No one ever thinks minivan is the answer when asked: What car is a group of automotive journalists most likely to jockey for? But it is. Give us a minivan and we are instantly reminded of how much we love a practical machine. Our long-term Toyota Sienna did just that. It has been in all but constant motion since it arrived in late May, taking trips as the family schlepper de jour of the C/D long-term fleet.
If you didn’t know, the Sienna is new for 2021, and while it doubled down on grille proportions that border on comical, the important news is the powertrain: All Siennas are hybrids. This move netted the people mover a whopping 15-mpg improvement in the EPA combined metric. Front drivers are now 36-mpg machines, and all-wheel-drive Siennas, such as our long-termer, get a big 35 mpg on the Monroney label.
We asked Toyota for a Cypress Green Sienna, a color only available on the top two trim levels. We went with the penultimate Limited. It costs less than $50,000 to start, but once we got the rear-seat entertainment ($1415), an AC power invertor ($300), a rearview mirror that can also display a video feed should your van be loaded to the gunwales ($200), a mini spare tire ($75), and $220 in all-weather floor mats, we ended up with a $51,885 machine. There are eight-passenger versions, but Limiteds have only seven seats, and those second-row captain’s chairs are much more comfortable than the Stow ‘n Go seats in a Chrysler.
Unlike all-wheel-drive Siennas of yore, the rear axle is directly driven by a motor. There’s no driveshaft, just like in other all-wheel-drive Toyota/Lexus hybrids. Both front- and all-wheel-drive models produce the same 245 horsepower because the electric power is limited to what the hybrid battery can produce. Initial testing revealed a 7.6-second 60-mph time and a quarter-mile elapsed time of 15.7 seconds. That’s about how it feels. A Honda Odyssey is 1.1 seconds quicker, and the previous V-6-powered Sienna was quicker than the new one as well.
At least that swap to hybrid pays off at the pump as we’ve averaged 32 mpg so far. That’s 39 percent better fuel economy than we saw with our long-term 2018 Odyssey. As with most families making an economic decision, we’d gladly take the savings at the pump at a cost of some droning engine sounds at wide open throttle. Those emanate from the hybrid powertrain’s internal-combustion half, an Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter inline-four. Once moving on the highway and settled into a cruise, the Sienna hums along at a quiet 67 decibels.
Right after the van showed up, the passenger sliding door wouldn’t close on its own—a first-world problem, we know—and we took the Sienna to the dealer for a very un-Toyota-like unscheduled service visit to fix it. Turns out we could have easily addressed the problem because the weather stripping had dislodged from its track and was doing a very good impression of a kid’s digit. Since then, we’ve had the Sienna in for two scheduled services. Both were typical—oil, filter, inspections—at 5000-mile intervals. The first was gratis, but the 10K-mile service cost $61.
Other than that, the van has been flawless. Some complain about the engine noise while accelerating. The engine droning is very apparent when you get into hilly country. And the van is somewhat lacking in the driver-centric areas such as brake and steering feel. A stiff crosswind does make the Sienna drift, but that’s true of most seven-passenger SUVs.
As we mentioned, the Sienna has been in near constant motion since it arrived: Maine, North Carolina, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Maybe that is due to an uptick in road trips, or because we haven’t had a van in a while. Either way it’s a staff favorite, and even if it did sit still long enough to gather moss, we’d never know because of its color.
Months in Fleet: 5 months Current Mileage: 10,135 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 32 mpg
Fuel Tank Size 18.0 gal Observed Fuel Range: 570 miles
Service: $61 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0
Damage and Destruction: $0
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