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NOT EVERYTHING SHOULD BE A HYBRID: 2021 TOYOTA SIENNA XSE

  

Minivans are becoming an obsolete people mover as crossovers continuously take over the automotive industry. Even though minivans tend to support a few tricks of their own, the designers behind crossovers have figured out a way to incorporate some of the nifty features minivans were ever so cleverly known for. Short of an easy access sliding door, anything a minivan can do, a crossover can nearly do better. Allegedly.

With a growing family and the need for comfortable space, minivans continue to be the better alternative. But having the ability to seat 7 comfortably can’t be its only trick and therefore, it’s up to these automakers to pull out the stops to give these dying creatures a compelling case. Toyota has gone to exciting lengths revamping their popular sliding door wagon nearly after a decade of the previous generation.

Long overdue for a sprucing up, the all-new Sienna is definitely an odd looking thing. Not in a bad way like the old Nissan Quest that looked like a blow fish, but in the way that they’re actually trying to make it attractive and appealing. Taking on the latest design architecture, the Sienna has curves and dimensions to its styling.   

With five trim levels available starting just about $34,000, our sampler here sat right dab in the middle, literally in XSE form, starting at $42,000 on the dot. The XSE exuberates itself as the sportier model, so the Sienna looks very much the part of a, uhh, sporty van… the horizontal bar grille gets swapped out for the sportier styled black honeycomb mesh grille, the mirrors are covered in a piano black finish and while the 20-inch wheels definitely look the part of a edgier minivan, they were oddly enough, wheel covers. Perhaps that’s a hybrid thing, but at least when a wheel gets curbed, they’ll be cheaper to replace.  

Inside the interior has been completely modified for a more form fitting space. The driver and passenger are separated with an elongated storage cluster that comes right up the perfect height of our arms. There was very much a modern feel and flow to the cabin space with most of the controls being centered around the nicely sized 9-inch touch screen infotainment that was easy to access and control. Even grabbing the large gear select gave it a masculine approach, almost as if we were engaging drive on a piece of heavy equipment. * insert manly grunt*

Because our model was the tagged as the sportier model, the interior featured a pleasant contrast of black and white faux leather seats accented with red stitching throughout. While appealing, we’d like to see how well that white interior would hold up to a round of messy eating toddlers. As such however, this is a minivan after all and the interior is pleasantly comfortable, enormously spacious, and plenty of agility to separate the fighting party when World War III breaks loose after Tommy ate the last nugget. When the time comes to climbing in the third row, it is relatively easy, even a full-figured adult can do it without limbering up.

There is a slight problem… While we may be unfamiliar with the whole family and kids regime, seeing that this writer is single, there were some odd components to the Sienna that just didn’t feel right. Due to the capacity range-of-motion the second-row seats can slide, pushed to its furthest position means the cup holders available to that row are too far away – if I was a 10-year old thirsty for their juice, I may just unbuckle my seat belt to get to it, heck as a thirsty adult, I’d still get out of my seat. There also seem to be a lack of storage. There is a nicely placed shelf on the dash that allows things to roll around during turns and a pass thru compartment under the center console that’s sizable to fit a large purse, but that’s it… shouldn’t there be more? Lastly, the flip down entertainment system – now that DVD’s are obsolete, there is a way to connect your mobile phone to what feels like we could air stream; however, after multiple attempts with the annoyingly over complicated onboard password, we gave up trying.

It was a sad day to see Toyota drop the 3.5-liter V-6 option from the Sienna and moving forward with its hybrid only powertrain system. While better on fuel economy, there is a level of confidence the V-6 engine had that we feel the hybrid will lack. Utilizing a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and hybrid electric motor system, the Sienna makes due with a healthy 245-combined horsepower. Being fairly swift on its front-wheel drive toes, it is hearty enough to move around town without breaking a performance sweat. A third motor can be added when selecting the $760 all-wheel drive option that will drive the rear wheels.

Hybrids have certainly come a long way from what we used to remember them as, but depending on how their engineers design them, it can make or break the system. With the Sienna’s hybrid system engineered for a more economy way of driving there, the system isn’t as smooth as it can be. From a start of acceleration there a slight delay in reaction time between the electric motor and gas engine relaying communication to each other. There is a notable shutter when the hybrid system engages and disengages when stopped. And with the combined system requiring nearly 8-second to achieve 60-mph, it is a small disappointment from what the previous generation V-6 was able to accomplish.

Driving like a high-riding, plush sedan – there won’t be very much enthusiasm from behind the wheel. Managing the duty of turning the wheels, the steering is about as entertaining as a school play where your child plays a tree (…yes I played a tree… more than once.) The ride quality of the suspension was acceptable, but given the 20-inch wheels on our XSE, every surface crack felt like we were driving over a teenagers face. Luckily the single gear ratio of the continuous variable transmission drowned out the unwarranted road noise.

Unfortunately, here in the heart of Arizona, hybrid system don’t fair too well with our triple digit temperatures that cause a constant strain on the engine. Despite the Sienna being rated to average 36-mpg in the city, we were lucky to squeeze 28-mpg during our week duration – and that us trying to keep the drive mode in Eco the last few days of our loan.

We’re happy to see the all-new Toyota Sienna break into a new light of style and technology. Making a compelling case for the minivan marque however is another story. While higher trims like the Limited and Platinum models may feature a couple of tricks that crossovers can’t quite accommodate like second row reclining chairs with ottomans, the Sienna overall is lacking a certain level of expectations, especially now that we hold them to a higher standard over crossovers.

VEHICLE SPECIFICATIONS

Vehicle: 2021 Toyota Sienna Hybrid XSE
Base Price: $34,460
As-Tested Price: $42,000

PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 2.5-liter Four-Cylinder Hybrid
Horsepower: 245-Combined Horsepower
Transmission: CVT
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
MPG: 36 | 36| 36 (City | Highway | Combined)
As-Tested MPG: 28.3-MPG City (Highway MPG testing is currently suspended due to high fuel prices)
Fuel Range: 500 miles
0-60 MPH: ±8.0 seconds

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