First things first, let’s get this out of the way: Minivans are awesome. As a car reviewer who’s been at it for six years now, I’ve penned over two hundred reviews of vehicles ranging from subcompact economy cars to pickup trucks, to fire-breathing supercars. Even before I joined Daddy’s Digest, and before I became a dad myself, I always enjoyed the down-to-earth usefulness of minivans. This format is the absolute best at transporting lots of people and/or cargo and does it all in relative comfort, safety, and affordability. This week, the all-new 2021 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD is one of the most recently updated contenders in this segment, and we got to put on a few miles on one, courtesy of Toyota Canada.
Having not been updated since the 2011 model year, the outgoing Sienna was definitely getting long in the tooth, to say the least. It’s new from the ground up for 2021, and the single biggest change is the move away from a V6 engine – all Siennas are now hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs). Unlike full battery electric vehicles (BEVs), hybrids do not require any sort of plugging in and have a conventional gasoline engine paired with an electric motor. The two work together to provide acceleration, and the motor essentially turns in reverse while braking to charge a small battery. Rather than waste energy through heat and friction when using conventional brakes, the energy is recovered and stored in the battery for later use.
Long story short, for the less technically inclined: fuel economy improves by a sizable margin – over forty percent, to be exact! By comparison, the Sienna is actually slightly more efficient than non-hybrid versions of the compact Toyota Corolla, like the Apex Edition reviewed last week. The extra efficiency does come at a price, however, and that’s in the overall power output. While the 2020 Sienna made 296 horsepower, the 2021 hybrid models make 245. This is not to say that the Sienna is now underpowered, however – it simply moves from near-sports car status (a minivan with nearly 300 horsepower?!), to more-than-adequate. I’d say that the fuel consumption returns on your pocketbook are more than worth it.
Compared to crossover sport utility vehicles, which are all the rage these days, the Sienna minivan has several big advantages: sliding doors are indispensable in parking lots in terms of ingress and egress, and help to avoid giving door dings to your neighbours. Second and third-row legroom cannot be touched by just about any crossover, and there’s still a decent amount of cargo space behind the third row. That said, in the Sienna specifically, it’s important to note that prospective buyers should check third-row headroom closely if they will regularly carry passengers over six feet tall back there. A rear-facing infant seat installs and fits very easily via ISOFIX/LATCH anchors at all second and third-row seating positions.
Unlike some other minivans that came before it, the 2021 Sienna does have a few drawbacks in day-to-day practicality. The second-row captain’s chairs can be slid forward and partially folded, but are not removable, thus reducing the maximum cargo capacity somewhat. This is due to the fact that Toyota has opted to have a side airbag in these seats. For families who don’t intend to remove the second row, the added safety can be considered a bonus. Additionally, as with many other vehicles on the market today, the Sienna does not include a spare tire – make sure you have a good roadside assistance plan in place.
Other standard safety features on the Sienna include the Toyota Safety Sense system, which brings on just about all of the autonomous safety functions that many cars are coming with today. TSS-P, as it’s called, is made up of forward-collision warnings with pedestrian and (daytime) cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with lane-keep steering assist, lane tracing steering assist, sway warning, and automatic high beams. These functions tend to intervene when truly warranted, and aren’t intrusive as long as you are driving safely. If a driver finds that the system impedes them, they may want to clean up their bad habits!
With an all-new chassis and suspension design, the 2021 Sienna Limited rides and handles as well as a conventional car – something that can be a trade-off in an SUV. The cabin is whisper-quiet at any speed and the Limited trim features plenty of luxury look-and-feel. There’s a nifty floating centre console with plenty of storage underneath, and the 9-inch touch screen has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration compatibility. Other features in the Limited’s cabin include heated/ventilated front seats with driver’s seat position memory, a heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, four-zone automatic climate control, kick sensors for the power side and rear doors, wireless phone charging, JBL premium audio, and a rear entertainment system.
By way of a phone app, Toyota has their Connected Services technology available, which can do things like report door lock status, window open/closed status, and last parked location. It can remotely lock and unlock the doors, and start or stop the engine for pre-heating or cooling. There are also overall vehicle health reports and notifications that can be sent to a smartphone about any warning lights.
Coming in at an as-tested price of $58,190 Canadian before taxes and fees, the 2021 Toyota Sienna Limited with all-wheel drive prices itself in the upper echelon of mainstream family vehicles, but it does provide near-Lexus-like luxury and overall experience. The more simply equipped LE with front-wheel drive starts at $39,990, and an LE with all-wheel drive will set you back $41,990. The hybrid Sienna strikes a good balance of fuel economy and performance and is still more practical than just about any crossover SUV. It’s a logical choice for buyers who value fewer compromises in their daily family-moving and don’t care if they’re seen as a soccer-dad minivan driver. SUVs are no longer exceptions to that perception, so one might as well choose a minivan!
Jerry Vo cut his teeth in writing as an automotive journalist and is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Having reviewed cars since 2015, he takes pride in providing relevant and technically savvy consumer advice, and is extending that over into reviews in various other categories at Daddy's Digest. He is a proud dad of one and is letting the wonderful journey of parenthood teach him new things every day.