2021 Toyota Sienna Review: Driver-Focused ‘Gearhead Van’ or Hybrid People Hauler?

Minivans were just hitting their stride when I was a little kid. We had some family friends who were still living out their station wagon fantasies, and others that had bought in to the first wave of minivan fandom (vandom?) with Caravans, Voyagers, Windstars, and Astros. I thought those vans were excessively cool and begged my mom to trade in her ’87 Sentra for a Dodge Caravan with a sliding door. I’m an only child, we didn’t need a van, and never bought one. This summer, though, I got to live my minivan fantasy for about a week with the 2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum.

This 2021 Sienna was supposed to be a 2021 Toyota Tacoma, according to my car-review schedule. The Monday-morning car swap came around and I got a text from our local, wonderful fleet manager. “I apologize for the last minute switch. Truck needs to go to service.”

I had requested a 2021 Sienna a while ago, though, and this one was free on her schedule, so she sent it over instead. I’d requested the van because, in skimming Toyota’s press release for the all-new model, I found this paragraph.

“Gearheads buy vans, too. They’ll be intrigued by the gas engine’s 41-percent thermal efficiency, one of the highest of any internal combustion automobile engines on the market (excepting other Toyota hybrid models). The gas engine employs Variable Valve Timing-intelligent system by Electric motor (VVT-iE) on the intake camshaft, and VVT-i on the exhaust camshaft. A variable cooling system (electric water pump and electric thermostat) and a fully variable oil pump further improve engine efficiency.”

I am a gearhead. Color me intrigued. And that’s how a fully-loaded 2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum showed up at my door, to be reviewed for a driving enthusiasts’ website.

2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum

What Is It?

This is a 2021 Toyota Sienna, the fourth-generation of Toyota’s minivan that is all-new this year. Every 2021 Sienna is a hybrid, offering 41 percent thermal efficiency for those who care and up to 36 miles per gallon for those who don’t. The hybrid setup is typical Toyota, with a 2.5 liter naturally-aspirated four cylinder paired to an electric motor (or motors) that send power through a sort of continuously variable transmission.

Toyota continues to offer all-wheel drive on the Sienna, though with every 2021 being a hybrid, it’s an eAWD setup that uses an electric motor to power the rear axle as needed. There’s no transfer case or differential or driveshaft involved. It’s a smart setup for the sake of packaging.

2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum engine

Total power output is rated at 245 horsepower. The gas engine produces 176 lb-ft of torque, the main electric motor produces 199 lb-ft, and the rear electric motor another 89 lb-ft. Toyota curiously doesn’t list a total torque output and you generally can’t just add up all the torque figures in a situation like this. Motor Trend got their Sienna Platinum to hustle to 60 miles per hour in 7.9 seconds.

With optional all-wheel drive, the Sienna is rated at 35 miles per gallon in the city, 36 on the highway, and 35 combined. Not bad for a 4,700 pound hauler with seating for seven.

MSRP of my loaded 2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum AWD came to $52,450.

2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum second row seats

Serving Versatility

I had selfishly scheduled this Tacoma for the last week of my boyfriend’s condo ownership. We needed to move his couch from his condo to my apartment, and a pickup would have been perfect (in theory) for the task. I had sold my Ram 1500 a few weeks prior and a couch wasn’t going to fit in my Cayenne. I could have, of course, rented a pickup from UHaul or Home Depot or whoever, but figured we’d give the minivan a shot.

And so, we trundled over to the condo to see how much of a couch could be swallowed by the 2021 Toyota Sienna.

The Sienna’s third row flipped down into the floor with relative ease, though the seats wobbled on their hinges a bit. No matter, they disappeared. We were then faced with the second-row captains’ chairs, standard on the Sienna Platinum. Toyota has engineered a “long slide” second row, which offers tremendous leg room for road trips. Those second row seats, though, don’t fold up or otherwise disappear. You can’t remove them, either, due to the side airbags in each seat.

We scooted the second row seats as far forward as they could go and slid the couch in to the van. It’s a short couch, measuring 76″ long. It didn’t quite fit, but it was in there enough to go across town at low speed. Had the second row seats folded more or been removable, we could have closed the rear hatch entirely.

After the couch was unloaded, I put all the seats back in place and met up with friends for dinner. We could have all fit in the Sienna, and the third row is large enough for adults of moderate height. Six-footers will fit in a pinch and be comfortable enough. There was still solid space behind the third row for plenty of bags, thanks to the big “well” for third-row seat storage. Six tall, comfortable adults and their things for a road trip? The Sienna could have done it. That’s something a Highlander can’t quite claim.

Driving the 2021 Toyota Sienna

Going back to that nonsense about gearheads and thermal efficiency for a minute – don’t be fooled into thinking the Sienna is sporty or fun. It’s a big van and the focus is elsewhere. Acceleration is adequate, but the powertrain feels overwhelmed when you bury the throttle, even with just a driver and no passengers. Turn the drive mode dial to Sport to unlock “boost” from the hybrid system (more battery assistance, I suppose) to add performance. It feels snappier on initial throttle application, but you’ll still quickly find the drivetrain tapping out as revs climb.

Shifting the eCVT manually sounds fruitless, given its wide spread of ratios. Ultimately, “manual shifting” changes how much regenerative braking you get, to dump power back into the hybrid battery. It’s a neat touch that has practical benefit.

The Sienna works well as a hybrid, though, offering electric-only driving around town at (very) slow speeds and great real-world fuel economy otherwise. An “EV mode” button will let you attempt to drive on batteries alone, though it only worked for me on very flat, slow roads. Transitions between electric-only and gas-assisted driving were seamless.

2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum interior

Steering and handling were both entirely fine. Again, this is not a “sports van” by any stretch. The Sienna XSE comes on a “sport-tuned” suspension with “sport-tuned” electronic power steering, which may feel more engaging, or just heavier and firmer. The Platinum I drove was focused more on comfort than anything, and it hit those marks pretty well.

With comfort as the focus, I was impressed enough with all three rows of the 2021 Toyota Sienna. Seating was above average, and front-row seats are both heated and ventilated. As the driver, I had access to a metric ton of storage, between door pockets, a cavernous center console, and other cubbies everywhere within reach.

The two-tone brown and cream interior looked nice and should wear well, although the dark brown dashboard was incredibly shiny and reflective, cheapening the overall vibe of my $53,000 luxovan. Toyota’s infotainment, gauge cluster screen, and alert noises continue to feel a touch outdated, though Apple CarPlay solves a bulk of those complaints. Camera resolution was disappointing for the price point, and I’m still not sure why backup sensors and other warnings have to sound like an angry microwave oven.

2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum backup camera

Final Thoughts

Utility is the name of the game for minivans, even with modern minivans trying to offer more “first class” accommodations for second row passengers in particular. The market is small, competition is fierce, and Toyota does stand out in that the 2021 Sienna is the only offering with all-wheel drive and a hybrid drivetrain.

At the loaded, fifty-thousand sort of price point, I felt the 2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum was a contender for those who prioritize fuel economy or all-wheel drive. Other makes and models offer more features and creature-comforts for similar or even less money (Kia Carnival, I’m looking at you).

I do wish the Sienna’s second row could become more compact for hauling bulky items, but that would compromise either safety or seat comfort in that important, luxurious middle set of seats. Gearheads will not be intrigued, despite Toyota’s press release, and the Sienna isn’t much fun to drive. For most buyers, however, the 2021 Sienna will be an excellent contender that excels where it matters most.

2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum

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