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 XSE The 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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Honda notified dealers of upcoming supply cuts.

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Honda, like all major automakers today, is truly a global operation. Though it produces plenty of vehicles here in the United States, many of the components it relies on for manufacturing come from elsewhere in the world. That means Honda, like the other auto giants, needs its global supply chain operating smoothly in order to prevent disruption. Unfortunately for Honda dealers and potential customers, disruption is what's about to happen. The automaker recently sent a letter to its dealers, forecasting reduced vehicle supply in the coming weeks.


2021 Honda Ridgeline No. 19 - Honda Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc


The dealer letter, posted to the Civic XI forum and fan site, was dated August 25 and confirmed by a dealer upset with the development, according to Automotive News. In the letter, Honda cites the ongoing pandemic and microchip shortages as major factors impacting its production efforts. Total shipments to dealers could be cut by up to 40 percent, but not all models will be affected to the same degree.

The letter noted that supplies of the Pilot and Passport SUVs will hold steady, and shared that production of the Civic hatchback is on schedule. However, the situation is fluid and could change at any time, so there's a chance that timelines could speed up or slack off as necessary.


2022 Honda Pilot Some models will see more cuts than others.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc


Honda is just the latest in a long line of automakers struggling to keep pace with demand in the face of several converging global crises. In an effort to keep vehicles rolling out of factories, General Motors has implemented selective feature cuts in some of its new vehicles, such as the removal of engine start/stop tech from some trucks and SUVs. Earlier this month, Ford Motor Company told Mustang Mach-E buyers to expect delays of at least six weeks as it grapples with the chip shortage, and will temporarily reduce production capacity at a few of its plants.

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Vehicle sales numbers

Toyota has sold over 50 million Corollas

Toyota has sold tens of millions of Corollas over the last 55 years.

Toyota

The Toyota Corolla entered its 12th generation in 2019, after more than 50 years on sale. Now, in 2021, the automaker says the car has reached another benchmark, this time with an almost unbelievable number attached to it. In Today, Toyota says that in July 2021, it sold the 50-millionth Corolla. That's almost one Corolla sold for every six Americans alive today, though the sales total includes international vehicles as well.


1969 Toyota Corolla The Corolla's frugal powertrain helped it grow quickly in the United States.Toyota


The Corolla debuted in 1966 but didn't make its way to our shores until spring 1968. Sold as a 1969 model, the car had a starting price of around $1,700 at a time when the median household income was $7,700. The first cars had a short-stroke 1,077-cc four-cylinder engine, 12-inch wheels, and a four-speed manual transmission. That powertrain produced only 60 horsepower, which was good for the car to (eventually) reach 60 mph in about 17 seconds.

Though the car's quality and design helped, it was the oil crisis in the early 1970s that really pushed it to the top of buyers' lists. Big American cars powered by V8 engines fell out of favor as fuel rationing and higher prices took hold. The early Corolla's fuel economy of over 35 mpg helped it earn a place in many Americans' driveways as a result.


2021 Toyota Corolla Cross 2021 Toyota Corolla Cross Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Corporation


Toyota notes that it was building Corollas in the United States by the mid-1980s and says that the current generation car is built at its manufacturing facility in Mississippi. The automaker's new joint plant with Mazda, which is located in Huntsville, Alabama, will start building the new Corolla Cross this summer.

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