Behind the Wheel

2021 Toyota Sienna Review: Powertrain and people-moving efficiency

The Toyota Sienna has been redesigned for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Nothing about the 2021 Toyota Sienna is revolutionary. For that matter, it doesn't have to be. The redesigned minivan is, however, a big leap forward for its automaker in terms of fuel efficiency, innovation, design, and functionality. That being said, it's still not the best minivan on the market today.

When it launched late last year, Toyota conveyed the hope that some customers would choose the 2021 Sienna over the 2021 Toyota Highlander. The Highlander, which is a well-priced, practical, well-appointed people mover, is a formidable foe. It drives smaller than it is, comfortably seats six adults, and has a quiet cabin. It's also available with a hybrid powertrain.

2021 Toyota Sienna XSEThe 2021 Sienna has a tighter appearance than its predecessor.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Then the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica went on sale, bringing a better-appointed cabin, available all-wheel drive, and a new infotainment system into the equation. Honda refreshed the Odyssey, and Kia introduced the newest version of its people mover, the intriguing Carnival, which is designed to look like an SUV. Suddenly the minivan segment got very interesting.

So, the Sienna has to stand out.

In the looks department, the Sienna doesn't move the needle. Its designers took inspiration from the Shinkansen Japanese Bullet Train and that's easy to see, especially from the front and side. The Sienna still looks like a minivan, though.

The real innovation in the Sienna comes down to the engine and it's something Toyota has been doing for years. The Sienna now only has one powertrain - a 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid unit. That's right, every Sienna is now a hybrid. You don't have to plug it in and you still get the benefit of desirable fuel economy (an EPA-estimated 35-36 mpg combined depending on if you opt for a front- or all-wheel drive model).

All Sienna models now wear "Hybrid" badging at the rear.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

On paper, the minivan's 245 horsepower is a decrease from the old van for the 2020 model year. On the road, the decrease doesn't show. The Sienna remains confidence-inspiring, using its electric power off the line to boost quickness. It doesn't matter if you're driving on city or rural roads, or on the highway, the Sienna will get you there in an un-irritating fashion.

Where you will be irritated is with the interior of the Sienna. Toyota has, for some unknown reason, created what shall henceforth be known as the "Great Divide" between driver and front seat passenger. This Great Divide sees to it that those occupants stay in their assigned zone at all times, like a chaperone at a high school dance in the 1960s.

It makes the driver's seat of the Sienna feel more like a true captain's chair, with the airship's dashboard laid out in front and adorned with hard plastic covering in an... um... unique design as tested in the Sienna XSE. Is there a checklist to go through before you take off from your driveway? That's up to you to decide.

The front row of the Sienna is broken up by an extra large center console.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

There's a good deal of comfort and convenience for the second- and third-row passengers of the Sienna. Seats move forward and aft a surprisingly great distance and the storage capacity of the Sienna is one of the highest in the class. USB ports are available in all three rows and quad-zone climate control is standard on every trim level except the base. As tested, the Sienna's upholstery and finishings in the rear of the vehicle looked like the type that would stand up against the wear and tear of family life.

And for all its engineering and hardiness, the Sienna just didn't come off as particularly nice. Sure, it's capable in more ways than just how it drives, but the Sienna felt more utilitarian than a Honda Element. It just didn't feel special or serene, merely passable.

The second-row seats in the Sienna offer great flexibility.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Passable shouldn't be good enough as competition stiffens. The Carnival and Pacifica have interiors and infotainment systems that put Toyota's to shame, despite its large 11.6-inch infotainment touch screen. The all-wheel drive in the Pacifica opens up the model to more marketability and the Pacifica Pinnacle, a new luxury-level option that comes as a plug-in hybrid is a compelling choice for buyers.

With the Sienna, Toyota gets away with what they've gotten away with in the RAV4 for years - a vehicle so gosh darn practical and traditionally reliable with a Toyota emblem at the front that buyers are (likely) willing to overlook its interior failings and buy it without cross-shopping the far better competition.

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Family-friendly three-row SUVs

Three of our favorite three-row SUVs for 2022

The Grand Cherokee L is available with two different powertrain choices.

Jeep

There are more three-row SUVs on sale than ever before, so it can be tough to make a choice between them. You need to balance space, performance, safety, and tech to make your decision, and doing your homework is important. To help you get started down the right path, we've selected three of our favorite three-row family haulers. These are SUVs that bring the latest features and excellent design features to help keep you and your family rolling. Let's get started.

2023 Toyota SequoiaThe Sequoia is all-new for the 2023 model year, and finally stands on level ground with its rivals.Toyota

Toyota Sequoia

Toyota gave the Sequoia a much-needed overhaul for the 2023 model year that brought it up to speed with its competitors. The thirsty V8 and outdated styling are gone, and in their place, Toyota installed a twin-turbo V6 with a hybrid system that produces 437 horsepower and 583 pound-feet of torque. A ten-speed automatic transmission and either rear- or four-wheel drive are available.

The Sequoia’s update brought a new infotainment system with a much more intuitive, fluid interface. It runs on a standard 8-inch or an optional 14-inch touchscreen. Toyota’s new software offers voice controls, standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and much more.

Inside, the Sequioa’s interior feels much more upscale and modern than before, and there’s plenty of room for the entire family and all their gear across its three spacious rows. Starting with the Limited trim, Toyota gives luxurious standard features, including heated and ventilated front seats, a larger touchscreen, a hands-free liftgate, and a heated steering wheel.

2023 Kia TellurideKia updated the ultra-popular Telluride for 2023 with refreshed styling and features.Kia

Kia Telluride

The Kia Telluride is easily one of the best family vehicles from the last ten years, and it offers great value on top of its functional characteristics. Kia updated the SUV for 2022 with a new 10.25-inch infotainment system and a highway driving assistance system.

The Telluride comes with a 3.8-liter V6 that produces 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. The SUV’s engine may not be the most powerful or thrilling, but it gets the job done and offers refined, smooth operation.

Kia equips the base Telluride with seating for eight, but the optional second-row captain’s chairs reduce capacity to seven. Interior fit and finish, materials, and styling are all far more upscale than the Telluride’s price tag would suggest, making the SUV an excellent family companion for longer road trips.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee LThe Grand Cherokee got a third row for the first time with the new L.Jeep

Jeep Grand Cherokee L

Jeep completely overhauled the Grand Cherokee for 2021 and added a new three-row “L” model shortly after. The new Grand Cherokee L features boxy, muscular styling that works with its stretched profile. Even with a new shape, the SUV is immediately recognizable as a Grand Cherokee.

Jeep offers two engines in the 2022 Grand Cherokee L. The base mill is a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 293 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. A 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is available that produces 357 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Both come with an eight-speed automatic transmission and the V8 comes standard with four-wheel drive.

The L is more premium inside than most likely expect from a Jeep, but at the top end of the model line it’s deep into luxury territory, both on price and design. The Jeep is just shy of its competitors on interior space, but there’s still plenty of room for up to seven people. Top trims get luxury finishes like leather and woodgrain, and available tech like a rear-seat entertainment system helps keep everyone happy for the long haul.

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New minivan

Honda announces new Odyssey Sport

Sport is a new trim for the Odyssey minivan.

Honda

The Honda Odyssey may not be the most exciting vehicle in the world, but it's getting a new Sport model that at least makes it look the part. Honda will release the model for the 2023 model year, and the Odyssey line overall will be offered with a new Honda Service Pass, which includes two years of complimentary scheduled maintenance.

The Odyssey Sport slots into the Honda catalog between the EX-L and Touring trims. It comes with gloss-black exterior trim and black 19-inch wheels outside, and black leather with red stitching inside. The cabin comes with red accent lighting on the dash and in the footwells, and the roof pillars and headliner are both black. Under the hood, the Odyssey Sport gets the same 3.5-liter V6 from years past. It makes 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, and comes paired with a ten=speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.

2023 Honda Odyssey SportThe Sport comes with dark exterior trim and unique leather upholstery with red stitching inside. Honda

All Odyssey models come with Honda Sensing safety equipment, which includes adaptive cruise control and pedestrian detection. The 2023 van hasn't been crash-tested yet, but the 2022 model earned a Top Safety Pick + award, so it's likely the new model will be rated similarly.

Honda Service Pass is a new program for 2023+ Honda vehicles. It covers routine scheduled maintenance for up to two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first. Under the program, buyers get free oil changes, tire rotations, and multi-point inspections.

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