by Frank A. Aukofer

Despite the ridicule it endures, the minivan still is the most practical personal passenger vehicle on the planet. Now, with the 2021 Toyota Sienna, there’s one less argument against it.

For the first time with any minivan, all Sienna models are hybrids. So with their other attributes, they deliver impressive fuel economy along with their ginormous 206 cubic feet of passenger and cargo space, about the same as in two Nissan Versa sedans together.

The EPA city/highway/combined numbers for the tested Sienna XSE with front-wheel drive are 36/36/36 mpg. It’s 1 mpg less combined with the available all-wheel drive.

The hybrid system mates a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 134-kW electric motor to deliver 245 net hp. They are linked to a capable continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that features what Toyota calls a “sequential shift mode,” meaning that it can be manually shifted with the console-mounted shift lever. There are no steering-wheel paddles. It doesn’t change much so most people are unlikely to bother shifting for themselves.

There are five versions, starting with the $35,635 LE model, followed by the $40,925 XLE, the tested sporty XSE at $43,175, Limited $47,875, and the top-line Platinum, $51,075. The prices are for front-drivers. Add bargain priced all-wheel drive for $740.

Like other minivans, the Sienna is long at 16 feet 9 inches. But with all-new styling enhanced on the XSE model with 20-inch wheels, it’s also graceful looking and less ponderous in its handling than a full-sized sport utility vehicle like a Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Expedition or Toyota’s own Sequoia.

In fact, it feels like a much smaller vehicle on the road and can even be hustled through moderate curves without getting unsettled. There are various drive modes, including Eco, EV, Normal and Sport. But the differences are minor, though the Sport setting delivers a modest tightening of the steering and suspension system. It also seems to provide slightly more deceleration regenerative braking to help recharge the battery pack.

Overall, the tested Sienna XSE was a pleasant road-going companion, quiet in operation with enough power to handle any public highway situation and a bump-soaking ride no doubt enhanced by its length. Independent tests have clocked the 0-60 mph acceleration time in the seven-second range.

The XSE’s seven-passenger cabin was a welcoming space. It comes standard with second-row captain’s chairs,  providing between-seat access to the third row, where there’s plenty of head room and ample knee room as long as the second row seats are pushed forward — they have 25 inches of travel. But if you cram three passengers into the third row they’d better be children or very skinny adults.

Soft faux leather in black and embossed white covered the seats in the tested XSE, with well-bolstered sport seats up front. Second row seats cannot be stored but can be jackknifed with the pull of a lever to provide additional space for cargo. The third-row seats, divided two-thirds and one-third, can be folded almost flat with the pull of one lever and easily brought back up with the lever and a pull strap.  

Up front, the center console features built-in non-adjustable armrests at the same height as the armrests on the doors. There’s a deep bin and four cup holders, two large and two small, and a dozen other cup holders throughout the cabin. Seven USB ports are scattered around to serve passengers. Below the dash is a narrow side-to-side shelf with a wireless smart phone charging port.

The Sienna comes with Toyota’s extensive Safety Sense, including a pre-collision system with automatic emergency braking, low light pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection; lane-departure mitigation with lane-keeping assist, road edge detection and sway warning; blind spot monitoring, and dynamic radar cruise control.

Convenience items included advanced voice recognition, hands-free phone operation, WiFi, and an intuitive nine-inch center screen that controls a navigation system, premium audio, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, SXM satellite radio and HD radio. There’s also a 1500-watt electric inverter. 

Other XSE equipment: Power side doors and rear lift gate; four-zone automatic climate control; second row side window sunshades; black roof rails, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with compass, and dual upper and lockable lower glove compartments.

To prevent Mom or Dad from getting laryngitis yelling at the kids, a Driver Easy Speak microphone amplifies the driver’s voice through the rear speakers.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota Sienna XSE seven-passenger minivan.
  • Engine/motor hybrid system: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 134 kW electric motor; combined system 245 hp.
  • Transmission: Electronically controlled continuously variable automatic with sequential shift control and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 167/39 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,430 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 36/36/36 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,175.
  • Price as tested: $44,625.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Toyota, Jason Fogelson