There comes a time in your life when minivans really make sense. Usually, this is when you start to learn about the nuances of car seats, strollers, and all the other amenities kids need. Then come football matches and cacophonous carpools. I won’t waste time arguing for the practicality of minivans, because no matter how you frame them, they’ll always be better for a typical family than an SUV or crossover. They have more room for passengers and cargo, and they’re just easier to access when you need to secure a screaming toddler.
Gallery: 2021 Toyota Sienna | 22 photos
Gallery: 2021 Toyota Sienna | 22 photos
No matter how much sense they make, however, minivans still suffer from being seen as boring vehicles for soccer moms and dads who just gave up. That’s an idea Toyota is trying to erase with its 2021 Sienna. Its sporty styling is reminiscent of Toyota’s more adventurous SUVs, and it has all of the latest infotainment amenities to appeal to parents and kids. More importantly, however, every 2021 Sienna is a hybrid offering at least 35 MPG of combined mileage (the entry-level LE version is rated at 36 MPG). And with a starting price of $ 34,460, that’s about $ 4,000 less than Toyota’s 2021 Highlander Hybrid, which offers the same mileage but with more limited seating space.
By cramming so much technology into the low-cost 2021 Sienna, Toyota is clearly targeting Honda’s ever-popular Odyssey and Chrysler’s Pacifica plug-in hybrid. The Pacifica offers up to 32 miles of electric-only range, making it ideal for families who don’t need to travel very far very often. But it also costs a lot more than the Sienna, starting at $ 40,620 for the base model. Additionally, Toyota managed to install its AWD hybrid system in the Sienna, while the Pacifica and Odyssey only offer front-wheel drive. (Another big blow against Honda: there is still no Hybrid Odyssey!)
Based on styling alone, the 2021 Sienna clearly has a lot more to do than the Pacifica. (There’s a reason Toyota jokingly referred to it as a “swagger wagon.”) The crisp lines and large grille along its front give off an aggressive vibe, like it’s more eager to hit the track. than going to a football game. And that style continues along the side panels, making the Sienna feel like it’s accelerating on the freeway even when it’s stationary. At the rear, it clearly resembles a truck, with a low cargo floor that makes it easy to lift strollers and pets.
The interior is equally impressive, at least in the Limited model (starting at $ 50,085) which I tested for a week. A standard 9-inch touchscreen is the centerpiece of the infotainment system, and it’s equipped with support for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa. The front, second and third row seats are covered with luxurious leather upholstery. This last row of seats can be laid flat by pulling a string. Well there is just so much more room than my 2017 RAV4 Hybrid. I knew that of course, but it’s another thing to experience the big size difference between a minivan and a crossover SUV in person.
Installing my toddler’s car seat was much easier with the Sienna, thanks to its automatic sliding doors. There’s more wiggle room – a must when lifting a 30-pound machine – and I appreciated being able to sit in the other chair in the second row to secure the seat belt. My daughter immediately took the Sienna too. As soon as I put her in the car seat, she looked around with wide eyes and said “Wow, I love this car!” (And that was after testing a Tesla Model Y, which elicited a mostly ho-hum response.)
It may just be that the 2021 Sienna is currently on many parents’ wishlists, but I was surprised how many people approached me with questions about it. Five minutes after starting my first ride, our local Dunkin ‘Donuts manager immediately recognized him and gave me his Indian father seal of approval. Several parents from local parks were impressed that it didn’t look like a minivan at all (if you squint it looks like a slightly longer Highlander).
While I expected the Sienna to drive a bit like a boat, I was surprised to find it quite smooth and responsive. It’s not a sports car, but it handled the twisty Georgia roads even better than my RAV4 (I’m going to chalk this down to the lower center of gravity). And despite the loss of the V6 engine from previous models, the Hybrid Sienna still has plenty of dynamism. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and dual electric motors deliver an impressive combination of 245 horsepower, so it never felt underpowered when I drove past slow trucks on the highway. We averaged around 33 MPG throughout the week, even more than what I typically see on our significantly smaller RAV4. The hybrid drivetrain also gives the Sienna an extra boost when going from a full stop, making it ideal for stop-and-go traffic.
I hadn’t planned on any adventurous trips to test the Sienna’s all-wheel drive, but enjoyed having the extra traction while driving through torrential summer storms. This was especially helpful when we were driving down steep mountainside freeways in the rain. A front-wheel drive car would probably have been nice, but as an anxious dad, I would have always preferred to have peace of mind.