Road Test of a Stalwart with Exclusive Features
Once the favorite choice for families across the nation, the minivan has fallen out of fashion these days. And that’s a pity, because they’re probably the most practical vehicle ever invented. When it comes to moving people and things, it’s hard to beat the utility of a big, rectangular box on wheels. (Full disclosure: We’ve been minivan owners for 20 years. Ed note: We’re a little late in publishing this review since the 2019 models are on the lot now; the good news is there are so few changes that Toyota hasn’t even published a press kit for the 2019 Sienna.)
Toyota introduced the Sienna minivan in 1997. It was on the small side compared to other offerings. Over the years it has grown in size and power to match or exceed its competitors. Until last year, the Sienna topped the minivan sales chart, but remains a solid choice, especially when it comes to standard safety features.
What’s New For 2018?
For the 2018 model year, Toyota has given the Sienna a refresh designed to brighten its luster. All trim levels—L, LE, SE, XLE and Limited—have a redesigned front fascia and a larger, lower grill and side lower rockers. Want to block out road noise? The SE grade for the 2018 Sienna now includes a laminated front windshield, while the Limited grade has acoustic front row side glass as well.
Safety is an important criterion with any vehicle choice, and the 2018 Sienna stands above the minivan crowd. Standard on all models is Toyota’s TSS-P system, a multi-feature advanced safety suite. Included in the TSS-P is: A pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, full speed range dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist and automatic high beams. A blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert are offered as optional equipment.
Toyota has also equipped all 2018 Sienna models with the new Entune 3.0 infotainment system. The Sienna L, LE, SE and XLE grades will have the Entune 3.0 system with navigation and App Suite Connect. Moving to the LE, SE, and XLE grades will give you the Entune Audio Plus, which includes things like Safety Connect and Wi-Fi Connect for up to five mobile devices. There are also five USB ports through the three rows.
After spending a very pleasant week with the 2018 Sienna, here are the five things you should know about this minivan.
(1) Seats Up To Eight, BIG Cargo Space, Smooth Ride
The chief reason for buying a minivan is seating. The 2018 Sienna’s seven-passenger configuration puts a pair of tip-and-slide captain’s chairs in the second row and a bench seat in the third row. The LE and XLE trims can be ordered with a second-row bench seat that brings its seating total to eight.
Another reason is cargo capacity. These vehicles are built to provide cavernous capacity for your family’s gear and large bulky items. The Sienna provides 39.1 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row in place, more than any other minivan. The third-row seats quickly stow into the floor and that opens up 87.1 cubic feet. But to achieve the maximum 150-cubic-foot cargo capacity, you have to remove the bulky second-row seats.
Fully loaded with people and things or just the driver, the 2018 Sienna provides a smooth ride. It easily travels over road imperfections without jostling passengers. As an added note, if you are cross-shopping the Sienna with crossovers, check out forward visibility–the Sienna has a tall greenhouse that provides superb sight lines in most directions.
(2) Responsive V6 Engine
The 2018 Sienna’s 3.5-liter V6 engine sends 296 horsepower and 263 pounds-feet of torque to the front wheels. It has the resources to provide the Sienna with the muscle it needs to deliver reasonably eager response to throttle inputs. Thanks to the engine’s nearly 300 horses, the Sienna shines when it comes to acceleration. Even with that much power, the Sienna returns Excellent fuel economy—19 mpg city/27 highway/22 combined.
The engine is connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission with the ability to select gears. This is helpful when tackling a long grade in a loaded vehicle that’s going uphill or downhill. Doing this is easy—just move the gear lever all the way down and to the left to select gears on your own.
(3) Exclusive All-Wheel Drive Available
Attention snow belt minivan buyers! Sending power to all four wheels rather than just the front two is a huge help when you’re struggling for traction in snow and ice. The 2018 Toyota Sienna is the only minivan that offers all-wheel drive (AWD). For that reason alone, the AWD should definitely be one of your “must have” features. (ed. note: You will lose a few mpg that way; the AWD clocks in at 18/24/20).
(4) Loads Of Features
In addition to the above standard safety and infotainment features, the 2018 Sienna has loads of features. Even the base model comes standard with cruise control, tri-zone climate control, rearview camera, automatic headlights, 6.1-inch touch screen, AM/FM/CD player with USB, and iPod and Bluetooth connectivity with Siri Eyes Free for Apple devices. Moving up the lineup brings power-adjustable driver’s and front passenger’s seat, roof rack, leatherette or genuine leather seats, push-button start, moonroof and, my favorite feature, a 360-degree surround-view monitor.
I can’t gush enough about the dual power sliding side doors and power lift gate. Both offered a satisfying relief when I had a handful of groceries or luggage to load. Then there were the times we needed to whisk a couple visiting toddlers into the rear seats and place the little ones in their car seats.
(5) Kid Friendly
If I didn’t know better, I would think Toyota invited some kids to work with their interior product design group. For starters, the 2018 Sienna offers a rear-seat entertainment system, a feature not available on some competitive minivans. The system in the Sienna includes wireless headphones, so up-front passengers can listen to each other, and a screen that divides in half so back-seaters can play a game on one side and watch a movie on the other.
And then there’s the rear seat climate control. Many drivers prefer a cooler cabin, but that might not be amenable to kids or adult passengers in the back. With the Sienna’s rear climate controls, rear passengers can be as warm as they like while the driver stays cool and alert.
The Sienna’s Driver Easy Speak feature is more for mom and dad than for the kids. Minivans have gigantic cabins, and it can be difficult making yourself heard if you have kids seated in the third row. This amenity is essentially an in-vehicle public address system. It provides a microphone that allows you to transmit your voice via the rear speakers. It’s an essential tool for civilized family communication.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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