Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Toyota Sienna SE

When it comes to minivans, there's a lot to be said for the Toyota Sienna. Indeed, it won the most recent autoTRADER minivan comparison test thanks to its combination of roomy and comfortable interior, low step-in height, extra-wide rear sliding doors, potent and willing powertrain, decent handling and reasonable pricing. And that's before factoring in its status as the only minivan available with all-wheel drive.

The Sienna's win wasn't uncontested, however, with the Honda Odyssey nearly stealing the victory largely due to its much nicer interior. Compared to the Odyssey, the Sienna was accused of having a "mouse-furred" interior with "rather pedestrian dash plastics and plain interior styling."

It might be a stretch to call a minivan sporty exactly, but as equipped my test van was about as close as I've seen yet.

But that was the old Toyota Sienna. For 2015 Toyota has refreshed its popular family hauler, and while it doesn't look too much different on the outside (it gets an updated grille and taillights), on the inside it’s an entirely different van, with upgraded materials, a completely restyled dash, and nicer trim. Hidden from sight, but immediately apparent when you carve the Sienna into a corner, Toyota has revised the suspension and stiffened up the structure to provide more assured handling.

The Sienna is available in a wide array of trims, encompassing four front-wheel drive choices (base, LE, SE or Limited) and two all-wheel drive choices (LE or XLE). Base, Limited and all-wheel-drive versions seat seven passengers with second-row captain’s seats, while front-wheel-drive LE and SE versions get a removable centre section for the second-row seats, creating a 40/20/40 split folding bench and allowing eight-passenger capacity.

My test vehicle was a front-wheel-drive SE model fitted with a comprehensive optional Technology Package. The SE trim features big 19-inch wheels, unique front and rear fascias, sport grille, LED taillights and front running lights, fog lights, smoked headlight surrounds, unique sport gauges, leather upholstery and more. The Technology Package adds to this with such things as a power moonroof, navigation system, proximity entry with push-button start, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, widescreen rear entertainment system and theft alarm. It might be a stretch to call a minivan sporty exactly, but as equipped my test van was about as close as I've seen yet, with the big fender-filling six-spoke alloys giving it a hunkered-down look, and the mesh grille and jutting chin spoiler adding a subtle touch of menace.

Under the hood, every Sienna gets a 3.5L V6 engine hooked up to a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with lock-up torque converter. With 266 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque on tap, the V6 will hustle the 1,985 kg (4,376 lb) Sienna SE to 100 km/h in a hair under 8 seconds – impressively quick for a minivan – and during normal driving it's smooth and refined. Towing capacity for most trim levels is 1,588 kg (3,500 lb), while the base and XLE trims are rated for 454 kg (1,000 lb). Fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive models is 13.0 / 9.5 L/100 km (city/hwy) using the new five-cycle testing. My own mostly city consumption ranged from a high of 16.5 L/100 km to a low of 11.5 L/100 km, with an overall average of 14.2 L/100 km.

In terms of ride and handling the Sienna has always been competent, and for 2015 Toyota has stiffened the van's underpinnings and tweaked the suspension to provide an even more assured feel. On top of this the SE has a sport-tuned suspension and the bigger alloys, giving it handling chops that aren't merely on par with the average crossover, but actually better than many, all while maintaining a comfortable and compliant ride. The only downside is that the van's low ride height gives you less ground clearance than you might expect from such a big vehicle, with the result that I managed to noisily (but harmlessly) scrape the passenger-side rear mudflap across my mother-in-law's driveway curbing when arriving to pick her up, much to her surprise.

Safety-wise the Sienna gets traction control, stability control, ABS brakes, active head restraints and a comprehensive array of airbags, and its structure is robust enough to garner "Good" ratings in most IIHS crash tests, and an "Acceptable" rating in the challenging new small overlap front crash test. Combined with the available driver-assist technologies this earns the Sienna an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award.

Inside, the 2015 Sienna is as functional as ever, but now a whole lot nicer. The new dash design follows the path already established by the Camry, Corolla and RAV4, which means there's a padded leather-look dash panel with contrast stitching, pinstriped trim (woodgrain in Limited and XLE models), and a big seven-inch touchscreen display providing central control of all the infotainment functions. The front door panels have padded inserts and soft-skinned rigid uppers, while the back doors get rugged, well-matched rigid plastic uppers. Cabin storage is taken care of thanks to a floor-mounted tray and a big console bin (my only remark with this being that its large size rather begs some sort of organizer inside, because as it is I can imagine it becoming a bit of a disorganized mess). Overall the look is modern and sophisticated, and a big step up from the previous interior.

Ergonomically, all the controls are laid out in a logical manner, and I found the infotainment interface to be reasonably intuitive – at least, I did once I realized the manual tuning function was controlled by (surprise) an actual tuning knob. What a great idea! All Siennas now get three-zone automatic climate control, with a separate small climate control display and individual temperature control knobs for each zone (the control for the rear is smaller and centrally mounted – all very logical). Back seat passengers can also take matters into their own hands thanks to a local climate control panel in the left-side roof panel.

The front seats are roomy and plenty comfortable, with eight-way power adjustments for the driver in all but the base van (it gets six-way manual adjustment), and four-way adjustment for the passenger. In the second row the removable centre seat is actually much more comfortable than it looks, while the outboard seats are downright cushy, and both sides of the centre row can slide fore and aft to share legroom if necessary with the third row. That said, sharing legroom shouldn't be a problem – at 5"11" I could set the second row with gobs of legroom to spare and still sit comfortably in the third row. Slide-out cupholders, a 120V outlet and RCA-style video inputs for the rear entertainment system means that older kids can drink their pop and play video games, or of course you can pop in a DVD and let them watch a movie. And if they can't agree on their entertainment choice, Toyota's 16.4-inch wide entertainment display with split-screen ability allows two programs to be played simultaneously.

Passengers in the third row get a couple of cupholders per side, a pair of headphone jacks, closable cubbies for holding snacks or what-have-you, and pop-open vent windows. If they start misbehaving back there (or if you want to point out some passing point of interest) there's no need to shout, as Toyota has equipped the Sienna with a "Driver Easy Speak" system that when activated via the infotainment screen picks up the driver's voice and broadcasts it through the rear speakers (my wife said she half-expected me to start making announcements about cruising altitudes and arrival times). Access to the third row is reasonably easy thanks to the second-row seats' ability to clamshell forward, but I found that they are fairly heavy and awkward to move back into position, so if you're loading a vanful of six-year-olds you'll probably have to help out with this task. The third-row seats are easy to stow and deploy when standing at the rear hatch, but less so from within the van.

Cargo space behind the third row is a usable 1,107 L, which rises to 2,466 L with the third row stowed. When you need to haul a lot of stuff you can either clamshell the second-row seats forward to get them mostly out of the way, or you can remove them entirely, presuming you're able to manhandle them around and have somewhere to put them. Maximum cargo space is 4,248 L.

Pricing for the base front-wheel-drive Sienna starts at $32,380 (including the $1,690 destination fee) and tops out with the Limited at $47,565 destination in. The base van includes three-zone automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with 7-inch display, Bluetooth connectivity, backup camera, power locks and windows, tilt and telescoping steering, cruise control, keyless entry, 12V power outlet, 17-inch alloy wheels, and more. Higher trim levels add features such as leather seating, leather-wrapped steering wheel, upgraded audio with satellite radio, power sliding doors, power tailgate, proximity entry with pushbutton start, auto-dimming mirror, backup sensors, larger wheels, moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, and so on. My SE test van carried a base price of $39,185 destination in, plus $5,355 for the Technology Package, bringing its as-tested price to $44,540.

Whichever trim you choose the Sienna offers a solid powertrain, good road manners, spacious cabin and practical seating plan, all wrapped up in well-executed overall package. My SE test van impressed me with its genuinely sporty appearance changes backed up by effective wheel and suspension upgrades, while the Technology Package, although pricey, offers good value with a wide array of the most desirable optional equipment. There aren't that many minivans left on the market, and the Sienna always was a strong contender thanks to its well-rounded character and competitive pricing. For 2015 the Sienna has addressed its only real weak spot – the previously bland interior – making it an even more compelling proposition. If you're a serious minivan shopper, you'll want the Sienna on your short list.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

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Honda Odyssey
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Model Tested 2015 Toyota Sienna SE
Base Price $37,495
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,690
Price as Tested $44,640
Optional Equipment
$5,355 (Technology Package)