Photo: Ron Sessions
With the ascendance in popularity of SUVs in today’s market, minivans don’t currently enjoy the wide market acceptance they did in the 1980s and 1990s. Soccer mom stigma notwithstanding, a dedicated core of buyers, ranging from those with young families to pet owners, seniors and those with impaired mobility, support a market for about a half million minivan sales each year.
Major competitors to the Toyota Sienna include the Honda Odyssey, Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Pacifica and Chrysler Voyager with a much smaller number of minivan buyers opting for the Kia Sedona and Mercedes-Benz Metris.
The Sienna is the only current minivan offering a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, although the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica will add AWD as an option.
The 2020 Sienna lineup consists of L, LE, SE, SE Premium, XLE, XLE Premium, Limited and Limited Premium trims. Including $1,095 destination charge, base prices run from $32,660 to $50,435. For purposes of this review, J.D. Power tested a midlevel Toyota Sienna SE Premium with front-wheel drive, and optional roof rack cross bars, alloy wheel locks, carpeted floor mats and sill protectors. The total came to $45,394 with destination. All-wheel drive is available at extra cost on all but the base Sienna L model.
Toyota is slated to bring out an all-new Sienna for the 2021 model year.
What Owners Say
Before digging into the findings of our 2020 Toyota Sienna evaluation, let’s take a look at who is the buyer for this midsize minivan and examine what they like most and least about it according to the 2019 J.D. Power U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) study data.
In all major metrics, the Toyota Sienna buyer is typical of midsize minivan buyers in general. In the study, Sienna respondents were 63% male with a median age of 55 compared to 61% male and 50 years old for the minivan segment. The largest buyer demographic was 70 years and older, constituting 25% of Sienna buyers vs 19% in the segment. Of note, there were no minivan buyers reporting back, either for Sienna or in the segment, under 25 years old. Median household income of respondents was $113,771 for Sienna and $115,895 for minivans as a whole.
The survey shows minivan buyers are a practical lot. A near unanimous 97% of Sienna respondents reported that reliability was a primary purchase consideration (same as for the segment), 95% said quality of workmanship was a top must-have (vs 92% for minivans in general) and 93% would avoid vehicles with high maintenance costs (same percentage as for all minivans).
Not surprisingly, 87% of Sienna buyers indicated they needed a vehicle to accommodate a busy lifestyle (vs 90% for the minivan segment). And 87% of Sienna respondents said they would pay extra for the latest safety gear (vs 86% of all minivan buyers).
When asked to describe themselves, 45% of Sienna buyers indicated “Hometown Retired” vs 35% for all minivan buyers. Retired, perhaps, but still active, both 84% of Sienna buyers and minivan buyers in general said that another primary purchase consideration was getting a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration.
When it came time for Sienna owners to describe the minivan’s best and worst aspects, they listed interior space, storage, visibility, safety, interior layout and driving dynamics as favorites. Least favorite areas involved the transmission, fuel economy, infotainment and navigation systems.
What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert gives his own perceptions about how the 2020 Toyota Sienna measures up in each of the 10 categories that make up the J.D. Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.
Photo: Ron Sessions
Although the bones of the current Sienna date back to the 2011 model year when Toyota’s minivan got a major makeover, its current styling broke cover in 2017. At that time, the Sienna received updated sheet metal that included more angular body panels all around and a large-mouth, downturned lower grille variations of which appeared across much of Toyota’s passenger-car lineup.
Sienna owners identify as practical in most metrics but apparently not to the exclusion of attractive design. In the APEAL study, the styling and appearance of both the front and rear ends of Toyota’s minivan were listed as top weaknesses.
To spice things up a bit for 2020, Toyota has added a Nightshade Edition for Sienna SE and SE Premium trims. Likely aimed at bolstering the minivan’s appeal to the under-70-year-old crowd, the Nightshade Sienna gains monochromatic black trim. Features include a black-mesh sport grille, black door handles and mirror caps, black-painted 18- or 19-inch alloy wheels, black Toyota badges and a black spoiler to boot. If Darth Vader drove a minivan, this might be it.
Photo: Ron Sessions
First, getting into the cabin is a breeze, especially with the dual sliding doors for easy kid-, pet- and grandparent access to the second- and third-row seats. These are power operated on all but the base L model. SE-and-higher trims add a power liftgate for the cargo bay. The shifter for the automatic transmission is on the center of the dash, above the center console, freeing up floor space for through-the-van access. A generous glass area means everyone gets a good view of the outside world while standard dark-tint privacy glass for the rear windows keeps prying eyes to themselves. All but the base L model get pull-up manual sunshades for the second- and third rows.
A power tilt/slide moonroof is standard in SLE Premium, XLE and XLE Premium with a panoramic dual moonroof in the Limited and Limited Premium. Standard tilt/telescope steering wheel, leather-wrapped in SE and higher trims and heated in Limited models.
From the don’t make me come back there file, Driver Easy Speak, works through the rear speakers kind of like a public address system for parents in the front seats to directly address children in the rear. It’s standard in SE Premium, XLE Premium, Limited and Limited Premium trims. A super wide-angle conversation mirror, standard in all trims, adds a visual component to the parental supervision of the aft seat patrons.
Photo: Ron Sessions
As is the norm with most modern minivans, the Sienna can be configured as a 7- or 8-passenger vehicle, with a pair of bucket seats up front, a choice of a three-person 40/20/40 split bench or a pair of captain’s chairs for the second row and a three-across 60/40 split third-row bench. The major differentiator for the Sienna is its second-row seats which can slide fore and aft an amazing 23 inches. Slid fully to the rear, this creates limousine-like spaciousness for second-row passengers. Or pushed nearly flush with the back of the front seats, a young child in the middle position of a second-row bench seat is within easy tending range of a watchful parent.
Owners rank the Sienna’s second-row seat room as one of its top features.
The second-row seats slide forward to ease access to the third-row bench, but do not fold into the floor as with the Dodge Grand Caravan or Chrysler Pacifica. A single latch release mechanism allows the second-row seats to be removed, however, and together with the fold-into-floor third-row seats, creates a massive 150 cubic-foot cargo area aft of the front seats. That’s nearly 20% more cargo space than available in the much larger Chevrolet Suburban. You’ll need your Wheaties, though, as the second-row seats are heavy and cumbersome to lift out. And when stored in your garage, they’re obviously not available for carrying passengers until they’re lugged back into the van and re-latched in place.
The base L and LE feature cloth-covered seats with SE and higher trims getting leather-covered front- and second-row seats and faux-leather third-row chairs.
Climate Control System
Photo: Ron Sessions
A three-zone automatic climate control system is standard in all models, with dual controls for front passengers and separate controls for those in the second row.
Few systems in the market today are this simple to use. The temperature adjusting knobs for all three zones are large as are the fan speed and mode buttons. Unlike some other vehicles with rows of small, similar-looking buttons or electronic systems that force the user to scroll through menus in the center display screen, the Sienna climate-control system has its own large-font display. APEAL study respondents gave the Sienna high marks for the ease of using the heating and A/C controls and adjusting the airflow.
Photo: Ron Sessions
Regardless of trim level, all Siennas feature an infotainment system with a 7-inch color touchscreen. Although somewhat dated looking, it’s easy to use with content accessed via the touchscreen itself, analog volume and tuning knobs, hard shortcut buttons flanking the screen, and voice or steering wheel commands. There are no tricky remote control wheels or touchpads to navigate.
That said, the APEAL study showed some owners considered the ease of use and effectiveness of the navigation system to be a weakness. A basic Scout GPS Link system that works with the owner’s Bluetooth-enabled cellphone is standard in Sienna L, LE, SE and XLE trims with a more traditional imbedded navigation system standard in SE Premium, XLE Premium, Limited and Limited Premium trims.
On all but the base Sienna L, the standard 6-speaker AM/FM stereo includes a CD player, HD Radio, SiriusXM and in-van 4G LTE WiFi by Verizon for up to five devices plus 3 years of Safety Connect. SE Premium, Limited and Limited Premium trims upgrade the audio to a 10-speaker JBL system with Clari-Fi music restoration software the latter of which is designed to bring back the sharpness and fidelity to compressed music files.
The Sienna has five USB 2.0 ports onboard for powering mobile devices.
Apple CarPlay cellphone mirroring is standard with all trims but Android Auto is not available. Toyota has been rolling out Android Auto as it redesigns its vehicles and it’s likely the feature will be standard in the 2021 Sienna.
A 16.4-inch wide-screen Blu-Ray entertainment system for rear-seat patrons is standard in upper Sienna trims. The system can also stream content from Android devices.
Storage and Space
Photo: Ron Sessions
In case you didn’t read the earlier section on seats, it bears worth repeating that the midsize Toyota Sienna offers up to 150 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats with second-row seats removed. Or, up to 117.6 cubic feet with the second-row seats just folded and slid forward. The big enabler is the third-row seat that folds completely into a deep well in the cargo floor when not in use. With the third-row seat up, the cargo well can swallow a huge amount of luggage or groceries and because it is deep, you don’t have to worry about loose cucumbers or watermelons rolling around.
APEAL study respondents rated the Sienna’s amount of storage space highly. Aside from the big spaces, they commented positively on the usefulness of some of the smaller ones, such as the dual gloveboxes on the Sienna’s dashboard as well as the center console storage compartment.
No minivan worth its salt would skimp on cupholders; depending on the trim level, the Sienna has no less than six and as many as 12.
Visibility and Safety
Photo: Ron Sessions
Although the Sienna doesn’t have the high-seating position coveted by many SUV buyers, it does offer a generous glass area with few visual obstructions. Also, the Sienna doesn’t have the tall hood found in many SUVs. In the APEAL study, owners ranked the Sienna’s outward visibility when changing lanes and forward visibility from the driver’s seat as among its top strengths.
When it is redesigned for the 2021 model year, the Sienna will likely get much of the advanced safety technology currently found in Toyota’s latest products. The 2020 model now comes with standard dynamic cruise control, automatic high beams, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic emergency braking and a backup camera. Optional on the SE grade and standard on XLE and Limited are blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring which use radar sensors alert drivers to unseen vehicles or pedestrians behind them or obscured by parked vehicles. A 360-degree bird’s eye view camera exclusive to Limited Premium trim gives an overhead view of the Sienna and its immediate surroundings in real time. Sonar-based parking assist for both the front and rear is available on higher trims as well.
Engine and Transmission
Photo: Ron Sessions
Toyota keeps it simple with the Sienna, offering a single, proven powertrain combination. A 296-hp 3.5-liter V6 used extensively across the Toyota lineup delivers ample performance and it is hooked to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The dash mounted automatic shifter takes some getting used to at first, mainly because it’s farther forward than in most cars and the zig-zag shape of the gate is uncommon. I found the transmission shifts to be smooth and seamless, however, transmission smoothness when shifting was listed by owners as the Sienna’s top weakness in the APEAL study.
EPA estimates are 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway/22 mpg combined for front-drive models and 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway/20 mpg with AWD. In a week that involved at lot of freeway driving, I managed an indicated 25.2 mpg, not too shabby for a 4,500-lb vehicle. That said, drivers with a heavier right foot or usage that involves a lot of short trips may not get the same results; APEAL study respondents listed fuel economy as one of the Sienna’s weaknesses.
Even though the Sienna is built using passenger-car rather than truck components, it’s a minivan with the capability to carry a lot of people and their duffel, often over long distances. Suspension tuning prioritizes ride quality over crisp handling and the electrically boosted steering is precise and nicely weighted if not overly communicative. But if you are going to take a long road trip with a lot of passengers and stuff, this is what you want.
There is a bit more engine noise at wide throttle openings and wind noise than I expected, keeping in mind that the bones of the 2020 model date back to 2011. These areas likely will be addressed with the 2021 model.
For a sportier take on a minivan, the SE model brings sport-tuned suspension and steering and tire sizes up to meatier 235/50R19s. All-wheel-drive models have no spare and require the use of run-flat tires.
As the Toyota Sienna enters its final year before a major update, it still presents a solid purchase opportunity. It offers much more room than an SUV of similar size, its sliding side doors are far easier for children, pets, seniors and mobility-challenged folks to get in and out of the minivan’s spacious interior and the third row can seat three full-grown adults with dignity. The Sienna’s sliding second-row seats can provide limousine-like comfort worthy of captains of industry while a wide-screen rear-seat entertainment system can make social distancing on the run bearable. Do-it-yourselfers can slide a 4×8 ft sheet of plywood into the cargo bay. And when the weather turns sour, all-wheel drive can find purchase at all four wheels. No other 2020 model minivan can do that. There aren’t many vehicles out there that are as versatile as a minivan, even if right now, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for a Sienna with Android Auto.
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