Overview: Minivans may not be the suburban status symbols they were a generation ago, but for those who want room, easy sliding-side-door access, and people- and pet-friendly convenience, no other type of vehicle will do. The spacious and comfortable 2015 Toyota Sienna is among the more highly evolved minivans, with a peppy 3.5-liter V-6, crisp-shifting six-speed automatic, a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, four LATCH child-safety-seat anchor locations, fold-into-the-floor third-row seats, and a long list of standard and optional creature comforts such as a dual-screen Blu-Ray rear-seat entertainment system. Think of it as the Camry of minivans, embodying the reputation for reliability and durability all Toyotas enjoy, but with a larger footprint. It has room for seven or eight passengers or up to five and 87 cubic feet of cargo behind the second-row seats with the third-row seats stowed. While the Sienna isn’t what you’d choose to take on a sports-car rally, it’s unbeatable for family duty. There’s easy ingress and egress for kids, pets, and grandparents through those large sliding doors; spread-out room with three rows of adult-size seats; and unobstructed views through the Sienna’s big windows. We drove a well-equipped 2015 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD Premium for this review.
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What’s New: A mild refresh for 2015 sees greater use of LED exterior lighting on the upper trim levels, but most of the updates occur in the Sienna’s spacious cabin. A revamped instrument panel moves the HVAC controls closer to the driver and substitutes control knobs for less-intuitive buttons. More soft-touch surfaces are employed, and increased use of sound-deadening materials, revised side mirrors, and a stiffer structure make the Sienna’s interior quieter. That’s all the better for the Sienna’s new Driver Easy Speak system, which can be used to broadcast important driver messages such as “stop hitting Billy” to the third-row occupants. A backup camera is now standard.
What We Like: The Sienna has impressive packaging efficiency. We were amazed that a 12-foot 2×4 fit inside with the hatch closed—try that in your Ford F-150. And we’re impressed that the Sienna carries up to eight adults while delivering EPA-rated highway fuel economy of up to 25 mpg—significantly more efficient than a Chevy Suburban. Although towing isn’t the Sienna’s forte, poor-weather operation potentially is, as it’s the only minivan in America with available all-wheel drive. And Toyota’s Smart Stop emergency auto-braking technology puts the Sienna one step ahead of its principal competitor, the Honda Odyssey.
What We Don’t Like: As with most Toyotas, the Sienna’s electric power steering doesn’t give the driver much road feedback or self-centering to position the vehicle on the road. The Sienna’s front doors emit a hollow sound when closed, which doesn’t do much to foster a feeling of bank-vault solidity. The run-flat tires on AWD versions transmit more ride harshness and are more expensive to replace than non-run-flats. And although the Driver Easy Speak feature is a good idea, the driver’s voice doesn’t broadcast to the aft rows with the kind of authority needed to really get the peanut gallery’s attention.
Verdict: Does it all—even without a spandex suit and a cape.