Anytime I make vehicle recommendations for someone who prioritizes passenger and cargo room, a minivan is hard to beat. Of those, the Toyota Sienna is my go-to pick. While the current generation has gone ten years without a major update, it remains competitive and highly reliable.
Earlier today, Toyota unveiled the all-new Sienna minivan for the 2021 model year. I’ll spare you the nitty gritty details about this new model, but the new Sienna does have some interesting features that jumped out at me. If you want to learn more about the 2021 Sienna, click here to read Toyota’s press release.
Starting in 2021, all Siennas will be hybrids, using a gasoline and electric drivetrain combination made famous by the Prius. With this type of engine, the new Sienna will be considerably more economical with fuel. Toyota is claiming an estimated 33 miles per gallon for the new Sienna. Total engine power is down compared to the previous version. But how many minivan shoppers truly care about 0-60 acceleration times?
In my opinion, this is a brilliant move by Toyota to set the Sienna apart from its competition. Toyota’s hybrid systems are the best in the industry. Shoppers will likely find the drivetrain to be smooth and unobtrusive in the way that it delivers power from both the gasoline engine and electric motor. When compared against the Honda Odyssey or Chrysler Pacifica, consumers will find a 50% increase in fuel efficiency with the Sienna without any compromises to performance or utility.
The styling of the new Sienna definitely stands out. It’s bold, especially for a minivan, and especially for a company like Toyota with a conservative reputation. From the sides, the Sienna’s styling is clearly inspired by crossover SUVs. The controversial huge lower grille is becoming a Toyota signature. It doesn’t bother me on most Toyota vehicles, and it doesn’t bother me here either. Styling is certainly subjective, but I like the new Sienna’s lines.
Toyota is making all-wheel drive an option on all trim levels of the Sienna. The system uses a supplemental electric motor to power the van’s rear wheels. This reduces the hardware that runs underneath the vehicle to the rear wheels, which can steal interior space.
While no pricing details are available yet for the 2021 Sienna, Toyota says the all-wheel drive upgrade will be affordable. This feature eliminates the reason why many shoppers turn to crossover SUVs instead of minivans.
The Biggest Shortcoming
An article from CNET.com mentioned that due to integrated side-impact airbags for the second row passengers, the new Sienna’s second row of seats can’t be folded, and are not removable. The addition of these extra airbags is fantastic for occupant protection, but this creates a big shortcoming in minivan usability. Toyota is a smart company, and I’m sure they’ve done their research. Maybe most minivan owners are not frequently folding or removing the second and third rows of seats to utilize the vehicle’s maximum cargo capacity. But in my opinion, the fixed second row of seats is a mistake.
Toyota is hoping buyers will prioritize safety for the second row occupants over cargo capacity
The minivan market is shrinking, with buyers preferring crossover SUVs by a huge margin. According to The Truth About Cars, in 2004, minivans had roughly a 6.5% share of the American market (already a sharp decline from the minivan’s heyday in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s). In 2019, minivan market share is around 2%. More and more consumers today are buying a three-row SUV instead of a minivan.
One of the minivan’s major advantages over a crossover or SUV is their maximum cargo capacity. The current non-redesigned version of the Sienna has a maximum capacity of 150 cubic feet of cargo space. Toyota’s mainstream three-row crossover, the Highlander, can hold a maximum of 84.3 cubic feet of cargo.
For those few consumers who are still interested in a minivan, cargo capacity may be a high priority. Otherwise, they would have turned to three-row crossovers for their passenger carrying duties instead, like most shoppers have already done. But if the second row of seats can’t be folded or removed in the Sienna, the cargo hauling advantage is gone. Those buyers who prioritize cargo space will be sent to Honda or Chrysler showrooms instead.
Toyota has done a commendable job reimagining the Sienna for 2021. When I’m making recommendations for those in the market for a three-row people hauler, I expect that the new Sienna will remain one of my top picks. So long as cargo capacity isn’t a priority.