Minivans don’t make sense until you reach a certain age. For myself, 30 was it all took. When you’re young, they’re ugly life-sapping black holes that you make fun of, same with the owners. Yet I find myself now in awe of the minivan because of just how usable it really is, with so much utility and comfort for families or a group of friends on a road trip. Because the Sienna is only available as a hybrid these days, there’s also no tradeoff for efficiency either, matching that of smaller crossovers even. Regardless of your status or age in life, approach with an open-mind and you’ll find the Sienna to be one of the most sensible new vehicles in the world.
Buy it for…
As gasoline crests $5.00/gallon once more, perhaps the headlining feature and skillset of the Sienna is using an unusually small amount of fuel. During my week of driving this AWD Sienna in mixed routes, I averaged an astounding 34 MPG, about 50% better than what the last V6-powered Honda Odyssey I tested averaged, which stands as its eternal arch nemesis. And this in a vehicle that’s 203″ long! Insane! 34 MPG is also a pair of miles better than what I recorded previously in a Highlander Hybrid SUV.
The other big appeal is the comfort and space inside the Sienna, though these attributes are less unique to the Sienna and more general minivan commonalities. Regardless of, and without access to a back-to-back comparison, the Sienna is suitably huge at the core, with a third-row of seats that are even usable for adults. How do I know this? I spent nine hours in the third-row of a Sienna rental this past year during a trip to Joshua Tree, and it was surprisingly fine! For a vehicle used to transport large number of humans, be it family or your bros heading to the desert, the Sienna can do it with comfort and space to spare.
All the technology and safety features drivers can want are applicable and available here, but what’s also good news is the mostly competent driving character of the Sienna. It’s all very blunted and dull, that’s a given, but it’s easy to drive and steer, can corner faster than any minivan and potential owner could dare dream of, while AWD can add some needed grip and composure for those in snowy climates and avoid chains at first moment’s notice. I also like the sharp, angular styling of the Sienna that helps it stand out from other parents. The ride quality is also cushioned to keep you hospitable over longer journeys.
Skip it for…
Well, I did say it was a dull car to drive, but that’s also the case with other minivans I’ve driven. On the basis of driving dynamics and fun, it’s no match for a big Mazda SUV like the CX-90, though one is also far less spacious. The only real glare I noticed when it came to driving was the presence of on-throttle torque steer at speed. Normally, AWD sending power to all four wheels should fix this, but I reckon the Sienna is FWD until slippage is detected. An example of where I noticed this was when passing another vehicle on the freeway. I pulled out into the passing lane, laid the throttle to the floor, and I felt the steering wheel twitching and wriggling in my hands, almost as if the lane departure prevention was fighting me by steering back the other way. I noticed this a few times and it’s disappointing that a minivan shows torque steer, especially at speeds upwards of 50 MPH. I also attribute this to the soft suspension, as flooring it results in noticeable squatting at the rear, thus raising and making the front end too light while power is being applied.
Besides that, it’s a bummer the second row of seats are not easily removable nor flat-folding. A major selling point of the Chrysler Pacifica is that the second seats can stow away completely hidden under the floor in a matter of seconds, a feature I’m shocked hasn’t yet been copied. And another note is that the interior just isn’t quite as nice as you’d hope in a vehicle costing $50,000, with some hard and cheap plastics and the padded materials even just seeming a little too rubbery and cheap.
This Woodland Edition is also more of just a package option rather than a trail-storming van. The suspension claims an extra .6″ of ground clearance, which really just seems pointless on a minivan and something you won’t notice. For the most part, it’s an XLE trim-level with added AWD, rubber floor mats, and the suspension raise. Otherwise, it’s a minivan called the Woodland, yet this example is painted Cement to perfectly match an urban city, the exact opposite of a woodland. Does that make sense to you? Me neither.
MPG and space wins
For some, and really most potential buyers, the combination of the space enjoyed inside the Sienna in connection with its superlative efficiency is any and all the reason to want one. Some might still be hesitant to commit to the life and stigma of a minivan, but it’s hard to fault the practical utility once you experience a road trip in one. The torquesteer brings out some questions, and the presence of its Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid rival with flat-folding seats offers a viable alternative, but the Sienna as a form of Toyota transportation, and it’s ability to transport many people in comfort, is undeniably appealing. Just skip this so-called ‘Woodland’ Edition for a cheaper XLE.
2023 Toyota Sienna Woodland Edition review
As-tested price: $50,985
Pros: Huge space; Spectacular MPG
Cons: Some torquesteer; Rather pointless Woodland Edition
Road Beat photos by Mitchell Weitzman