Cars

Toyota Sienna Buying Guide: Dealmakers & Dealbreakers

toyota sienna, toyota minivan, best minivan

The Sienna is one of the cornerstones of the modern minivan market. (Source: Toyota)

The Toyota Sienna has long been one of the top entrants in the minivan segment. Along with rival Honda Odyssey, it has shared the minivan throne for some time — perhaps too long. Other minivans like the Chrysler Pacifica have arrived to do battle, but the Sienna soldiers on with a roomy, versatile, and class-exclusive features like all-wheel drive and an intercom between the front and rear seats, keeping the Sienna relevant among the newest crop of minivans.

The SE trim is supposed to entice the enthusiast minivan owner (they exist), but it is mostly an appearance package, and its sport-tuned suspension is more harsh than anything else. The V6 engine found on all trims gets a bump in horsepower, and the new 8-speed automatic transmission should ensure improved fuel economy.

Is the Sienna the best minivan for you and your family? That all depends on your particular needs. Read on to learn about every dealmaker and dealbreaker of the Toyota Sienna.


2017 Toyota Sienna Fast Facts

Pricing: $29,750-$45,310
Seating: 7 standard, available 8 passenger, available 7 passenger seating w/ captains chairs

Dealmakers

• Easy-to-use control layout
• Improved power/fuel economy
• Available AWD
• Strong mechanical reliability scores
• Plenty of Cargo Space
• Second row seats fold and/or slide forward for cargo, or slide back for legroom.
• Intercom between first and third rows
• Advanced active safety features
• Blu-Ray DVD Entertainment System (Optional)

Dealbreakers

• Second row doesn’t fold into floor
• SE trim rides rough
• Only one USB Port
• Replacement coming for 2018 Model Year
• Infotainment Lacks Apple CarPlay/Android Auto Support (half-breaker)


Dealmakers: Toyota Sienna’s Top Lifestyle Features

Toyota Sienna features, best minivans

Toyota’s Entune infotainment offers a suite of apps for drivers. (Source: Toyota)

The Toyota Sienna is big on usable room and utility. Rivals like the Chrysler Pacifica and Honda Odyssey offer newer features including built-in vacuums and even mobile Wi-Fi, but the Sienna has the usable space and versatile second row to make it a contender.

Dealmaker: Roomy, Comfortable Interior

toyota sienna interior, sienna seats

The available second-row captain’s chairs provide next-level comfort. (Source: Toyota)

Like every minivan in the segment, the Sienna has three rows of seating and room for at least seven passengers. There is plenty of cargo space, and the rear seats stow into the floor, but the second row only slides forward and folds up. To take advantage of the 150 cubic feet of cargo space, you need to remove the second row. The Sienna has some neat features, like an intercom system with the rear seats and available Blu-ray entertainment system, but it shows its age with only a single USB port.

The second-row seats are on rails that allow them to be removed or slide forward for cargo access. A key development of this system is that the second row can slide back for added space on long trips. According to Car and Driver, “Compared with the Odyssey, its second row slides farther forward for additional cargo space and farther rearward to create unparalleled sprawl-out legroom.”

Dealmaker: Big on Cargo Space

toyota sienna specs, minivan cargo space

The deep well behind the third row makes for great cargo storage. (Source: Toyota)

The Sienna has 39.1 cubic feet behind the 60/40 split third row seats. Those seats fold away into the floor by yanking on a cable, bringing cargo space up to 87.1 cubic feet. The maximum available cargo capacity is 150.0 cubic feet, but you need to remove the second row seats to achieve this. We consider that detail to be a major setback, but its max cargo space leads the segment, and that cannot be overlooked.

Even the behind-third-row cargo space is among the best in the class. The space provided for the rear seat to stow away makes a great well for large items when the seats are up. If you need every last cubic inch of cargo space, and don’t mind the chore of removing the second row, the Sienna is a wise choice.

Dealmaker: Added Power and Fuel Economy

toyota sienna specs, minivan fuel economy

The updated V6 engine makes 30 horsepower more, and the 8-speed auto transmission gets better fuel economy than before. (Source: Toyota)

For 2017, the Sienna gets a revised engine and transmission. The updated 3.5-liter V6 makes more horsepower and torque compared with the outgoing 2016 engine. The engine is mated to a new 8-speed automatic transmission, replacing the 6-speed unit. This combination gets fuel economy of 19/27/22 MPG (city/highway/combined). The AWD (more on that later) model gets fuel economy of 18/24/20 MPG (city/highway/combined). The combined numbers are 1-MPG better than the 2016 model, and more crucially, ties the Sienna and Odyssey combined scores.

The outgoing engine was lamented for making a great deal of noise when you stepped on the throttle. This is more of a hunch, but we suspect the added power and 8-speed transmission means the engine will spend less time in the upper revs. If the 2017 Sienna weren’t quieter in acceleration, we’d be surprised.

Dealmaker: Straightforward Controls

toyota sienna

The straightforward controls are easy to use. (Source: Toyota)

The Sienna has been on the market for more than a few years. While it shows its age in some areas, one area where that helps is in the vehicle controls. Some new cars feature controls that are unnecessarily complicated just because the automaker can cram a second screen into the dash (we’re looking at you, Honda). But the Sienna features refreshingly straightforward controls. There are conventional buttons and knobs, and everything is thoughtfully laid out. This gives the driver and front passenger something of a command and control, but without overwhelming them.

Dealmaker: The Only Minivan With All-Wheel Drive

toyota sienna, awd minivan

The Sienna’s AWD makes it more capable in the snow. (Source: Toyota)

The Sienna is the only minivan in the class that offers all-wheel drive. When you select an AWD version of the Sienna, it comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels equipped with run-flat tires. The combination of AWD and run-flats offers the greatest level of peace of mind, reducing the chance of losing control in rain, ice, and snow, and also minimizing the chance of getting a flat. If you live in colder climes, the AWD Sienna might be the minivan to have.

Dealmaker: Blind-Spot Mirror

toyota sienna safety, safest minivans

An example of a blind-spot mirror, show here on the Ford Focus. (George Kennedy/Heavy.com)

Many new minivans, including the Sienna, are available with blind-spot monitoring systems. These systems are helpful, providing eyes where you might not be able to see around the vehicle. But they are expensive options, and despite conventional wisdom, can actually raise your insurance premiums given the cost to maintain them.

The Sienna comes standard with mirrors that have wider-angle mirrors nested into the outer corners. Based on big-rig-inspired “trucker” mirrors, these provide a greater field of view and allow you to be more aware of the highway around you without relying on expensive and complicated systems.

Dealmaker: Available Blu-Ray Entertainment System

toyota sienna, minivan entertainment systems

The super-wide flip-down screen can project one widescreen image, or two separate images. (Source: Toyota)

Entertaining the kids on long trips is key. One of the best ways to do that is with the available Dual-View Blu-Ray entertainment system. The massive 16.4-inch widescreen panel folds down from the ceiling. It comes with two wireless headphones and a remote control, as well as RCA hacks and a pair of 120V power outlets for charging up all your gear. The screen can project one widescreen image, or two smaller images. This ability to project two smaller images is the difference between the kids quietly watching their own favorite programs, or melting down, three hours into a road trip.

Dealmaker: Rear Seat Intercom System

Taking the entire soccer team to a tournament an hour away can be a challenge. Especially if the most mischievous ones are way back in the third row. To wit, the Driver Easy Speak system is an intercom between the driver and the third row. If you need to do some remote parenting, you just push a button and speak!

Dealmaker: Advanced Safety Features

The Sienna is available with a pre-collision system. This bit of advanced safety technology can determine if a collision is imminent and warn the driver. If there is no response from the driver, the system can apply the brakes on its own. The sensors used for this system also allow it to have dynamic radar cruise control.

Other safety features include a standard backup camera, blind-spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert for backing out of a space when you can’t see the road around you.


Dealbreakers: Toyota Sienna’s Worst Lifestyle Features

toyota sienna features, toyota sienna specs

The second row slides forward and is removable, but unlike the Pacifica, does not fold neatly into the floor. (Source: Toyota)

The Sienna goes for the quantity over quality approach. It has the best cargo volume numbers in the class, but you need to remove the second row to get to the maximum number. It also lacks the sort of wealth of USB ports you’ll find in newer vans. While the list of standard safety features is comprehensive, you have to shell out and go for the top-tier trims to get the most advanced features.

Dealbreaker: Interior Lacks Standard/Available Bells and Whistles

sienna vs odyssey, minivan with vacuum

The built-in vacuum that is available on the Honda Odyssey is a feature not found on the Sienna. (Source: Honda)

When the current generation of the Sienna first came out in 2010 for the 2011 model year, its cabin was viewed as first-rate. But as other automakers have brought forth newer designs, the Sienna is starting to show its shortcomings. Up front, the center console is fixed (the Odyssey’s is removable for cleaning beneath it) and doesn’t offer a lot of unique storage solutions. There is no available built-in vacuum, no available Wi-Fi for the kids’ devices on long trips, and no available heated second row.

Dealbreaker: Only One USB Port

toyota sienna, minivan tech

Note the USB port in the lower left corner — it’s the only one found on the Sienna. (Source: Toyota)

Among the areas where the Sienna has shown its age is the fact you only get one USB port for the entire vehicle. The USB port is up front, and while that’s helpful to connect the driver’s phone for charging and music, it means there isn’t any access out back. With the kids’ devices ever more reliant on charging ports, the singular USB port and subsequent 120V chargers will be fought over.

Dealbreaker: Replacement Model Coming Next Year

toyota minivan

The 2006 Toyota F3R concept gave way to the current Sienna. What the next Sienna will look like is anyone’s guess. (Source: Toyota)

We’ve talked a great deal about the age of the Sienna, and that’s the whole point. The third generation came out in 2010 for the 2011 model year; a replacement is due, and it’s on its way. There are not many details on the new Sienna, but you can bet it’s going to address items like the USB, Wi-Fi, vacuum, seating storage and other items. If you can afford to wait, just wait for the new model. But if you need a minivan right now, why settle for a van that will be a 6-plus-year-old design when there are brand new minivans in the market like the Chrysler Pacifica?

Dealbreaker: Decent Infotainment, but No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto

toyota sienna, minivan buying guide

Buyers are asking for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but you won’t find either in a Toyota. (Source: Apple)

Toyota offers solid infotainment and connectivity through its Entune suite of features, including available navigation, real-time traffic and weather updates, and apps for items like Yelp, OpenTable, and Pandora. Toyota is so confident in its connected features that it’s opting not to include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. That is a pretty big omission. In a time when drivers are more loyal to their mobile device maker than their automaker, this could see a lot of minivan buyers going to vehicles that do deliver such features — like the Chrysler Pacifica.

Dealbreaker: Harsh Ride in the SE Trim

toyota sienna performance, sienna SE

The SE has a sporty look, but a ride that has been described as harsh. (Source: Toyota)

The Sienna SE is the “sport” model. As such, it has a more firm suspension and heavier steering feel. Some critics have enjoyed the tight cornering this provides, with Motor Trend ceding, “Overall the Sienna impressed us with its surprising performance in the sport version (it’s actually OK in the corners!),” but overall this SE trim is widely panned. Folks don’t turn to minivans for autocrossing, and there are too many different types of drivers to try an appease the enthusiast with the sporty ride.

Thankfully, you don’t have to opt for the SE, but if you wanted the sharper look of the smoked-out head- and taillights bezels, mesh grille, and revised lower body work, you’re stuck with the stiff suspension.


Dealmaker: Standard Safety, Available Trims Offer Sport and Luxury

toyota sienna safety, minivan safety comparison

An aft shot of the top-tier Sienna Limited. (Source: Toyota)

The Sienna comes standard with some crucial features that greatly improve everyday usability. This minivan also comes with Toyota’s Star Safety System, which is a suite of crucial safety features like stability control, traction control, and smart-stop technology to reduce engine power before a potential collision. This should not be confused with pre-collision avoidance. The Sienna comes with eight standard airbags. Here’s what you can get and what it will cost:

Trims Offered

L: (MSRP: $29,750) 17-inch alloy wheels, Star Safety System, Entune Multimedia System, remote keyless entry, three-zone climate control, backup camera, blind-spot mirrors, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity.
LE: (MSRP $32,740, includes everything from L, plus) Navigation system, rear privacy glass, black roof rails, 18-inch wheels w/ run-flat tires (AWD model only), easy-clean seating, manual 2nd and 3rd row sunshades.
SE: (MSRP $36,110, includes everything from LE, plus) Front/rear lower spoilers, sport-look mesh grille, projector headlights, smoked sport-look head and taillight trims, 19-inch gunmetal finish alloy wheels, leather heated front seats, one-motion stow-away rear seat.
XLE: (MSRP $36,310, includes everything from SE, plus) Metallic front grille with chrome surround, leather second row captains chairs (AWD only), power windows with auto up/down, smart key system with push button start, fixed center console with illuminated storage compartment and illuminated front cupholders.
Limited: (MSRP $42,800-$47,310, includes everything from XLE, plus) Premium leather heated front seats, premium leather second and third row seating, heated leather-trimmed steering wheel with cruise/audio/Bluetooth controls, Safety Connect System.


Dealmaker/Breaker: Powerful and Efficient, but So-So Handling

More power is always better, and with the new transmission, the Sienna proves to be quicker, quieter, and smoother. Minivans aren’t always associated with performance, but if you want more excitement in your van, the SE trim adds tighter handling.

Handling: Choice of Inoffensive or Harsh

Not many have driven the 2017 model, but despite the engine and transmission upgrades, it is expected that the suspension and brakes will carry over. The suspension was just OK enough, with Motor Trend admitting, “We didn’t love that the 2015 Sienna had mushy brakes and a rough ride around town.” Some called the steering “overboosted,” though many drivers might appreciated how that translates into putting less effort into steering inputs.

If you really want a “racier” feel from your minivan you should probably consult a BMW station wagon. But if you must get it in minivan form, the SE trim has tighter suspension and steering. Some might find this enjoyable, but at the possible expense of everyone who is not driving. As Car and Driver humorously put it, “Only one in 10 Sienna buyers opts for the SE — it’s definitely worth a back-to-back test drive.”

Drivetrain: The Saving Grace

The updated 3.5-liter V6 makes 296 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. That’s an impressive increase of 30 hp and 18 lb.-ft. over the outgoing 2016 engine. The engine is mated to a new 8-speed automatic transmission, replacing the 6-speed unit. The engine in the 2016-and-older models was often cited as being loud when pushed, but the added power means it won’t have to work as hard, and the added gears in the transmission will help the engine stay in its sweet spot.

Despite the promise of being smoother, there is a setback, according to a Car and Driver review: “Unfortunately, Toyota has quite obviously retarded throttle response to reduce the possibility of bumps causing small, unintended throttle applications. You can tap the throttle and nothing will happen; only if you hold it down long enough for the car to recognize you’re serious will an actual reaction occur. It can irritate.”

Performance Specs

• Engine: 3.5-liter V6
• Output: 296 horsepower / 263 lb-ft of torque
• Transmission: 8-speed automatic
• Drivetrain: FWD/AWD
• 0-60 MPH: 7.3 sec
• Towing: 3500 lbs.
• Fuel economy FWD: 19/27/22 (city/highway/combined)
• Fuel economy AWD: 18/24/20 (city/highway/combined)


Dealmaker: Safe and Mechanically Reliable

There are two major safety organizations that test road cars and publish scores. They are the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). NHTSA scores vehicles out of five stars, while the IIHS scores on a scale of Poor, Marginal, Acceptable, and Good. Additionally, the IIHS offers “Top Safety Pick” recommendations, as well as “Top Safety Pick +” for vehicles with advanced crash avoidance and mitigation features.

The Toyota Sienna is tied among the safest minivans in the market today. Divining the unrivaled best is a bit harder than it might seem. Among the five minivans, only three have been tested by NHTSA, and of the two untested, one earns the highest safety accolade from the IIHS of “Top Safety Pick+.” The Sienna has strong crash test ratings, but its score of “Acceptable” in Small Frontal Overlap testing falls short of top marks, and has prevented it from earning a “Top Safety Pick.” The Chrysler Pacifica and the Sienna have the two most active safety equipment such as forward collision avoidance/mitigation.

Crash Test Safety: Among the Best

The Sienna earns five stars in NHTSA crash testing, and in IIHS, earns a best score of “Good” for Moderate Front Overlap, Side, Roof Strength, and Head Restraint crash tests. In the small front overlap test, one of the most important test, the Sienna only scored “Acceptable.” When equipped with the technology package, the Sienna has autonomous braking/collision avoidance capabilities rivaled only by the brand-new Chrysler Pacifica. Despite this, the crash test shortcomings prevented the Sienna from earning a “Top Safety Pick+” rating.

NHTSA Crash Test Data

 Minivan  NHTSA Overall Rating
 Honda Odyssey  5/5 Stars
 Kia Sedona  5/5 Stars
 Toyota Sienna  5/5 Stars
 Chrysler Pacifica  Not Rated
 Nissan Quest  Not Rated

The Honda Odyssey is the closest competition. The Kia Sedona earns Five Stars from NHTSA, and “Good” in every category from the IIHS, also earning a “Top Safety Pick” recommendation. It features an optional collision warning system, which stops short of autonomous braking (like the Odyssey), thus keeping it just out of reach from a “Top Safety Pick +” rating. The only other vehicle to earn the IIHS “Top Safety Pick +” rating is the Chrysler Pacifica, but comprehensive testing of the Pacifica has not been completed by NHTSA yet.

IIHS Testing Awards

Minivan Accolade
Chrysler Pacifica Top Safety Pick+
Honda Odyssey Top Safety Pick
Kia Sedona Top Safety Pick

Though the Nissan Quest has been on the market for some time, it has not been tested by NHTSA. It has been tested by the IIHS, where it earned a score of “Poor” for front small overlap testing, “Acceptable” on roof strength, and “Good” in all other areas.

The Sienna comes standard with eight airbags, LATCH anchors for child seats in the second and third rows, driver and front passenger active headrests, front and rear crumple zones, side-impact door beams, daytime running lights, and a standard backup camera.

The Sienna also comes with Toyota’s Star Safety System, which is basically a fancy name for features one would expect on any car in 2016. This includes stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, and “Smart Stop” technology. Smart Stop will reduce engine power if the accelerator and brake are pressed at the same time.

Safety Tech: Basic, Unless You Pay Out


SE and Limited models come with LED daytime running lights. Limited models come with Safety connect, which includes stolen vehicle locator, roadside assistance, and automatic crash response. XLE Premium models get standard backup sonar system to complement the backup camera. Limited models get the same sonar system, but for the front as well. If you select an SE Premium, XLE, or Limited model, it comes standard with blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.

The Limited is available with a Technology package that includes dynamic radar cruise control, hill-start assist, and the much-praised forward collision avoidance system. In short, the Sienna comes standard with the safety gear you would expect any car to have in this day and age. If you want any real advanced safety gear, you better opt for the upper trims.

Reliability: Top Marks Where It Counts

In J.D. Power surveys, the Toyota Sienna scored low on overall quality, features and accessory quality, and overall design quality. Overall design can be a matter of opinion, but what is not so subjective is mechancial quality and powertrain quality, where the Sienna scores a perfect five our of five. So owners in the survey might not be in love with the look and feel of the Sienna, but this minivan has reliability when it counts, delivering peace of mind.


Tiebreakers: Comparing the Sienna to the Competition

odyssey vs sienna

The Odyssey is the closest rival to the Sienna (Source: Honda)

There are certainly newer and/or more exciting entrants in the minivan segment. The current darling is the all-new Chrysler Pacifica, and close behind it is the venerable Honda Odyssey. The Sienna and Nissan Quest arrived about the same time, but Nissan’s minivan has some obvious deficiencies.

Honda Odyssey (MSRP $29,550-$45,025)

The Sienna has long been the closest rival to the Odyssey, with similar quality, pricing and features. It came out just a year after the current generation Sienna, but also received a crucial updates for the interior.

Odyssey vs. Sienna:
• Offers AWD (Odyssey doesn’t)
• Second row must be removed (Sienna requires bench removal too, but slides forward in a pinch)
• Poor control layout (Odyssey’s worst feature)
• Impressive build quality (Compares to Sienna’s low-grade feel on some trims)
• Available vacuum

Learn more about the Honda Odyssey here.

Chrysler Pacifica (MSRP $28,595-$42,495)

Replacing the dated Town & Country, the Pacifica has sharp new styling. While the outgoing Town & Country was the bargain basement option, the more competent Pacifica roughly matches the Sienna on price.

Pacifica vs. Sienna:
• Seating stows into floor (Sienna requires bench removal)
• Better control layout (But only marginally)
• Dual seat-back touch screens (versus Sienna’s dropdown screen)
• Available vacuum

Learn more about the Chrysler Pacifica here.

Kia Sedona (MSRP $26,400-$39,900)

As the least expensive option in the segment, the Sedona has a surprisingly quiet and luxurious interior. But many critics pan its sluggish highway acceleration, and handling that feels a little “off.” If you are looking for a van on a budget, the Sedona is the ideal option.

Sedona vs. Sienna:
• Controls on-par with Sienna
• Quiet, luxurious cabin (vs. Sienna’s lower-grade cabin feel)
• Lower price than Sienna
• Falls short on performance

Learn more about the Kia Sedona here.

Nissan Quest (MSRP $26,580-$43,230)

Positioned as the upscale option, it does feature a high-end interior, with standard push-button start and available leather seating that is incredibly soft. But it has fewer seats than other options in the class, and those seats can be neither be removed nor folded into the floor. It also has far and away the least cargo space. This is a minivan for carting adults around.

Quest vs. Sienna:
• Far less cargo space than Sienna
• Inflexible seating configuration
• Luxurious leather available

Learn more about the Nissan Quest here.


Should I Buy a Toyota Sienna?

toyota sienna specs

The Sienna might not be the newest van on the market, but it offers a lot of space and strong reliability. (Source: Toyota)

There have been mixed feelings on the cabin of the Sienna, with conflicting takes on the interior quality. While you have to remove the second row for max cargo, the second row seats are on sliders that allow them to slide forward in a pinch, or slide back for incredible leg space. This makes the second row a viable option for adults, even on long trips. Like most cars in the segment, to get the serious tech and safety features, you need to pay a little more.

So Which to Buy?

• If you prioritize second-row legroom and comfort: Toyota Sienna

• If you require easily stow-able seating: Chrysler Pacifica

• If you want the latest safety and infotainment tech: Chrysler Pacifica

• If you must have AWD: Toyota Sienna

• If you’re on a tight budget: Kia Sedona

Dealmakers vs. Dealbreakers Final Tally

Dealmaker: Easy-to-use control layout
Dealmaker: Improved power and fuel economy
Dealmaker: Class-leading cargo space
Dealmaker: 2nd row seats slide forward for cargo, or slide back for legroom
Dealmaker: Intercom between first and third rows
Dealmaker: Advanced active safety features
Dealmaker: Excellent mechanical reliability
Dealmaker: Blu-Ray DVD Entertainment System (Optional)(half-maker)

Dealbreaker: Second row doesn’t fold into floor
Dealbreaker: Only one USB port
Dealbreaker: No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto support
Dealbreaker: Replacement coming in 2018

Final Tally: +3.5
Market Average: +3.8

The minivan market has upped its game since the current Sienna hit the scene. Where one USB port was adequate, not you need a suite of ports and chargers to keep the kids occupied. Other newer vans include features like Wi-Fi, interlinked seat-back entertainment systems, and even built-in vacuums. A new Sienna is on its way, and will likely have many of these features. If you prioritize these features (we think a weekly shop-vac run beats an unproven built-in vac), you can wait for the 2018, or go out and buy the Pacifica.

But the Sienna gets the job done with the best cargo space, and a second row that is flexible enough to handle different tasks. It’s reliable utility in its purest minivan form. If you need space and a basic level of quality for the most passengers and all their gear, the Sienna is tough to beat.

What’s the Best Minivan? Winners & Losers

Finding the best minivan is hard work, and every family has different needs. From safety ratings to cupholders, we compare the Odyssey, Sienna, Pacifica, Sedona and Quest.

Click here to read more

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