The minivan segment might not be the most glamorous vehicle category, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more functional, practical, and economical ride when it comes to transporting seven of your closest friends and family. Yep, the minivan can haul people and their stuff in glorious comfort while making most SUV crossovers look cramped and poorly designed. Sadly, the minivan gets a bad rap. It’s pigeon holed as the mommy-mobile on it way between soccer and ballet, filled with Cheerio crumbs and at least one soured formula bottle lost in one of the dozens of cup holders.
Looking past that stereotype reveals a rather competitive segment, with hot players from Honda, Kia, Nissan, and of course Toyota. While each of these automakers have respectable offerings, it’s the all-new Chrysler Pacifica that has the minivan segment on fire in 2016. In light of this, we wanted a closer look at Toyota’s offering.
The Sienna has been around since 1998, undergoing three generational changes since then, with its most recent change being a mid-cycle refresh in 2014. Not much has changed since then, but the Sienna still provides a great place for seven or eight passengers (depending on seating configuration), decent fuel economy, and most of the modern tech folks expect these days.
Let’s dive in and see what the 2016 Toyota Sienna has to offer.
The Sienna is definitely the most conservatively dressed of its competition, looking tastefully subtle without a complete loss of styling. The new-for-2014 front sports a razor-like chrome grille and projector beam headlights. Hard creases in the body are found in the hood, bumpers, fenders, and side panels, giving the Sienna a tailored appearance to its large stature.
The Sienna is definitely the most conservatively dressed of its competition, looking tastefully subtle without a complete loss of styling.
My tester came coated in Blizzard Pearl paint, which glimmered in the sun and was nicely contrasted by the large black windows. Double seven-spoke, 17-inch wheels wrapped in 235/60-series all-season rubber further the brightness, as do the chrome accents on the door handles, Toyota badges, and brightwork within the headlights, fog lights, and taillights.
Handy features on the exterior include power-operating side doors and rear liftgate, a backup camera, sonar sensors, and blind spot monitoring. The power side doors give even small kids the ability to enter the van unassisted. A button on the interior allows for power-operated closing, too. My four-year-old loved feeling responsible for getting herself into the van.
Of course, the exterior is important, but minivans are all about what’s inside. The Sienna offers room for up to eight passengers thanks to a removable jump seat in the middle position in the second row. My tester came with leather seats in all positions. The driver gets an eight-way, power-adjustable seat, while the font passenger has four-way power controls. Mechanical levers and releases operate the second and third row seats, but allow for a number of different seating configurations, sliding positions, and reclining functions.
The Sienna offers room for up to eight passengers thanks to a removable jump seat in the middle position in the second row.
Up front, mom and dad get a well-designed instrument panel with Toyota’s Entune infotainment system, two glove boxes, a massive center console, and very intuitive HVAC system with tri-zone temperature controls. It’s perhaps the easiest tri-zone system to operate in the segment. The passenger in the left-most second-row seat also has redundant control of the rear HVAC system, should the front controls have the function unlocked.
Comfort is spectacular in the first and second row seats. Up front, center armrests fold down for a cushy spot for elbows, ergonomics are good, and the padding within the seats are supportive yet comfortable over a long trip. Second row passengers – at least in the outboard positions – have the ability to recline and slide the bench fore and aft, giving options for legroom. Third row passenger still have a nice place to sit, though it’s not as pleasant as the second row. Still, kids and teenagers will have no problem roadtripping back here.
Powering the Sienna is the familiar 3.5-liter V-6 found throughout Toyota’s lineup. In this application, it makes 266 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission. The transversely mounted engine powers the front wheels. AWD is optional.
The sprint to 60 mph comes in just 7.6 seconds and top speed is 113 mph.
The V-6 provides adequate power for the Sienna, allowing it to easily merge and travel comfortably at highway speeds. The sprint to 60 mph comes in just 7.6 seconds and top speed is 113 mph.
Of course, 0-to-60 mph times and top speed runs aren’t what the Sienna is about. Thankfully it travels nicely at three-tenths. Throttle tip-in is slow and predictable, making off-the-line starts a smooth process. The transmission also shifts nice-n-easy, making it a comfortable city cruiser.
Fuel economy is competitive in its segment, with the EPA rating it at 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined while drinking regular-grade gasoline.
Safety is always a big concern when purchasing a family hauler, and Toyota has it covered. The Sienna offers plenty of passive safety systems, though it does lack in modern, active safety systems like emergency braking and lane keeping assist. Still, the Sienna comes with Toyota’s STAR safety system, which includes stability contro, traction control, ABS, and electronic brake-force distribution.
A total of eight airbags protect passengers should things turn ugly, and include driver and passenger frontal airbags; a driver’s knee airbag; first-row, seat-mounted side airbags; and three-row side curtain airbags. The Sienna also includes four seating positions fitted with the LATCH child seat anchors.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the Sienna with five stars for frontal crash protection for the driver and four stars for the front passenger, five stars for both front and rear seat occupants in a side impact, and four stars for rollover risk. Its overall ranking is five stars.
The 2016 Sienna is offered in five trim levels, with the base L model carrying a starting price of $28,850. For those with bigger budgets, the range-topping Limited starts at $41,900, but can be optioned into the $47,000 range. Toyota also offers “Premium” trims for the SE, XLE, and Limited models, giving a further breakdown of available options and packages.
My XLE tester came with only two options: the $715 Navigation Package and the $395 Blizzard Pearl paint color. The Navigation Package does add quite a few techy features, including Driver Easy Speak, hands-free phone operation, satellite and HD radio, and of course, the seven-inch Entune display.
Adding on the $900 destination charge, my tester totaled at $37,420.
The Pacifica is all-new for 2017 and replaces the legendary Town & Country. The new minivan offers Chrysler’s modern swoopy styling, high-tech, in-dash features, class-leading rear-seat entertainment options, and the absolutely awesome Stow n’ Go seating system. The Pacifica not only has room for seven or eight passengers (depending on seating arrangement, of course,) but also makes the minivan cool. Large wheels, a striking design, and plenty of creature comforts make it one of the best family haulers around.
Power comes from FCA’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 and powers the front wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission. A hybrid version is also offered, though neither is available with AWD. Pricing starts at $29,590 and tops out in the mid-$40,000s.
2016 Honda Odyssey
Honda Odyssey Touring Elite – Driven
The Honda Odyssey has been a long-standing stalwart in the minivan segment, offering Honda quality with plenty of room for eight. Techies will love the dual screens on the dash while kids will love the panoramic TV screen mounted on the ceiling in the second row.
The Odyssey is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 making 248 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Six trim levels give customers choices on price and equipment levels. Prices begin at $29,400 and topple into the $45,000 range for the Touring Elite trim.
The 2016 Toyota Sienna might not be the newest or most flashy minivan in the segment, but it offers a genuine ride for eight people with Toyota ’s long-standing reputation on quality and reliability. While the Pacifica has it beat with high-tech options and more advanced active safety systems, the Sienna shouldn’t be counted out of the running. What’s more, buyers are more likely to find deeper discounts on the Sienna rather than the new-for-2016 Pacifica. It’s all in what appeals to the buyer.
While the minivan segment isn’t the most glamorous in the automotive world, it’s impossible to deny the outright usability and functionality found inside these rolling cans of space. For that, there’s a lot of credit due. Minivans are certainly unsung heroes and the Sienna is among the best in the business.