You have to give Toyota credit for trying. The slogan for the 2018 Toyota Sienna is: “The one and only Swagger Wagon.” In 2018, that’s a brave approach for what is, essentially, a minivan. It’s a sporting minivan that looks like it has been dropped to the deck and driven through a tuning workshop, but it’s still a seven-seater minivan.
But maybe there’s still space for tradition. Maybe in a sea of crossover SUVs and cool looking off-roaders with minimal ground clearance, there’s a space for a good, honest minivan.
Some people just need a solid car to move a lot of people without fuss or complaint. We need the flexibility of movable seats and sometimes we need to fold the whole lot flat and move vast amounts of stuff. Many of them have no clue what a swagger wagon is. They don’t live on the cutting edge of fashion and they really don’t need to be convinced that a minivan is down with the kids. They simply need a cost-effective and capable seven-seater that can transport the family, or large loads, and cover the miles in comfort.
The Sienna is effectively the Camry of the minivan world, at least in the base spec. It won’t set your heart racing, but it’s dependable, reliable, and relatively straightforward.
The Toyota Sienna starts at $30,850, which is a serious chunk of change. There really isn’t an entry-level engine.
The base LE comes fitted with the 3.5-liter V6 mated to an eight-speed automatic that carries right through to the range-topping Premium that starts from a more serious $43,715. This 296 bhp engine is a solid powerplant that propels the all-wheel-drive version to 60 mph in seven seconds. That’s as fast as you need to move to seven people.
When we’ve only got one engine to play with, it’s mindboggling that there are seven different models if you focus on the basic list of the L, LE, SE, XLE, XLE Premium, Limited, and Limited Premium. On its website, Toyota has listed the LE Auto Access Seat and XLE with Auto Access Seat as distinct models, too, with their own pricing structure. So that’s nine models if you want to give them full credit.
You can opt for a four-wheel-drive system or take the standard front-drive layout. The rest of the money largely goes on the interior, infotainment, and safety systems.
The Toyota is a heavy car. Plus, the 3.5-liter V6 is hardly a downsized turbo. With that in mind, the fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway is impressive.
Safety and Infotainment Features
It’s a five-star car when it comes to the NHTSA crash test, but the Sienna goes well beyond taking a hit. It can help you avoid them in the first place thanks to Toyota Safety Sense. This raft of active safety measures is standard equipment on the base model, which is a coup for Toyota and could swing the balance for safety conscious customers with a large family to protect.
A pre-collision system with pedestrian detection can apply the brakes, as well as sound the alarm, if you’re heading for disaster. Dynamic cruise control, lane keep assist, and automatic high beam headlights come as part of this impressive package.
The base car’s infotainment system and the interior is less spectacular. You get a 4.2-inch screen, which is relatively agricultural by today’s standards. But move up the ladder and the Sienna gets more impressive.
The SE comes with Entune 3.0 multimedia system with Connected Navigation Scout. It’s still only a six-inch screen, but you get satellite XM radio, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto compatibility. Move up to the Limited and you get Dynamic Navigation. You also get a Blu-Ray system for the passengers to watch movies.
As for the interior, the base model comes with a second row of seats that tip and slide and a third row that split and fold down. The SE offers up to eight seats, or you can opt for captain’s lounge chairs for the second row. They limit the overall capacity, but do give you more options.
The powered sliding side doors aren’t an option on the basic model, but they do feature from the LE and up. The Limited and Limited Premium also come with a powered rear liftgate and a dual moonroof.
How It Stacks Up Against the Competition
The minivan herd has been culled, brutally, in recent times. The crossover SUV market has taken off and this sector is almost a dying breed. There are a few standout cars, though, that can take the fight to the Toyota Sienna.
The Chrysler Pacifica is the benchmark in the sector right now and it offers a more curvaceous, smooth design, and a lower basic price. Kia’s Sedona is cheaper still, but it simply isn’t as pretty as the Sienna. Plus, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Japanese car in terms of pure performance.
The Honda Odyssey is a close match in terms of power and price, but Sienna’s domestic rival has a seriously awkward profile and the designers have incorporated some clumsy tricks to hide the vehicle’s mass. We could throw the Dodge Grand Caravan into the mix, too, but it’s an aging car that loses out in most departments.
It’s a toss-up between the Pacifica and the Sienna and that will largely come down to whether you prioritize the sporting intent of the Sienna over the luxury feel of the Pacifica.
- Aggressive styling gives the Sienna a sporting feel.
- Massive number of models allows for near infinite choice.
- Not a huge amount of opposition to compete against.
- Fuel economy is decent, if unspectacular, for a car in this class.
- Not everybody will love the look and it is certainly niche.
- A more efficient base engine could’ve been a bonus.
- Crossover SUVs are killing the minivan, and this could be a dinosaur soon enough.
- Infotainment system is solid, but the screen is a letdown.