Kermit The Frog may have had his own reasons for complaining that it’s not easy being green, however in the case of the 2021 Toyota Sienna minivan, that is certainly not the case. Of course we aren’t just talking about the Cypress Green Metallic paint color, a shade that really should be offered on more vehicles, but of course the fact that Toyota has decided that this generation of Sienna will only be sold with a hybrid powertrain, resulting in EPA mileage estimates in the mid-30s.
As bold a step as that is, there are plenty of other things to like about this newest generation of Sienna as well with models from the base LE trim on up the range, coincidentally also starting in the mid-30s, albeit on a dollar scale as opposed to an mpg one. Toyota decided to send us a significantly fancier model to take a look at, in this case the top of the line Platinum trim with on-demand all wheel drive along with a plethora of other attractions.
This is now the fourth generation of Sienna with the first one dating back to the 1998 model year. It has always been a popular option even though the minivan segment as a whole has seen significant declines in demand since that first version, the market now reduced to a total of four manufacturers as main players. Styling conforms to the modern Toyota idiom, up front retaining the wide lower grille that was first introduced a few years ago with the last generation’s facelift.
Along the sides the dominant feature is the rear fenderline swoop that is seen in some of the other newer models as well. Otherwise it’s fairly conventional, i.e. basically a large box with some styling applied to it, recognizing that what’s inside and how it fulfills its main function is likely far more important to buyers than winning any design awards for the exterior. Minivans are workhorses, not show ponies. Still, at 0.29 Coefficient of drag it’s a sleekly shaped workhorse as far as the wind is concerned.
The front doors still open wide and stepping in is simple, requiring neither a step up nor down, basically just slide on over into the large and wide front seats. In this case they were covered in Nobel Brown Leather, a color that also is present in large parts of the dashboard and elsewhere. The seats are heated, ventilated and easily adjustable with four-way lumbar, finding a comfortable position was easy for my 6’1″ with 32″ inseam frame, even under the sunroof.
My head still had an inch or more before brushing the headliner, and although the pedals are positioned as expected and there is a large dead pedal space to the left, there isn’t much room behind or beside the pedals if a leg needs stretching. Better to move the seat back a little along with the electrically adjustable steering wheel in order to leave enough room for the legs while driving. Then save the settings into the memory and the seat moves itself back and forth as needed in an easy-entry mode when exiting and entering.
The dashboard is interesting and comes across as extremely modern with its double cockpit feel. There’s a large center console that though is just a flat plane and open underneath with a rubberized flat surface at the bottom. It makes for a huge extra storage space for a purse or backpack while the upper section flows into a shelf space along the dashboard.
The days of being able to enter the driver’s seat from the rear in a sort of Millennium Falcon style are long gone; as perhaps the corollary to that, i.e. being able to leave the passenger seat to attend to a rear passenger while actually in motion was deemed unsafe (and is, if you really consider it, far better to pull over, stop, and use a door).
In the center of the dash is a large 9″ touchscreen with the normal buttons and knobs on the edges as most modern Toyotas currently do, this system works well and intuitively with the backup (and forward) cameras being of lower resolution than some others, but still clear enough to see what’s going on. It’s not really objectionable when this is one’s primary vehicle but noticeable when jumping back and forth into one with a better device. The Navigation screen works well and it’s easy to comprehend the displayed map if perhaps the voice commands seem from a generation ago with a somewhat halting computer-controlled “voice” trying to form flowing sentences.
As is becoming common this one too allows a user to section the screen to display different information in various formats but will jump to a menu item using the whole screen when it is purposely selected. This van came equipped with the premium JBL 12-speaker system including subwoofer and amplifier as well as a function that will amplify the driver’s voice towards the rear seat occupants at a level determined by the driver, a good function that precludes the need to actually raise one’s voice and/or turn one’s head. Little Johnny will hear the call to stop bothering his sister loud and clear. If he actually heeds that call is another matter entirely and beyond the purview of this review.
Below the screen are the controls for the in this case FOUR-zone automatic climate control, perhaps a first for me, certainly in a minivan. The controls are arranged logically and allows control of both the front and the rear cabin areas by the driver or the second row can control their own. The zones are front driver, front passenger, and then the rest of the van is split left/right. Just below that on the flat shelf area is a wireless charging pad as well as a USB port (of which there are a number of other outlets both in the console bin as well as scattered about the rest of the interior).
As far as cupholders go, there are four in the front between the driver and passenger (two are under a flip up lid) as well as several bottle holders in the door pockets. The rear cabin has oodles more of the same, there is zero reason for anyone to actually spill a drink when not actively holding it. Arm rests are affixed to the console and between them is a large bin with a lid.
Plastic surfaces in the front area are soft in the upper areas of the doors (the lighter color), which then turns hard when it becomes the dashboard. The brown areas of the dash are soft for the first five or so inches from their leading edges and then turn hard via a surface mounted separate piece of material with stitching in it, this works quite well here visually and by touch. Lower black areas are generally hard/durable. Note the cubby in the cupholder above, it was perfect to hold my garage door opener in place (although the van has Homelink), a phone could also be perched in there while still leaving space for a beverage.
The graining of the plastics on the doors and dash is topnotch with everything lining up quite well except the finished surface of the console lid which was a bit off. The flat surface of that center console is a semi-shiny patterned plastic, smooth to the touch, it doesn’t really try (or perhaps it just doesn’t succeed?) to obviously emulate wood but rather a sort of striped pattern, although the picture does make it seem more like fake wood. In person the effect is just a bit different but it works and doesn’t feel downscale.
The sliding doors can be opened either from the keyfob, an upper console near the sunroof, buttons on the doorhandles, the doorhandles themselves or by waving a foot under the B-pillar area, something that liftgates and trunklids have done for some time but I haven’t seen on a side door before. It worked quite well and with full hands is a great idea. (The rear liftgate of course does this as well).
Seats are captain’s chairs with armrests on both side and while they are not meant to be removeable as they contain side airbags this one had extended tracks that allowed them to move up all the way to just behind the front seats but also all the way back to where the rear seats are, leaving several feet of legroom in front.
Comfort was good, and the optional (and included on this one) rear seat entertainment center with a fold-down-from-the-ceiling 11.6″ display, HDMI input, remotes and two sets of wireless headphones would likely keep anyone entertained should that be desired. Note that while usually these screens would block any rearward vision from the front mirror, in this case the mirror has a digital option, so flipping it back lets it display a different and much higher resolution rear camera feed (there are two cameras back there).
The third row is also comfortable, has its own cupholders (two per side) along with a couple of USB ports in two sizes, seats three, and can be folded 60/40 using a seatback mounted handle in one motion either up or down with a strap to then adjust the recline angle. It works very well and is among the easier systems to use.
Behind the rear seat is a deep storage well if the seats are up and if they are down the floor is mainly flat although small loose items will likely fall between the seats and end up in the well below for later retrieval. One of the two 1500Watt 120V outlets is on the right wall of the cargo area.
There’s a lot of room back here with the seats either down or up, far more than in most three row SUVs besides perhaps the largest ones. Of course the low liftover height is another attraction for stuff like strollers or other heavy items. Push a button on the bottom edge of the liftgate and it closes again.
One unfortunate oversight though seems to be that I found it somewhat difficult to look and see over my shoulders, the middle row headrests block vision out of the rearmost passenger side window and the pillars were intrusive on the driver side (at the rearmost side window again). The blind spot monitor did come in handy in traffic when making sure a lane was clear and backing up made use of the camera (plus the bird’s eye view feature) although the immediate rear view is not obstructed.
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