweight men, eight hours to wonder aloud in a van in Wyoming about Nixon, road noise and absolutely no legal marijuana from Colorado crossing interstate lines. (Sorry to get your hopes up.)
The 2015 Toyota Sienna is a minivan with complex roots. Not necessarily a $45 billion Department of Defense bungle like the USS Independence, the Toyota Sienna benefits from some thoughtful, inexpensive touches, such as storage everywhere and comfortable seating — but ultimately falls short.
The Sienna has some seriously tough competitors. All six minivans left in the U.S. (the Mazda5 is sadly gone) — the Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country, Kia Sedona Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest and Toyota Sienna — are hopelessly close to $30,000 when equipped sanely. Our tester, an opulently equipped Limited AWD edition tipped the scales at over $44,000 with expendable options such as remote start ($499) and roof racks ($185). A good example can be had for much less.
“Well, it’s no Honda Odyssey,” I continuously said through our run.
Partially because I wished it had central vac like an Odyssey for the filthy animals I was hauling 550 miles across Wyoming, but also because I believe the Odyssey makes good with the van’s limited palette.
With long sliding doors, maximized interior room and boxy proportions, vans have a tough time looking good. As a result, the Sienna is best eaten face-first.
The creased hood, grille and attractive headlights are somewhat let down by the plain jane bumper and nondescript shoulders. It’s hard to fault a van for being boring — but somehow the Sienna is and the Odyssey just isn’t.
Around back, the Sienna has one.
Like Disney movies, it’s not the exterior appearances as what’s inside that counts: it’s the 14 cupholders and myriad storage cubbies that test a van’s mettle, of which there are plenty in the Sienna. Fully loaded, the Sienna carries four grownups and their gear hundreds of miles across the plains of Wyoming to deliver them to a racetrack in Salt Lake City. Not bad.
The Sienna makes its hay in slogs like these — same goes for a lot of the other minivans — and that’s why they’re likeable.
Like other minivans, the Sienna tickles the common-sense quotient with a handful of Toyota features that range in usability.
Space shuttle seating — which may be the thinnest corporate tie-in imaginable for Toyota — helps the van seat 7 or 8 passengers depending on seat configuration. When the middle row has captain chairs only, seating for adults in that row is comfortable and spacious (I fit two adults in the second row for more than 1,200 miles). In the more expensive Limited models, second-row chairs have leg support.
However, when the middle seat isn’t installed in the second row, there are a few ungainly hooks jutting up from the floor that remind you that something isn’t there. They’re also a little bit of a tripping hazard for small feet.
The much more useful family feature, an amplified voice system for drivers to speak to rear passengers, dubbed “Driver Easy Speak” is the Sienna’s best trick. Using a microphone in the front to project through the rear speakers, talking to children sitting in the rear seats is much easier and clearer — and more importantly — safer.
Day in, day out, the Sienna is just as comfortable as a living room. The easy load height and wide-open spaces made trips to the racetrack and back easy, and around town the Sienna is competent and quiet, which was ideal.
Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is still the best of the bunch and is easier to use than comparable systems in the Honda and Chrysler vans. Bringing up the navigation map still requires pressing buttons on two different screens, something that I hope Toyota changes soon.
Syncing a phone with the system and utilizing its data connection helps the van find movie times, gas pumps and stream Internet radio, which I imagine actually gets used in a van more than it does in their passenger cars.
(My only gripe: the USB port appears to be only .5 amps, which means my toast-sized iPhone Plus couldn’t charge or run off the single USB. I had to plug in a power inverter to one of the 12-volt adapters and noisily run a power inverter. That’s a big problem for families, and something that could have been wrong in my car only. I asked Toyota for some guidance, but haven’t heard back.)
Our van sported a feature than no van can (see what I did there?) — it’s the only all-wheel drive van available today. Under the hood, a 6-cylinder engine that cranks 266 horsepower is managed by a six-speed automatic transmission. In the real world, the Sienna barely manages around 20 mpg in combined city and highway driving — which is a steep price for a theoretical all-wheel drive.
The mileage isn’t impressive, nor is the trade-off for all-wheel drive. Our all-wheel drive machine hummed away for 1,200 miles through Wyoming, Colorado and Utah over three days, which proved to be long enough to say repeatedly, “I thought it would be quieter in here.”
The Sienna could benefit from more forward cogs, and two fewer drive wheels. (The rear floor was strangely hot after a long drive — hot enough to melt a box of chocolate bars in the back.
The Sienna is interesting like my living room too, and I’m no one’s interior decorator. Despite subtle improvements to the front fascia and rear taillights, the Sienna doesn’t look as good as, say, the Odyssey, inside and out.
But like most family events — or hauling adults and gear hundreds of miles across the country — it’s not how you look doing it, it’s how it gets done.
And it wasn’t pretty. The men, I mean.
Correction: An earlier version of this story didn’t include the Nissan Quest as on sale in the U.S.
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I want to like this minivan, but there are too many things that prevent me from buying it. The AWD is the draw, but I hate the styling. It is a mash-up of ideas from Toyota and it looks like a committee designed it. Also I drive a Tundra (2014) at work on occasionally and it has a number of flaws that related to just being cheap. Eg. no automatic headlight function, no driver side grab bar for getting out, TINY fuel tank for a 5.7L gas guzzler, gas pedal that vibrates (look it up) etc etc. I think Toyotas are great vehicles but the F150 (2009) that it replaced was in many ways a better vehicle. Our 2007 Odyssey has been reliable. It has 90k miles on it and it is still going strong. Only basic maintenance aside from some recent ac trouble (aluminium lines that rubbed together and wore a hole in one.) The current model of Odysseys looks extremely cheap on the inside. Hard plastic. Everywhere. Almost no leather left in the Touring anymore, it is all fake. The Accord at 60% of the price has a way better interior. If Honda can give us AWD and a decent interior I am sold. If Toyota can give us some reasonable exterior styling I am sold. There really are only two options for minivans. Every time I rent I Chysler minivan I am reminded of my 1984 K-Car engine. Gutless, loud and unrefined. My recent rental of a Grand Cherokee tells me that Chrysler could do better... as long as in six years time those too don't have the tell tale blue smoke coming out of the exhaust. And since I am completely digressing, can somebody tell me if that is caused by driver neglect (oil changes) or simply a crappy engine.