Minivans are a love or hate kinda vehicle. Those who love them swear by them. But those who don’t, really, really don’t. You’re reading a review by one of those who love them. There is a lot to love from a minivan, both literally and figuratively. While Chrysler, via Dodge, has long dominated the market, Toyota actually sold the most minivans in 2016 by a slim margin. 2017 is the latest refresh of the third Sienna generation. The change brings a new engine and transmission, while leaving much else from the 2015 refresh untouched.
Does Toyota still set the standard in quality and function? Let’s take a look.
Toyota is the only company who currently offers an AWD minivan. For anyone in a more northern location, snow, ice and sleet make AWD an attractive function in your family hauler. The downside is fuel mileage. But, with eight gears and some interesting engine technology, Toyota has managed to get reasonable – for a minivan – mileage. Engine power is plentiful and flows almost undetected through the new transmission. Enable “ECT”, and the van responds with excellent pep and handling characteristics, even at highway speeds. AWD performance, combined with other traditional driving aids like traction control, give you a confidence boost in less than ideal conditions.
It might be assumed that minivans all offer excellent visibility for drivers, but that’s not entirely true. The Sienna’s strengths have always been interior space and visibility. Because the exterior design hasn’t changed much since 2011, the latest Sienna still has excellent all around visibility. Build quality is spot on. Really, something we’ve come to expect from Toyota products. Drivers of similar family haulers will find themselves quickly at home here.
The Limited trim in the Sienna is the only one where you can find the 16.4” widescreen, dual input screen. It’s huge; even bigger in person. Modern inputs like HDMI and BluRay are all there, including some legacy RCA inputs when you need to travel a little old school. Interestingly, Toyota has added an UHC SD card reader, allowing you to play images and movies from SD cards. Two wireless headphones and a remote are included in the package. For families on long road trips, these aren’t just luxuries, they’re necessities.
Movies on this massive widescreen are pumped through an impressive JBL built sound system. It features ten speakers, including a subwoofer in the tailgate. You can easily recreate theater-like conditions during your ride. Window shades are available for second and third rows. These little things are a Godsend for naps on sunny days. The interior space is well laid out for short and long trips. Everybody has a cup holder; some even have two or three. Kids will have plenty of places to stash toys, books, tablets and other items they bring on long adventures. Even with the third row in use, there is plenty of space for luggage thanks to a deep trunk. Doors and tailgate are fully powered on the XLE Limited, fairly standard in the industry.
It’s hard to knock the Sienna for much in regard to ride quality or road noise. It drives about as you expect it too, particularly with ECT powered on. Engine noise is very quiet, the ride is gentle but firm and road noise is well isolated. As a practical vehicle, the Sienna excels as well. There’s plenty of safety technology to protect passengers, something Toyota is leading the industry in these days.
The Not So Good
Likely the biggest drawback to the 2017 Sienna is its age. While the design is only a couple model years old, and the drivetrain is brand new to the Sienna, it is still a six year old model generation. Compared to some of the completely redesigned offerings which are now, or soon, coming, the Sienna feels a bit dated. At the XLE Limited trim, there are strong elements of luxury in the Sienna. But these are contrasted by the third row, which appears to be made out of a vinyl based material. It’s stark sitting behind to the perforated leather seats that adorn the first and second rows. While spacious, and awesome, the optional panoramic sunroof lowers roof height noticeably. Taller passengers who fit in standard Siennas don’t quite in the XLE Limited.
Toyota does have a suite of modern driving aids available in some of their latest models, but they are lacking from the Sienna. Even at the top trim level. While competitors are offering minivans now with adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist, they were noticeably lacking from the Sienna’s top model.
Driving dynamics from the new 296hp V6 engine and eight speed transmission are good, great even; if you have the ECT mode powered on. By default, when the Sienna is started, it runs in an economy driving focused mode. Throttle response is heavily muted, and the transmission logic seems to ride the first gear for much longer than it should. Turning on ECT restored familiar driving dynamics, but the eco-driving indicator will never come on.
Considering the price point and trim level of the XLE Limited, faux wood trim on the dashboard, with a high gloss finish, felt out of place. While the JBL sound system is excellent, you can’t control the subwoofer level separately. It takes some tweaking to get the equalizer balance so that it’s not so bottom heavy. Excessive use had created a buzz/rattle in the tailgate whenever the volume was given a bit of juice. Moving it to the large, empty panels in the sides would give it a bit more structure to prevent shaking itself from its mounts.
If you’re considering doing any kind of light towing, which a surprisingly large number of minivan owners are doing, you’re going to need to look elsewhere. While all Sienna models, including the much less appointed Sienna AWD LE, can haul 3,500lbs, the top trim AWD XLE Limited is limited to 1,000lbs. Still haven’t figured that one out.
(Editor’s Note: There is no direct US-spec version of the Sienna that matches with this review unit. The closest would be the XLE Premium at $41,715 US. Regardless of country of review, drive impressions will be similar as both vehicles have the same engine and powertrain.)
Should I Buy This Car?
Minivan shoppers are always safe picking a Sienna. For those in places where it snows, and looking for some more creature comforts, the Sienna AWD XLE Limited is top of the list. Well, for AWD minivans, it’s the only one on the list. The Sienna does feel a bit dated, even at XLE Trim, but is still a solid choice of vehicle. They’re typically long lasting, insanely practical vehicles that have great value retention. Long road trips with kids of all ages will breeze by, and the modern infotainment system will keep everybody entertained. You’ll even find yourself going further on every gallon compared ton earlier models of this Sienna.
If you’re ever heading down to Florida, make sure to stop by and pick me up on the way.