I recently reviewed the 2015 Highlander and simply dubbed it “The Best Toyota.” Although I still stand by that affirmation, I’d like to amend the categorization by adding that the Sienna is the sportiest, as the title of this review states.
I’m not being facetious. Go to Toyota Canada’s web site, click on Vehicles then New Vehicles, and study the image before you. From the Yaris to the Tundra, no other vehicle looks more hunkered down, wide nor exudes as much ‘tude (save perhaps for the 4Runner) than the Sienna.
As a minivan (one of few) the 2015 Toyota Sienna does almost everything well and is a good drive to boot. Loaded to the gills and with stuff, this people-hauler can also be equipped with one of the most important safety features in my book: AWD. The Honda Odyssey’s the only other minivan that can match the drive, but not the traction. This is my minivan.
Almost, I said
In a time when progress requires that good ideas be emulated (not necessarily copied outright), the Sienna’s second row tip-up & slide seats are only marginally functional. For boarding and navigating one’s way to the third row, they work. When loading large items, they fail in comparison to Chrysler’s Stow&Go second row seats.
My guess it that the availability of AWD on the LE and XLE trims prevents Toyota from making the necessary modifications to the van’s structure to accommodate the seats being lowered into the floor. As an owner and user, if you never intend on using the full potential of the Sienna’s cavernous cabin, then you’ll be fine.
While on the subject of the interior
The Sienna can accommodate seven or eight passengers depending on trim. The $37,495 SE is an eight-person mover thanks to the second row removable centre stowable seat. Although not the most comfortable seat in the house, it’ll do fine for the 6-year-old who is likely to buckle-up in that position.
The front perches are cozy and power-operated. My exact as-tested technology package equipped $42,850 Sienna SE featured a number of goodies including navigation and an overhead 16.4" wide-screen monitor for rear passengers to enjoy their favourite movie including mine (yay, Frozen!). Standard amenities abound and include tri-zone climate control, cruise control, and Bluetooth.
The Sienna’s dashboard ergonomics took a few days to sort out, especially where the HVAC controls are concerned given that they are somewhat removed from the driver and require a fair amount of attention to navigate. In the SE’s sporty nature, the gauges are black on white, once a sign of a performance-biased orientation.
The Sienna, to some extent, lacks in storage spaces up front. The flat floor-level surface will not hold much more than a purse and once the cupholders are doing their jobs, stowing a mobile phone or two and other items in the open becomes nearly impossible.
It begins with Toyota’s venerable, highly utilized 3.5L V6. As I noted in my Highlander and Lexus IS reviews, this is a good engine. It enjoys revving as its 266 horsepower come in at 6,200 rpm. Likewise, max torque, 245 lb.-ft. of it, arrives at 4,700 rpm. Thankfully, the slick 6-speed autobox is on the ball and makes forward progress easy.
In wintery conditions, the tested Sienna’s FWD configuration and adjoining stability control managed power and traction as best as they could and did so well. The optional AWD system is FWD-biased and sends power to the rear wheels when slippage is detected.
So, the Sienna’s got gusto, but that’s not all; it also handles really well. The SE’s suspension is sport-tuned (whatever that means for a minivan) and it shows. The SE is actually closer to the ground than the other trims and feels well planted, gripping to the road more than any minivan should, far more than a Grand Caravan could ever hope to.
The Sienna will lean into corners but won’t relinquish its trajectory for any other reason than excessive speed. As well, its electric power steering is properly judged thanks once more to some “sporty calibrating” and the brakes are up to the task.
For a minivan, the 2015 Sienna SE feels much faster than it is which makes it far more fun to drive than one would imagine. I put over 750km on the clock in a week, and would have kept going had I had the chance.
The minivan breed
A dying one, it would seem. It’s no secret that there are few options in the segment nowadays and given the very bad idea that Chrysler has of pulling the plug on the Grand Caravan, this will leave more room for the Sienna and Odyssey to blossom.
The only minivan I’ve not yet evaluated is the new Kia Sedona, which seems promising on paper. Be that as it may, the Sienna is and will surely always be a safe bet. And AWD is available! Of the lot of minivans, the Sienna SE is the better looking as well. The 19” wheels, aerodynamic add-ons and sporty fasciae actually do the van much good.
Damn, I like a minivan, a lot…