You'd be a fool to buy anything else. This is your weapon of choice.
There comes a time in everyone's life when you need to really think about what's important. Are you going to spend the rest of your days tethered to the whims and opinions of others, or are you going to forge your own path and do your own thing? If you've graduated to that latter group, I'd like to introduce one of the greatest utility vehicles in production and the ultimate road trip machine: the Toyota Sienna.
I can say that confidently, because to test the 2021 Sienna minivan I didn't just doddle around town for a week and make a couple runs to the grocery store. I loaded the thing up and headed as far east as I could amid the current travel restrictions, more than 1,000 miles on a road trip that took me just 10 miles shy of Canada. I covered rough roads and smooth ones, highways and byways, on-road and off, and, for the duration of this adventure, I never once found myself wishing for anything but the Sienna — and that's despite not having any children along for the ride. Well, unless you count our pup Yoshi — but at 12, she's basically a senior citizen.
The 2021 Toyota Sienna is available with just one means of propulsion: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine combined with a hybrid system that offers a net 245 horsepower and a generous 288 pound-feet of torque. I wouldn't call it quick, but the Sienna has plenty of shove off the line, more than enough power for the highway and a better-than-respectable 3,500-pound tow rating. If that weren't enough, despite having all-wheel drive and comfortable seating for seating seven adults, the Sienna is EPA-rated for a remarkable 35 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.
Did I hit that estimable figure in my testing? No. I actually averaged just shy of 27 mpg over 1,039 miles covered at mostly highway speed. Why the discrepancy? Was it my lead-footed driving or turbulent off-shore headwinds? No, it was the pair of giant sea kayaks I strapped to the roof for the drive up and back. Needless to say, that's a significant aerodynamic penalty. But I've hauled these boats on myriad cars over the years, and I've never seen economy that good before. With the boats off the roof, I was easily hitting the Sienna's EPA targets.
Mind you, getting the boats up there was a bit of a challenge, but the roof height of the Sienna is still lower than your average three-row SUV. The integrated roof rails meant it took only a single adapter to use the same Thule rack system previously mounted to our XC40 long-termer. (That, by the way, managed just 23 mpg when hauling the same boats.) Curiously, those rails only run about half the length of the roof, leaving the kayaks situated far back and at a somewhat jaunty angle. In fact, from the driver's seat I couldn't even see them, but thanks to the sunroof, it was easy to ensure nothing had shifted along the way. Once positioned, the little spoiler on the rear door did threaten to hit the bottom of the boats when the rear hatch lifted, but a quick second tap of the button inside the door limited its lifting height, eliminating that concern.
And what about the rest of my stuff? A weeklong hiking, biking and kayaking adventure requires a lot of gear. And then there's my spoiled mutt and her expansive, memory-foam bed. My wife and I fit it all in the van with ease. With a quick lift of a lever, the rear seats tucked flat into the floor. The middle row doesn't come out in this seven-seat configuration, but we shoved those two chairs all the way back, creating a big, flat floor for our geriatric pup to get comfortable. She didn't pay much attention to the rear-seat entertainment center, with its dual, 11.6-inch, 1080p displays and wireless headphones, but it's good to know I could have taken a PS5 break along the way had I wanted.
My bike slotted between the two seats and almost all our gear fit in behind them. It was a blissfully easy packing experience — perhaps too easy. We had so much extra room we wound up vastly over-packing.
That excess of storage extends to all the various cubbies and compartments surrounding the front seats, including a bi-level center console and a cavernous arm rest. I do wish the latter held the Sienna's canceled refrigerator, as that would have been handy for long drives. Still, we had plenty of room to tuck a small cooler down there.
The Sienna's on-road manners aren't quite impeccable, but they are quite good. Not as engaging nor quick as a Chrysler Pacifica, the Sienna is a calm and competent cruiser with stellar ride quality and plenty of performance. The Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 driver-assistance package is comprehensive as well, coming standard on every trim and featuring everything from automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection to auto high-beams. Adaptive cruise with lane centering is included, though the latter feature left me a bit wanting, the Sienna having a tendency to meander back and forth at times. The haptic buzz of the lane-departure system got a little annoying on back roads, but that was miles better than the incessant beeping of Toyota's earlier systems.
The primary infotainment experience is low-res and visually dated but comprehensive in functionality, offering both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus niceties like a 360-degree camera system and navigation. The 12-speaker JBL sound system proved too loud for our dog, but still sounded plenty good even after we disabled the rear speakers.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the week? How much I genuinely liked the look of the thing. Those pronounced fender flares borrowed from the Supra somehow work here, and the verdant shade Toyota calls Cypress is quite fetching. It was an incredibly welcome sight at the trailhead, where a quick tap on the key fob opened both doors, creating a pair of expansive bench seats perfect for changing out of our muddy hiking boots before climbing back in to the ventilated front seats and cruising home.
There are certainly more luxurious and more off-road-capable SUVs on the market, but at that very moment I wouldn't have chosen any of them.
You can get yourself into a base Toyota Sienna LE for $35,775, including the $1,215 destination fee. The AWD Platinum model you see here costs $53,770 including destination, with only a few options, the most expensive being a $1,415 upcharge for that rear-seat entertainment system. Just for comparison sake, if you want a "proper" three-row SUV, you could go for the Toyota Sequoia. There, you're looking at about $50,000 for a base model, over $66,000 for the Platinum, and 15 mpg combined. So more up-front and more at the pump, and you're going to have to ask awful nicely to get anyone to occupy the way-back in one of those for very long.
On the minivan side, the Chrysler Pacifica offers similar practicality and luxury mixed with a more engaging drive, but the front-wheel-drive hybrid starts at $46,415, including $1,495 destination. It's also only rated for 30 mpg, but it is a plug-in, so if you make a lot of short hops it could be significantly more efficient. Also, while we love our Kia Carnival long-termer, which starts at $33,275 including $1,175 for destination, neither AWD nor a hybrid system are available there.
So, if fuel economy plus real-world practicality and performance are important to you — and why wouldn't they be? — the Sienna is incredibly compelling. It's priced right, feature-rich, and I wish I had one ready for my next road trip
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