There’s little in life that’s more rewarding than a family vacation coupled with a road trip.
That’s exactly why I arranged a loan of what’s arguably the best family hauler in the land to coincide with this year’s week away: the 2023 Toyota Sienna.
Except for during the pandemic, my family – along with my parents – has travelled for years to the coast of Maine for a week-long respite by the Atlantic Ocean. While we’ve travelled in an SUV in the past, there’s simply no substitute for a minivan. Much of that has to do with the thoughtfulness and engineering built right in, not to mention the outright family-friendliness on display.
Crazy though it may be to think a minivan can be attractive, the current Sienna leans on some of its most attractive stablemates for inspiration. The Highlander, Supra (I’m sober – check the taillights), and others to create a rather dynamic swagger-wagon.
There are a few stylish colours to choose from, including the new-for-2023 cement applied to the Sienna XSE AWD tested here. However, it’s unfortunate that Toyota Canada doesn’t offer the Woodland trim that rides a little higher than the rest; that’s exclusive to the United States.
The 2023 Toyota Sienna is loaded with standard advanced safety features. Forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic, among others, are all included across the lineup. The latter proved to be far too finicky to be used regularly. It had a hard time distinguishing lanes and painted lines as it constantly adjusted its trajectory even while going straight.
The base Sienna LE includes heated front seats and steering wheel, a nine-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power sliding doors, and much more. Unfortunately, a power hatch and adjustable lumbar support aren’t part of the entry-level package. Both are part of the XLE trim, but bizarrely, that’s the only trim that isn’t offered with all-wheel drive.
The XSE trim tested here was heavily kitted, with an eight-way power driver’s seat, upgraded stereo, LED headlights, and a power sunroof. Being something of a sporty trim, it also gets a sport-tuned suspension.
No other vehicle is as user-friendly as a minivan, period. The 2023 Toyota Sienna excels at being good to its owners by providing endless storage options, tons of cupholders, and the impossible ease of exit and entry into the second- and third rows thanks to the sliding doors. Meanwhile, this trim’s long-slide second-row captain’s chairs provide extra comfort and ease of access to the rearmost seats.
This is where the minivan kills all SUVs, save the largest three-row behemoths like the Chevrolet Suburban. With seating for seven or (eight passengers), no SUV delivers this much usable cargo volume with all seats occupied. With 949 L available, I managed to fit three pieces of luggage, two plastic boxes (one loaded with toys for the kids), various other bags, and a small cooler – all behind the third row and with the tailgate shut.
Those seated in the rearmost row won’t suffer much, either. As the kids’ boosters were set on the captain seats, two average adults sat back there for a total of 13 hours over roughly 1,100 km and lived to tell the tale. One note about the stowable 60/40 third-row seats: they don’t latch into place when tucked in the floor, leading them to bounce and thump over bumpy surfaces.
The front seats are sufficiently accommodating; however, without lumbar support, their level of comfort dwindles after an hour or so for most adults. The synthetic leather upholstery in the XSE is durable and is easy to clean – ask me how I know.
The current-generation Sienna solely offers a hybrid powertrain. With only the front wheels – or all four of them – driven, output is a steady 245 hp. While the front-wheel drive version picks up nicely, the all-wheel drive version benefits from the extra instant thrust of a rear-mounted electric motor. Though it’s not quicker or technically more powerful, the supplemental oomph is noticeable from a dead stop. Despite the modest power figure, the Sienna gets out of its own way with surprising gusto.
I’ve driven the Sienna on four different occasions over nearly four years, and I’ll admit that I’ve come to accept the transmission’s occasional tendency to drone. The best approach is to leave the drive mode in eco and roll into the throttle. Doing so limits the tendency of the automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) to hold a specific engine speed for too long.
Driving Feel: 8.5/10
Compared to the front-wheel-drive version, this XSE with its sport suspension and four-wheel traction felt a bit harsh in its ride with no improvements in driving dynamics. Of course, this could just as well come down to the suspension as it could the XSE’s slightly larger 18-inch wheels (the base LE rides on 17-inch wheels). Impressively, the turning radius is tight and the overall manoeuvrability is good. Few (if any) other vehicles this size are as manageable in tight quarters. Braking performance is reassuring no matter how loaded the minivan is.
Fuel Economy: 10/10
Hands down, the 2023 Toyota Sienna is the most fuel-efficient minivan in the segment, and perhaps the most efficient seven-plus passenger family vehicle in Canada. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) reports an average of 6.6 L/100 km for the front-wheel-drive version, while driving extra wheels pushes that to 6.7. My testing returned a slightly worse 7.1L/100 km, although it was fitted with a rooftop cargo box and packed with about 386 kg (850 lb) of humans and gear.
The 2023 Sienna starts at $42,150, making it the second cheapest entry in the four-vehicle segment behind the Kia Carnival that’s priced at just under $37,000. The price rises with all-wheel drive, while desirable packages will push it past the $50,000 mark. Even at that price point, however, a family still gets the most efficient and capable minivan there is.
Those who want it all will find luxury and premium features in the $60,390 Limited. If your budget allows for it, you’ll never regret it. The smart money is on the LE AWD; however, the XSE AWD is the ideal model, save for the sport suspension.
This may be the shortest summary ever for a review on AutoTrader: buy a 2023 Toyota Sienna. There are no alternatives that offer this level of efficiency with all-wheel traction and countless safety and comfort features.
|Engine Cylinders||Hybrid I4|
|Peak Horsepower||245 hp|
|Fuel Economy||6.8 / 6.6 / 6.7 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||949 / 2,129 / 2,860 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row|
|Model Tested||2023 Toyota Sienna XSE AWD|
|Price as Tested||$1,930 $57,220|
$5,500 – Technology package, $5,500