Here's a road-trip vehicle you're going to love

The overall utilitarian value of this minivan should overcome any stigma


One wonders why Toyota would send me the 2016 Sienna minivan, what with the 2017 model already in the review market, but from what I could ascertain all they have done with the latest model is increase the horsepower from 266 to 296 – a pleasant addition – and made available an 8-speed auto instead of the 6-speed in the 2016 model I drove.

Even with the increase in horsepower, the 2017 in FWD is rated 1 mpg better than its 2016 counterpart. For the record, my AWD 2016 Sienna is rated at 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway, a combined 19 mpg, and my experience over 1,600-plus miles mostly on the highway was right on that number.

I should add that the Toyota Sienna is the only minivan in the American market that stills offers all-wheel drive (AWD), and for Colorado drivers, that makes this vehicle the obvious choice in the segment.

Toyota was kind enough to allow me the extra mileage on a normal review test drive, and my wife and I took the Sienna on a quick trip to Flagstaff, Ariz., for parents’ weekend at Northern Arizona University. When we took our son down there to begin college in August, Toyota was also nice enough to let us take a Lexus 450h – a wonderful vehicle – and we experienced about 29 mpg in that hybrid.

 I found the Sienna to be a wonderful road vehicle, and I recommend it highly. It drives beautifully on the highway, has an enormous amount of cargo space (you can fold the seat flat and put a houseful in there), and in our test-drive configuration, the seven-seat capacity was plenty to haul our son and his buddies on excursions (you can get eight seats if you want).

Having said all of this, there are some downsides. The Sienna is a rather large vehicle, which is a plus in most situations, but there are those occasions when you are searching for a parking space in those tight parking lots, say in downtown Denver, where parking takes some maneuvering. But it’s doable. Other than that, though, I found the size to be an advantage – particularly if the owner has the need to haul a bunch of people all the time, like children.

This is a particularly great vehicle for people with children, for several reasons. First, it has sliding doors on each side for the second row, both fully automatic (from a driver’s seat button or the key fob), so it is very easy to pick up kids and other passengers and manage both the pick-up and drop-off with ease and to manage the safety issues of getting those passengers from the curb side.

Since there is more than ample space in the second row, and an easy pass through to the third row seating between the captain’s chairs in the second row in this seven-passenger arrangement, it is very easy for everyone to board from the curb and find a seat. Then there’s the wide-screen entertainment system: a very nice and very visible screen pulls down from the ceiling in the middle (operated from the front) so people in the second and third row can enjoy a movie or a game (with wireless headsets), while the driver and the front-row passenger can listen to the radio. Anyone who has ever had children knows the value of rear-seat entertainment, especially on long trips.

I know many people, especially women, have a built-in negative response to minivans, owing, I suppose, to the whole “soccer mom” thing over the years that became rather pejorative. From my perspective, however, the overall utilitarian value of this minivan versus a Jeep or other SUV with three rows of seating should overcome the stigma.

Frankly, I love driving a van. There is simply no other vehicle on the market that combines the comfort, seating capacity, storage capacity, and ease of loading and unloading than you’ll find in a minivan. That versatility alone should elevate the Sienna in esteem.

Then there are two other things about this Sienna that should recommend it to anyone. First, the all-wheel-drive, which I have already noted is unavailable in any of the competitors’ offerings. I very much like AWD for the safety and convenience. Second is the luxury.

This Sienna had all of the requisite modern technology – Bluetooth, apps, an excellent sound system, a marvelous climate control – and all of it very easy an intuitive to use. And then the leather seating and the quiet cabin – make no mistake, this Sienna LTD Premium takes second place to no luxury vehicle. It’s all there and it just feels like a million bucks. 

There was one little thing I didn’t like, and this is not a Sienna-specific thing because I also found it on a Toyota Camry: the radio volume knob (and generally I like knobs) is rather squat and close to the LCD touch screen where the presets for the radio appear. I kept changing the station inadvertently when I went to turn the radio up or down. Annoying.

Ah, but the compensations. Like dual sunroofs – one in the usual place above the front row, and then another over the rear seats. They both let in a lot of light and, of course, open for air, so there’s something for everyone. I also liked that the third-row seat (with seating for three), was very easy to fold flat into the floor and to raise again for seating – and I did all of this with no consulting the manual. I like vehicles that just about anyone can figure out all of the stuff with ease.

And, of course, let’s not forget the safety stuff: enhanced stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and smart stop technology (pre-collision tech), blind spot monitoring, rear view camera, child seat latches built-in, airbags all around; everything is here.

Okay, so this vehicle doesn’t get the best gas mileage on the planet, but I just can’t imagine a better road vehicle. Our road trip included using the excellent navigation system (easy), and we listened to a book on CD, and of course the radio (FM, AM, satellite), and everything worked great. I felt safe and secure at all times, in complete control, and in total comfort.

Plus the Sienna is American-made, in Princeton, Ind.

So they call this The Original Swagger Wagon – Lord knows why; I didn’t feel a swagger – but in any case it is a wonder vehicle. Not inexpensive, mind you; it starts at $28,850, in front-wheel-drive, and it goes up from there.

My test drive, AWD Limited Premium carries a base price of $46,410, and they added on another $3,336 for destination charges, the headphones, a roof rack, paint protection film, a glass breakage sensor, remote engine start, floor mats, mud flaps, and a universal tablet holder, which is a bracket that holds just about any phone or iPad that is easily accessible to the driver (watch for distraction). The bottom line here is $49,446, and for my money – and the AWD – there is nothing else like it on the market.


Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation