Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Toyota Sienna

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

Toyota's Sienna has long duked it out with Honda's Odyssey over which is the best mini-van. Sure, in Canada Chrysler's Grand Caravan typically sells four times as many vans, but rarely will you find someone who will argue in favour of the Grand Caravan's superiority. It's a value proposition and there's plenty of demand for that. But when it comes to quality and reliability, the two Japanese manufacturers build a better van. And when it comes to resale, there's simply no comparison. The Sienna, in current form, has been with us since 2010 (as a 2011 model). Mild evolutionary changes have come along since then, and I reviewed the most-loaded-up version you can buy. That's the 7-seater XLE, with the Limited option package, with all-wheel drive.

If you want something slightly more dramatic, you can choose the SE model, which has a sportier body kit and 19-inch rims – not to mention "sport tuned" suspension and steering. It looks pretty cool and has earned itself the title "Swagger Wagon" amongst some drivers.

The current Sienna's styling that seemed so avant garde six years ago now feels quite benign. My review vehicle's Pre-Dawn Grey Mica paint doesn't help it stand out of the crowd either. But even if it isn't as striking as it once was, the sleek, contoured lines are still stylish and the Sienna has aged well. Mine had meaty 235/55-sized rubber on nice 18-inch 10-spoke alloy rims.

If you want something slightly more dramatic, you can choose the SE model, which has a sportier body kit and 19-inch rims – not to mention "sport tuned" suspension and steering. It looks pretty cool and has earned itself the title "Swagger Wagon" amongst some drivers. That said, it can't be loaded up as nicely as, say, my review van. Depends what you want and need, I guess.

Inside, Toyota's use of materials are a mixed bag, with handsome stitched panels on the dash and plenty of hard plastics elsewhere throughout the cabin. It does look nice though, being a two-tone interior, and it's a very pleasant place to be. All seating throughout the van is upholstered in premium leather. The front seats are heated and power-adjustable, and the driver's seat has two memory positions. I found the seats very comfortable, even for a lengthy highway trip – but my wife simply couldn't find a seating position that suited her.

The centre stack and dash is a bit of a busy place - you'll find buttons for various functions all over the place, and at first it takes a bit of a search to find what you're looking for. At the centre of the dash is Toyota's 7-inch touchscreen which works well, feels quite responsive and makes for an intuitive user experience. It handles all the good stuff – navigation, your phone and the fantastic JBL sound system. It's too bad the subwoofer is in the tailgate as its vibrations easily make their way to the front and rattle the rear-view mirror, even at lower sound levels. We really liked the well thought out tri-zone automatic climate control panel – it was easy to use and adjust for all three zones, which is more than I can say for most vehicles that have rear climate zones.

Nice touches include a front sunroof and the heated steering wheel, but we felt the driver assistance technology was a bit behind the curve – you only get blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. At this price level, Toyota should be, at minimum, including dynamic cruise control and lane keeping alert/assist.

As you'd expect from a mini-van, there are a plethora of places to put your stuff. Toyota puts a huge, open rubberized bin on the floor ahead of the centre console, which we ended up using quite a bit. The console itself has a couple of cupholders (you can pop two more out of the centre stack), and a deep carpeted well under the armrest lid. You will also find dual glove compartments – the usual one, and one above it in the dash.

Overall, the interior feels less modern than Honda's Odyssey – but somehow, that's not a bad thing. It all works quite nicely.

Getting into the second row is obviously never an issue, thanks to the powered sliding doors. You can open and close them from a variety of places – overhead buttons at the front, grabbing the inside or outside handles on the door itself, a small button on the inside of the B-pillar at the front edge of the door or using the key fob.

The second row is spacious feeling, but I was surprised that there was not more head room. With that said, there was enough for me at 5'10". The seats are extremely comfortable, and are adjustable via reclining and sliding functions. You'll find huge tracks in the floor to slide the seats fore and aft. Speaking from personal experience, those tracks are magnets for every bit of dirt, grime, food and tiny pebbles that your family will track into the Sienna. That would be something to keep an eye on. There's a rear climate control panel and excellent ceiling-ducted air-conditioning and the back of the centre console has a couple of flip-out cupholders as well as a household plug (thank you Toyota!).

We liked the bag hooks on the back of the front seats, which allowed us to set up garbage bags for our kids – perfect for road trips, and even everyday use.

Because the second row is a walk-through configuration, kids can get just head back that way – it's a bit tight for an adult to squeeze to the back that way though. That's not a problem though as the second row seats easily tip and then slide forward and out of the way. The third row has three seats, each with head rest and seat belt. I found the room to be adequate for adults. Headroom was just enough for me, and same goes for the leg room – but our kids were very happy back there. The outboard seats get cupholders and a lidded organizer bin (each of which contains a headphone plug and volume control knob). Our kids loved the airplane-style eyeball reading lights overhead – each of the four outboard seating positions in the two back rows gets one.

Rear seat entertainment is handled by a huge 16.4-inch screen – wide enough to be used as a split screen – that folds down out of the ceiling, conveniently blocking your rear-view mirror by the way. Inputs include a Blu-Ray player, an HDMI plug and a set of RCA inputs, in case you wanted to travel back in time and bring a VCR or something like that. You also get two sets of wireless headphones with this system. If you're accommodating child seats, you'll find a total of four sets of ISOFIX anchors – two in the second and two in the third row. All side windows in the second and third rows have manual sunshades, and there are powered rear vent windows. Rear passengers also get to enjoy the airiness that a large second sunroof adds – we loved that it opens just like the front one – an unexpected feature.

Pop the power tail gate and even with all seats in use, you get a large 1,110 litre trunk. We loved the deep well behind the third row. There are tons of bag hooks, an organizer bin on one side and two power ports – a very convenient 120V household plug and a 12V plug as well. It is plenty of space – we did a long weekend road trip to a wedding with our family of five and we brought a sixth person, her luggage and a new puppy home (along with his kennel) – everything fit behind the third row. If that's not enough space for you, you can always fold the third row flat into the well, making for a very large 2470 litre space. Something to note - folding the third row seats back up requires a significant effort on a pull handle, which flips the seats up and slings them forward and eventually locks them into place – it works but it's not nearly as easy, slick or intuitive as in the Honday Odyssey.

And hey, if you feel like turning your van into a PokéStop, go ahead and take the second row out – you'll be left with a cavernous 4,250 litres of cargo space. Although I wouldn't recommend luring people into a van, even if it's in the name of Pokémon Go. It could look bad.

There's nothing new going on under the hood. Toyota's 3.5L V6 continues to soldier on, putting out 266 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque in this application. They're still sticking with the six-speed automatic transmission, and my vehicle had the all-wheel drive drivetrain. This has long been Toyota's exclusive domain. If you want an all-wheel drive mini-van, you're looking at Siennas and... Siennas. It all adds up though, making for a portly 2115 kg van. Obviously nobody is going to expect stellar fuel economy from a 7-passenger all-wheel drive van. Toyota rates this configuration at 14.4 L/100 km in town and 10.2 L/100 km on the highway.

We ended up averaging 11.3 L/100 km during a just-over-1000 km week that included over 600 km on the highway. Of note, we were averaging around 130 km/h on the highway just to keep up with the Alberta long weekend traffic – my excuse is that we were trying to be on time for the wedding rehearsal. That's the truth.

Get ready for an overdose on the word "smooth". It applies to so much when it comes to driving this van. I found the Sienna's acceleration to be fine, particularly around town. It has enough power to pull of things like passing on the highway, or pulling into traffic as well. It's not a particularly fast vehicle, but that's perfectly acceptable for this category. However you choose to drive it, it will accelerate smoothly – easing ahead from a stop, hammering on it to pass someone on the highway, you name it.

The transmission? Yes, it's smooth. As you'd expect, it almost immediately hunts for a higher gear to save some fuel. That is perfectly fine for this vehicle, but if it irks you, you can avoid that by putting it in Sport mode. You can also shift gears manually using the gear selector.

Oh hey, let's talk about the ride, since you're probably wondering. I came up with a special word to describe it – smooth. Honestly, this thing is just a smooth operator all around. The suspension is beautifully sorted and it soaks up any hits, big or small, in town or on the highway. That's an especially neat trick, since it sits on run-flat all-season tires, which are usually the cause behind a slappy, harsh ride. It even handles pretty well for a mini-van.

Parking the Sienna is a joy, thanks to the back-up camera, parking sensors all around and power-folding mirrors – and an astoundingly tight turning circle. Visibility out of the Sienna is very good – the one exception is the third-row headrests intruding on your rear view. If they're not in use, they can be folded down. Night visibility was enhanced by the bright HID headlights.

Everything you'd expect from a mini-van is here – it's spacious, comfortable, competent and, in this trim, luxurious. Yes, it is expensive, but it's still about three grand less than a loaded Chrysler Pacifica (which isn't available with all-wheel drive, may I add). It should be reliable, resell for a relative fortune and do everything you ask of it for however long you own it.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high. She always loved her mini-van, an Odyssey, and this one ranked equally high. She said it was very easy to drive and park, despite its size, and it was easy to use all the functions inside.

I found that the Sienna did everything well and if you're in the market for a mini-van, I highly recommend taking one for a drive. It should be one of the top two on your shopping list.

Model Tested 2016 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD
Base Price $42,375
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,760
Price as Tested $51,560
Optional Equipment
$7,325 – Limited Package