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PowerSteering: 2018 Toyota Sienna Review

PowerSteering: 2018 Toyota Sienna Review

By Liz Kim, May 31, 2018
Introduction

Despite the prolific way that manufacturers are churning out crossover utility vehicles – some might say that the CUV market is saturated, at this point – the dependable old minivan isn’t going anywhere.

With tons more space than a typical crossover (even full-size SUVs), two handy sliding side doors, and an interior designed from its inception to be comfortable, spacious and friendly for passengers, a minivan is the top choice for legions of families who need to carry people and their gear in the most efficient way possible.

Minivan loyalists are thankful that a handful of automakers still churn them out using the tried and true formula, as many car companies have deleted them from their rosters of vehicles. For 2018, you can get a Chrysler Pacifica, a Dodge Grand Caravan, a Honda Odyssey, a Kia Sedona, or a Toyota Sienna. Those are the bruised and battered warriors left in the battlefield, unless you add the Ford Transit Connect and Mercedes-Benz Metris, each of which is based on European commercial vans.

The Chrysler and Honda still glitter with the glint of newness from their recent redesigns, but the aging Toyota Sienna still gets plenty of love from families on the go, even though it last saw a complete re-do back in 2011. Nevertheless, Toyota makes numerous changes to the 2018 Sienna, from revised front styling to new infotainment and safety technologies.

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Toyota Sienna SE equipped with the Preferred Package and a set of floor mats. The price came to $41,160, including the $1,045 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Toyota Sienna, it is helpful to understand who buys this minivan, and what they like most and least about their Siennas.

Compared to the entire minivan segment, Sienna owners are younger (48 years of age vs. 55) and earn higher incomes ($111,500 median annual household income vs. $106,290). Slight more Sienna owners are female (39% vs. 37% for the segment).

For the most part, the Sienna owner psychographic profile matches that of all minivan buyers.

The biggest difference, of course, is that Sienna owners are far less likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (41% vs. 63%). Toyota builds the Sienna in Indiana. Chrysler builds the Pacifica in Canada. And it could be argued that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V., registered in the Netherlands and headquartered in London, England, isn’t actually a “domestic” company.

Sienna owners are more likely to agree that they will pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (58% vs. 45%), and are more likely to strongly agree that their first consideration in choosing a vehicle is reliability (71% vs. 59%). They’re less likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (53% vs. 57%), and are more likely to agree that to them a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (56% vs. 50%).

Owners report that their favorite things about the Sienna are (in descending order) the storage and space, visibility and safety, interior design, driving dynamics, and exterior design. Owners indicate that their least favorite things about the Sienna are (in descending order) the seats, infotainment system, climate control system, engine/transmission, and, by a significant margin fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the Toyota Sienna measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2017 APEAL Study.

Exterior

You don’t buy a minivan for its looks. You get one for its versatility. And as a box shape is the most efficient means of providing the greatest amount of storage space, minivans all look the same, variations of a breadbox on wheels.

Toyota, however, is the only company selling a sporty minivan, taking the form of the Sienna SE. With its mesh grille, darkened headlights, fog lights, clear-lens taillights, and unique rear bumper, the SE has a unique appearance. What really sets it apart, though, are the gray 19-inch alloy wheels.

Is this treatment enough to sway you in favor of the 2018 Sienna? Probably not. But it does make it stand out, even if it’s just by a little.

Interior

Form follows function when it comes to the Sienna’s interior. From the towering dashboard to the exposed seat tracks in the floor, Toyota won’t be accused of emphasizing style over purpose.

Sienna owners, however, appear to appreciate the approach. There is a no-nonsense sensibility to the cabin, where logical control placement, clear markings and displays, and numerous storage compartments are all within easy sight and reach.

To give the Sienna SE a unique interior flavor, Toyota adds special metallic finish trim and white gauges. Unfortunately, the latter change makes it hard to read the fuel level and easy to misgauge how much you have left before draining the tank.

Seats

Drivers will be happy in the Sienna SE’s heated, white-stitched, black leather seat. It offers plenty of adjustment, and you sit up tall behind the steering wheel in a van-like position. The front passenger’s seat is also comfortable, but lacks a seat height adjuster.

Siennas with 8-passenger seating include a removable jump seat between the second-row captain’s chairs. This added position is uncomfortable for teenagers and grown-ups, and most owners are likely to remove and store this center section. The captain’s chairs are quite comfortable, though, and significant seat track travel combined with standard 3-zone climate control guarantees that even the tallest of passengers will be satisfied.

Third-row seat comfort is good, too. Thigh support and foot space could be better, but compared to a typical midsize crossover SUV the Sienna is roomier in this respect. Entry and exit are on par with other minivans, though you cannot tilt and slide the right-side captain’s chair if a child safety seat is installed in that location.

Climate Control System

Toyota uses a stacked dual-zone automatic climate control panel design, necessitated by the Sienna’s dashboard-mounted transmission lever.

The mix of different sized buttons and knobs appears jumbled at first, but because primary functions related to temperature and defrosters are prioritized, the system is easy enough to use. Plus, Toyota makes it simple to adjust rear temperature when your little ones cannot be trusted to moderate their own environment.

Testing conditions during springtime in Southern California revealed no problems with heating and cooling, and sliding side door and third-row window shades can further cut down on sun glare. Up front, however, especially during mid-day, solar heating made my husband and I wish for a ventilated front seat option.

Infotainment System

The latest version of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is included with all 2018 Sienna models.

No, it still doesn’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. What it does have is a standard connected navigation app that runs on your smartphone data plan, along with stereo volume and tuning knobs that could stand to be a little larger and protrude out a little further than they do.

Toyota says it has improved Entune’s graphics while making the system faster to respond to inputs. All but the base L trim level come standard with Safety Connect services, which includes automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, and other functions. It is free for the first year, and then you’ll need to pay for it.

My test vehicle had the top version of Entune including a dynamic navigation system with voice recognition and point-of-interest search capability. It did not have the JBL premium sound system that Toyota offers for some versions of the Sienna, which is why the stereo didn’t sound all that great.

My family and I headed out for a day at Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, Calif. Deciding that this would be a perfect time to test the dynamic navigation with POI search, I requested, by voice, directions to “Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, California.” The technology was unable to calculate directions, but my iPhone and Siri easily found the location, and the address, and directed us there without trouble.

My test vehicle also lacked the Sienna’s available widescreen rear-seat entertainment system. It allows dual-screen viewing of different media, and for 2018 adds Android streaming capability.

Storage and Space

Like all minivans do, the Sienna supplies plenty of storage and space for you, your loved ones, and all of your stuff.

As far as cabin storage goes, I thought the center console storage bin between the front seats was on the small side, both in terms of its volume and the size of the tray on its lid. Otherwise, everything from the dual glove boxes to the sizable door panel bins awaits to swallow up all manner of road-trip detritus.

Cargo space is generous, too. Behind the rear seats, the Sienna supplies 39.1 cu.-ft. of storage space. Dump the third-row seats into the floor well, and the van can easily tackle 87.1 cu.-ft. of cargo. To put that into perspective, a Sienna holds five people and that much stuff, while the largest of the midsize crossover SUVs holds that much stuff and only two people.

Maximum cargo capacity measures 150 cu.-ft. However, to access that much room, you need to unlatch and unload the second-row captain’s chairs, and they’re really heavy.

Visibility and Safety

With it’s tall, commanding driving position, wide side mirrors, and standard reversing camera, the Sienna is easy enough to see out of. A blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert is available, but only for the SE, XLE, and Limited trim levels. Exclusive to Limited trim: a new-for-2018 360-degree camera system.

Every 2018 Sienna is equipped with standard Toyota Safety Sense. This suite of driver assistance and collision avoidance systems includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, automatic high-beam headlights, a pedestrian detection system, and more.

No other minivan offers those features as standard equipment for 2018, and it’s a good thing the Sienna does because, aside from the ancient Dodge Grand Caravan, it is the only tested minivan for sale in 2018 that does not earn a “Top Safety Pick” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Engine/Transmission

In 2017, Toyota added a new direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 engine and a new direct-shift 8-speed automatic transmission to the Sienna. The goal was to improve performance and fuel economy, to the tune of 296 horsepower and 22 mpg in combined driving.

Despite this upgrade, and despite Toyota’s free scheduled maintenance plan for two years or 25,000 miles, owners of the 2017 Sienna ranked the van’s engine and transmission almost last on the list of things they like about their vehicles. Only fuel economy rated lower.

Aside from the transmission’s tendency to upshift quickly when accelerating gently, and the fact that in my testing the Sienna came nowhere near the official EPA fuel economy rating, I found the powertrain to be satisfying. Acceleration is not a problem, and depending on the situation, if you’re not careful, you can easily chirp the front tires.

Plus, the Sienna is the only minivan to offer all-wheel drive as an option. If you live where snow covered or wet roads are common, Toyota has you covered.

Fuel Economy

On my test loop, the Sienna SE averaged 19 mpg. Based on what the EPA says, I was expecting 22 mpg. That represents a significant difference between expectation and reality, and easily explains why fuel economy and the engine/transmission are dissatisfying to Sienna owners.

Driving Dynamics

Choose SE trim, and your Sienna gets more than just a set of 19-inch wheels. My test vehicle had remarkably aggressive Dunlop SP Sport rubber, too, and all SE variants feature sport-tuned steering and suspension components. These changes make the Sienna SE more than just a styling exercise. This van is actually kind of fun to drive.

Steering heft is a bit too heavy, though, making it harder to take advantage of the tight turning radius. Ride quality is fine, though, the Sienna SE feeling solid and well connected to the road, and the brakes were a joy to operate at all times.

Toyota says it has added an acoustic windshield to SE, XLE and Limited trim for 2018, and the top trim also gets acoustic laminated front side glass. Despite these upgrades, though, too much noise still filters through.

Final Impressions

Toyota has regularly updated the Sienna in an attempt to keep up with the competition, from strengthening the underlying vehicle architecture a couple of years back to updating the van’s tech systems this year.

Nevertheless, the Sienna is showing its age, especially in comparison to the brand-new 2018 Honda Odyssey and the recently introduced Chrysler Pacifica, and people who place a high priority on collision safety might get turned off by the Sienna’s lack of a “Top Safety Pick” rating.

Still, this is a practical vehicle loaded with thoughtful details. And, it’s the only minivan offered with all-wheel drive and a genuine sport-tuned trim level. If those things are important to you, this Toyota is the only choice in the segment.

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 Toyota Sienna review.
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