2021 Toyota Sienna: Have It Your Way
Long overdue for a revamp, the fourth-generation Toyota Sienna bowed today, ditching the previous model’s 3.5-liter V6 engine in favor of a more fuel-conscious alternative.
Before, the long-running minivan offered buyers the option of braving wintry weather or semi-rugged excursions with the confidence of all-wheel drive. That option remains — but it’s coupled with a standard feature previous Sienna buyers couldn’t get their hands on: a hybrid powertrain.
Yes, like the 2021 Venza that also appeared Monday, the revamped, re-platformed 2021 Sienna bows with a standard hybrid system, though in this case, only it only involves the rear axle if the buyer chooses. This AWD setup, available to buyers of all trims, plunks an electric motor atop the rear axle. Toyota’s adoption of e-axle technology omits the need for a transfer case and propshaft.
If front-drive suits you just fine, save some cash and say “no” to AWD. There’ll still be two electric motors up front, supplementing the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder and helping provide a combined output of 243 horsepower.
No, you won’t be able to plug this thing in and cruise for miles on electric power alone, but you will see 33 mpg in combined driving, Toyota claims. That estimated figure comes in 3 mpg higher than the combined figure for Chrysler’s plug-in hybrid Pacifica model (when operating in normal hybrid guise).
Besides adding sometimes necessary grip out back, Toyota says the electrified rear axle aids in tamping down understeer and can dial up 80 percent of the vehicle’s torque under certain situations — perfect for ecologically conscious parents who like selecting “sport” mode before recklessly hustling their offspring to Montessori. Indeed, Toyota’s so proud of its new minivan, it’s offering it in sporty XSE trim, in addition to the pedestrian and volume LE and XLE and high-zoot Limited and (new) Platinum.
Going XSE brings to the table exterior styling enhancements like omitted front side vents and a wider lower air opening, as well as 20-inch wheels (a size shared with Platinum).
Notice that we’ve gone the whole article without mentioning styling. It’s a minivan, after all, but Toyota’s new visage for the Sienna is worthy of mention, if for no other reason than to highlight the massive lower grille. Like its Lexus sister division, Toyota’s vehicles aren’t afraid of opening wide. The Sienna’s greenhouse and rear fender bulges also call to mind its Highlander platform mate.
Come to think of it, from the Avalon-worthy maw and Mirai and Prius-reminiscent bodyside lines, to the taillight-adjacent faux rear vents ripped from a Camry, this thing has visual corporate DNA on offer everywhere you look.
Inside, the standard infotainment touchscreen is a 9-inch unit; between the front seats lies a “Bridge console” that “elegantly connects the instrument panel to the center armrest.” Toyota goes on to say that the feature “enables the driver to have a more stress-free and comfortable driving experience.”
Cupholders and shifter above, storage below.
What it doesn’t say is that the feature, like the model’s exterior styling cues, available AWD, and SUV-mention-heavy marketing copy, seems tailor-made to fool drivers into thinking they’re not in a minivan. The segment’s on the decline, and with it, the Sienna’s sales. Being able to unbuckle and bolt into the backseat without leaving the vehicle or hopping a console or seat was an ability reserved solely for van drivers. With the bridge console, the effect is like being behind the wheel of a CUV.
Rear-row seating offers up options. In LE and some XLE trims, the second row boasts a stowable middle seat, bringing occupant capacity up to eight. Otherwise, you’re looking at twin captain’s chairs with 25 inches of fore-and-aft slide capability. In Limited and Platinum guise, these chairs come with ottomans. Maybe I spoke too soon about the non-existence of luxury minivans.
As for safety features, this minivan won’t force you to move up a trim to get a modest protection package. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert is standard, as is a rear seat reminder. So too is Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which bundles together a pre-collision braking system with pedestrian detection, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, lane trace assist, automatic high beans, and road sign detection.
Pricing for the 2021 Sienna will likely reflect all this new standard kit, but we don’t know for sure just yet. Toyota’s keeping pricing info under wraps until closer to the model’s on-sale date later this year.
Will the Sienna’s new body, greater efficiency, and SUV-mimicking interior reverse the model’s falling fortunes? Time will tell, but, like with the sedan segment, one can’t help but look around, see the writing on the wall, and be pessimistic.
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