The hybrid 2021 Toyota Sienna goes the distance

2021 Toyota Sienna

2021 Toyota Sienna at a glance

Seating 7 as spec’d, up to 8
Engine A hybrid 2.5L four-cylinder and electric motor
Horsepower (net) 245
Tow capacity Up to 3,500 pounds
Tech highlights Automatic climate control, wireless charging, advanced driving aids, rear entertainment, kick-activated sliding doors.
Price as tested MSRP Canadian (estimate) $53,190

Toyota Canada provided the 2021 Toyota Siennas and a full tank of gas for this review. Due to a failed key fob, the intended test vehicle was replaced with a second by Toyota.

To say that our experience in the 2021 Toyota Sienna was a mixed bag would be an understatement. As a minivan family and current Sienna owners, the minivan series kicked off by the 2021 Toyota Sienna AWD Limited was something I looked forward to. There are many to commend the newest Sienna, but a few missteps were utterly uncharacteristic of Toyota. In the end, the Sienna left us with something to think about, but it wasn’t the home run we expected it to be.

Reimagine the minivan

Keeping things simple and familiar are hallmarks of the Toyota experience. Why change what doesn’t need changing? Why sacrifice function for style? While the 2021 Toyota Sienna is a new minivan from the ground up, it’s still familiar in a way that’s hard to put in words. Sienna owners will find themselves at home. While everything is now in line with modern design, the 2021 Sienna is among the top for tech in the segment now; it’s still strangely familiar. Its interior gets clad in easy-to-clean hard plastics. Not ideal in most vehicles, but perfect for messy kids that frequent minivans.

Stylistically, the 2021 Toyota Sienna is a significant departure from the last generation. It’s a bold look, something that will make an owner okay with a minivan sitting in the driveway. As with any minivan, the interior gets packed with useful bits, cup holders, 115-volt power plugs, and HDMI ports. But there’s no BluRay player here. Instead, the rear seat can stream content from your phone as long as the OS supports it. Again, it’s a reminder that this is 2021, and wireless streaming is where people live. This 2021 Toyota Sienna is for modern families.

Hybrids for all

Here’s where the 2021 Toyota Sienna sets itself apart. Borrowing the Highlander, all 2021 Sienna models have a hybrid powertrain, meaning there’s no cost of entry. The system combines a four-cylinder engine, electric motor, and small battery pack. Even with AWD, which both our testers had, it takes real effort to push the mileage higher than 7.2 L/100km. Our first tester, a 2021 Toyota Sienna AWD Limited, clocked 6.2 L/100 km after a 110 km highway drive in eco mode. If AWD or amazing fuel economy are tops, the 2021 Toyota Sienna is the only minivan to get.

Those are impressive numbers for a sedan; they’re crazy for an AWD Minivan. Unfortunately, a key fob went rogue due to some technical issues. As a result, we were saddled with a lesser trim to finish the review. That said, a 2021 Toyota Sienna XSE is more in line with what the average family might buy. It gets slightly higher numbers from the hybrid, but still astonishingly good. Having a CVT in a minivan was new, and it takes some adjustments. Because the bulk of the system’s power comes from the four-cylinder, it sounds buzzy under hard acceleration. The CVT is smooth to drive but makes the engine noise louder than you except under load.

We didn’t get a chance to test towing, but I’m not confident how well the 2021 Toyota Sienna AWD XSE would handle its 3,500-pound rating.

Technology keeps the family together

Technology is everywhere in the auto world these days, and that’s the main reason why the sector is (or was) impacted by the microchip shortage so much. The technology of the 2021 Toyota Sienna at the XSE trim is quite good. With the $5,500 (CAD) Technology Package equipped, you get an upgraded stereo, parking assists, rear-seat entertainment, among other things. And there’s a lot of improvements over the 2018 refresh. The JBL® sound system is much more balanced. Wireless charging is a plus, as is Apple CarPlay™. Not just the tailgate is kick-activated because, at this trim level, you can open both sliding doors with a swipe of the foot as well.

There were some misses, too. That Technology Package can only get added to the top two trims of the 2021 Toyota Sienna. I would like to see it available at least on the XLE as well. We also experienced some technical gremlins during our test, with the TPMS faulting for two days before miraculously fixing itself. Finally, Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is missing, so you still can’t go cordless yet. However, the 2021 Toyota Sienna still does well to give you all the family-friendly technology any road trip needs. There are charge ports and audio controls everywhere.

The 2021 Toyota Sienna is the minivan for the eco-conscious

Given the test experience with not one but two different 2021 Toyota Siennas, it was hard to recommend it outright as the top minivan. The weird truth is, all of these current-generation minivans seem to be suffering. The latest Honda Odyssey can’t keep its infotainment alive. Chrysler Pacifica is good but has a growing list of recalls. The laundry list of issues from each minivan evens the playing field. But it’s the hybrid that sets the 2021 Toyota Sienna apart from the rest. The mileage and lower carbon emissions make solid arguments for why the 2021 Sienna should be the best minivan you can buy. It may even be enough to undercut the Sienna’s price premium over competing offers from Chrylser and Kia.

After that initial drive in the 2021 Toyota Sienna AWD Limited, I prepared to declare the van the best one money can buy, the perfect minivan. But the week had other plans instead, revealing that nothing is perfect, and sometimes technology can get in the way of practicality. So perhaps it was an off day at the factory when the XSE got made, or just a fluke, or maybe expectations were so high they were impossible to meet. Whatever the case, when you take away the hybrid, the 2021 Toyota Sienna didn’t impress. It’s a good, maybe even a great minivan. Existing Sienna owners won’t be disappointed when they trade up into the 2021 models.

But, as with anything these days, there are new players in the segment. So, unfortunately, our experience makes it difficult to say the 2021 Toyota Sienna is still the safe bet in the minivan world. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad bet, either.

Correction: The trim suggestion in the technology section was changed from XLT to the correct XLE.

Dan Croutch
the authorDan Croutch
Dan is a freelance automotive and technology writer. He enjoys all things pickup trucks, classic cars, and minivans (really). The intersection of vehicles and technology fascinate him.

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