2015 Toyota Sienna XLE Premium AWD Review
Are we sure minivans are supposed to be this good?
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: February 5th, 2015
Minivans have been around for quite some time now, and despite the onslaught of crossovers that seem determined to remove these boxy behemoths from our lives forever, they keep on chuggin'. Perhaps it's a nostalgia thing, or perhaps it's hard to find a crossover that can seat seven or eight without requiring a second mortgage. Nonetheless, it's very hard to beat the ingress and egress capability of a minivan, making it an essential piece of equipment for families that are constantly on the go.
For the longest time, many folks (myself included) have considered the Honda Odyssey to be the pick of the litter for minivan buyers. Now, though, with the refreshed-for-2015 Sienna, Toyota's mounting an offensive that Honda might not be able to hold off.
If there's one area in which you can definitively say that the Sienna trumps the Odyssey, it's the interior. Honda always did a good job with the Odyssey's interior by covering it in a litany of cheap-feeling, albeit easy-to-clean hard plastic panels. The Sienna has its fair share of harder plastics, but in the 2015 refresh, a good deal of them have been removed to make room for - insert gasp here - better ones. Yes, Toyota is banking on the fact that your children aren't so misbehaved that they will ruin the top of a dashboard.
The Sienna's interior now carries things like fake leather (ooh) with stitching (aah) and padded door trim (ooh again). It's a nice place to be, and if the kids aren't in the car, it makes you feel like you've got a little slice of quasi-luxury to call your own. The gauges are also updated, and your author feels very comfortable calling the Sienna's interior best in its class.
Most minivans on the market are not cute. There's a good reason for that; somehow, engineers must design the van to be slippery enough to keep efficiency in mind, while also working around the fact that a minivan is more or less a giant box. As a result, most minivans look like a wax sculpture that's been left out in the sun, and the Sienna is no exception. Despite an attractive freshening of the rear end, the front is just hopelessly ugly, with its high-mounted lights and awkwardly smooth front bumper. The design does contribute to a best-in-class drag coefficient (0.309, if you're into that sort of thing), but it's got a face that only a mother could love.
Ironically, my mother doesn't much care for it.
On the Road
Even though minivans are based on car bodies, they don't exactly handle like cars. Driving a minivan kind of feels like looking at that picture of fat twins on tiny motorcycles; it works, but you're always aware of the heft. Much is the same with the Sienna; it handles like a car that's too big for its britches, so it'll pitch and sway ever so slightly - although not as much as a 4Runner or other body-on-frame vehicles (minivans are unibody).
I actually walked away quite impressed with the Sienna's driving dynamics, if you can call them that. When equipped with all-wheel drive, the Sienna can get going in a hurry, even if the old-as-time-itself 3.5-liter Toyota V-6 is only mid-pack in its class in terms of power and torque. That all-wheel drive extends its helpfulness when the weather turns inclement; however, should you try to do some snow donuts in this minivan, the AWD system will abandon ship after a minute or so, leaving you with front-wheel propulsion and nothing more. In that sense, the Toyota Sienna has, in fact, confirmed that with the introduction of a family comes the death of personal fun.
As for the driver's experience in other situations, the Sienna is quite good, and it makes the Odyssey feel a bit long in the tooth. Toyota's infotainment system is artfully placed between blue-glowing touchscreen controls, all of which are easy to memorize and hit without distraction. The home screen is also the home of Driver Easy Speak, which uses the Bluetooth speaker up front to broadcast the driver's voice to the rear speakers. If I had twits for children, I could see this coming in handy. But I do not have twits for children, or any children, for that matter, so I just used it to screw with my friends and family. It also works very well for that.
The story is the same with the climate controls, which are also updated for 2015. Some of them are much closer to the driver than before, once again cutting down distraction. For the most part, climate is sort of a set-it-and-forget-it thing, but if you're in traffic and you're wondering why you've been shivering the entire time, it won't be hard to crank up the heat, whether it's for you, your passenger, or the scamps in the captain's chairs.
The XLE Premium is just about the perfect trim level for the Sienna, because it's certainly not the cheapest minivan in the segment. If you want a topped-out, fully-loaded AWD Sienna Limited Premium, you're going to spend nearly $50,000. Can working families that aren't employed by Goldman Sachs even afford a $50,000 minivan?
Either way, aside from the sticker shock, and its looks, there isn't much to dislike about the 2015 Sienna. AWD means lower gas mileage, which may be a concern for frugal buyers; but, at the same time, it's the only minivan that even offers four driven wheels, which is a boon for safety fanatics. Otherwise, the 2015 update did away with most of the things we didn't like about the vehicle.
As it stands, the Sienna is neck-and-neck with the Odyssey. If you value AWD and slightly easier controls, the Sienna takes it. If you prefer a no-nonsense, hose-it-down-once-a-week interior, the Odyssey wins. It's as close a battle as there ever was in this segment.
Specs & Price
Engine: 3.5-liter naturally-aspirated V-6
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drivetrain Layout: Front-engine, all-wheel drive
Power Output: 266 horsepower / 245 lb-ft
Fuel Economy (mpg): 16 city / 23 highway
Base Price: $40,555
As Tested: $41,770 (incl. $885 destination)
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2015 Toyota Sienna, click here: 2015 Toyota Sienna.