2021 Toyota Sienna: What's It Like to Live With?
The 2021 Toyota Sienna was all-new, all hybrid and all-wheel-drive. We drove it for a year and this is what we learned.
|Miles Driven||Average MPG|
Latest Highlights (updated 03/15/22)
- We averaged 33 mpg and 540 miles on one tank, easily the best among minivans
- The hybrid engine can be quite loud at times, and the brake pedal touchy
- Seat comfort was up to the task of 10-hour drives and longer
- It's a road trip standout, with outstanding seat comfort and well-tuned driver aids
- Our staff found ways to work around the nonremovable second-row seats
• Our test vehicle: 2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum AWD 7-Passenger
• Base MSRP: $50,460
• MSRP as tested: $53,988
It's been a while since the Toyota Sienna was significantly updated. But Toyota came back big with the 2021 Sienna. Lately, all we hear is Sienna, Sienna, Sienna. How is the new Sienna? The big deal here isn't the available in-cabin refrigerator, vacuum or surround-view cameras. It's the 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid engine. All 2021 Toyota Siennas come with this hybrid powertrain only, a first for the minivan segment. We grew accustomed to minivan mpg in the mid-20s but this Sienna shatters that mold. Our testing showed it capable of 40 mpg with a range over 500 miles per tank. Toyota, you have our attention.
What Did We Get?
We got a 2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum AWD seven-passenger minivan with a starting MSRP of $50,460. The LE, XLE, XSE and Limited trims weren't undesirable; it's just that the top-trim Platinum allowed us to test everything the minivan had to offer.
The hybrid Sienna was one of the only minivans with all-wheel drive (AWD) at this point in time, so we ticked that box too. The Platinum Sienna offers a lot. Some of the more notable features included surround-view cameras, four-zone climate control, a 9-inch touchscreen, a 10-inch color head-up display, hands-free sliding door and rear hatch opening, and gobs of safety equipment.
On top of these we added options: a rear-seat entertainment system ($1,415) for the road trips; a 1500-watt inverter ($300) 'cause we all want more power for our three-prong cord devices; a digital rearview mirror ($200) to see over all the road-trip cargo; a temporary spare tire ($75) 'cause we're old-school; a rear bumper applique ($69) to minimize those bumper scuffs; and the Preferred Accessory package with carpeted mats ($294) for style. That brought our total MSRP to $53,988.
Why Did We Get It?
An updated Toyota Sienna is big news for the minivan world. Our long-term Sienna review seeks to answer a lot of our early questions. Will the driveability concerns persist? Can we live with a non-removable second-row seat? Does the lack of power from its the hybrid four-cylinder leave us wanting more, or does the EPA-estimated 35 mpg make us forget all about it? 2021 is a big year for minivans. The Chrysler Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid are updated, the Kia Carnival is all-new and the Honda Odyssey is refreshed. That's a lot of Toyota-versus comparison tests to plan.
What Did We Learn?
Our initial impressions of the Sienna changed after we drove it for a year and mostly for the better.
Early on, we harped on the van for its permanent second-row seats. Well, nobody on staff complained or felt this was the hassle we anticipated. Several of us parents with kids found ways to work around them. We figured out a way to fit eight wide-boy performance tires in alongside them. In short, they weren't for everyone but they weren't a deal-breaker.
The hybrid powertrain was another point of interest that we learned to appreciate. The engine doesn't have a lot of guts, and on some grades it drones with incredible vigor, whether going up- or downhill. But the trade-off is an average of 33 mpg, a best fill of 38 mpg and range as high as 540 miles on a single tank. That is without equal among minivans, even if not quite as high as the EPA estimates.
A couple of gripes remained, though. We weren't thrilled that the rear seat entertainment screen required an HDMI cable, unlike some competitive systems, though it worked great when connected. And finally, we never really adjusted to the brakes and their awkwardness in stop-and-go situations.
What's the Bottom Line?
The Sienna is a strong contender among minivans. In this segment, most vehicles handle the basics well. So making a choice comes down to which features are most important to you. This van delivers in most areas. It has driving quirks, including a touchy brake pedal and an occasionally raucous engine. But if you can come to terms with those, it also has a comfortable ride, kid- and parent-friendly touches, and hybrid fuel economy that handily beats all other minivans.
The manufacturer provided this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.
2021 Toyota Sienna: Real-World Fuel Economy
EPA estimates for the hybrid Sienna are 35 mpg combined. After nearly 20,000 miles of mixed driving, we averaged 33 mpg. Not quite what we hoped, but this still leaves competitive minivans in its dust.
Average lifetime mpg: 32.9
EPA mpg rating: 35 combined ( 35 city / 36 highway )
Best fill mpg: 37.6
Best range (miles): 542.1
Current odometer: 18,927
This is the minivan champion of fuel economy, hands down
"Fuel economy. After driving the Sienna over 8,000 miles, we achieved the EPA-combined estimate of 35 mpg just twice. Once was in April, on the downhill stretch of my return trip from Death Valley. The other was during our first leg of this Montana trip, before speed limits went to 80 mph and elevations increased. Based on our experience, I'm going to say the realistic return is 32 mpg on the highway. This still kicks the butt of most competitors. It's just not as good as the EPA says." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
"EPA-estimates state the 2021 Toyota Sienna should deliver around 36 mpg in the city and on highway. And, my trip came close. I drove roughly 500 miles and averaged 32mpg, which is still impressive on California roads. Best of all, I didn't have to fill up once during my vacation, using only about three-quarters of a tank." — Jodi Tourkow, senior director, written content
"I filled the Sienna full of 87 octane just over three weeks ago. I was surprised to look at the odometer today and see I'd driven 400 miles... and there is still a quarter-tank left. I topped it with fuel anyway. This tank returned 30.8 mpg. We still have a way to go for that EPA-combined 35 mpg, but we'll keep trying." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
"I drove the family to Death Valley National Park in the Sienna. We spent four days driving the van all over the park. I'm still sorting through the pictures. So expect those soon. But this is the trip where I set our current longest range and fuel economy records (478.8 miles on one tank and 37.6 mpg)." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
2021 Toyota Sienna: Maintenance
This is the Sienna's first year as a hybrid. After a year of service the van left in the same condition as when we received it. Almost 20,000 miles cost us just $25 in maintenance, and that was because we went to the tire shop next door instead of the dealership around the block.
|Total routine maintenance costs||$25.00||Scheduled dealer visits||1|
Free service is another Sienna plus
"At 10,000 miles the Sienna was due for its first real service. Toyota offers the only minivan with free scheduled maintenance, which in the case of the Sienna is good for 2 years or 25,000 miles. The experience was painless.
"We made a next-day appointment at Toyota of Huntington Beach, our adviser, Steve, met us with a smile and a great attitude and the service was done in about an hour. I didn't mind since I'd brought my laptop and made it a working-wait. The service included an oil change, new oil filter, tire rotation and the usual inspections." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
This would've been free, but $25 was more convenient
"At 5,000 miles the Sienna asked for maintenance. This interval is just a tire rotation, so I took it to a local shop and had them swapped front to rear. Total cost: $25." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
It sounds like we found our new resident car washer
"I took the venerable Sienna to one of my favorite weekend evening activities — no, not that. Close. Keep guessing. Yes! A do-it-yourself car wash. This is a regular (fun!) chore my Mazda3 easily deals with, and the Sienna mostly obliges — but I did run into one hurdle ... the foam brush.
"If you're not a car-wash-head like me (congratulations on having normal hobbies!), that's the long-handled brush that pukes suds. It's a pain on a normal day, but on a tall, long minivan without any steps (like a truck)? Let's just say the top of the vehicle was tough to deal with." — Jake Sundstrom, editorial assistant
This touchy brake pedal takes some getting used to
"The Sienna is not a performance vehicle (gasp!) but the brakes, even by minivan standards, leave something to be desired. The grabby nature of the brakes, a little like dipping the pedal in and out of flypaper, makes inching out of a parking space a chore. They also share a characteristic with the 4Runner; they're a bit soft when first applied, making it tough to judge how much brake to apply. That can make it difficult to glide into a stoplight ... which isn't great when you have a van full of passengers." — Jake Sundstrom, editorial assistant
The Sienna has personality, but some quirks we can do without
"Since our last update we've spent a lot of time doing what I'd consider to be regular minivan things. There was that camp the kids attended at the Discovery Cube in Santa Ana. Then the afternoon we stopped in at the local bowling alley. We met up with friends at that fishing hole right next to the freeway, which was an experience. A weekend getaway to Bass Lake and Yosemite National Park was our highlight, though the smoke from the California wildfires limited some of our outdoor fun.
"Extended Sienna time has opened my eyes to a few things: (1) The non-removable second row seats aren't as much of a hinderance as I first imagined, if you load strategically; (2) I find we stow the third row seats in the floor more than we use them. So nearly every bump we drive over has a follow-up thud as the seats shift in their storage well; (3) The CVT groan is part of the package. Ask for power going uphill, or let the van engine brake downhill. Either situation brings it out. My family is convinced there is a problem but I reassure them that, at least mechanically-speaking, this is just what the van does; and, (4) all the while, our fuel economy is slowly improving." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
We drove the Sienna off the beaten, and paved, path and this is what we think
"Off-road performance. I've now driven this Sienna over 100 miles on dirt roads. It has no problem on the maintained stuff, getting slightly skittish if you quicken the pace enough. But that sort of driving is rare because the minivan has such limited ground clearance.
"While in Montana, I spent most of my time in the dirt straddling erosion, lest an unseen road-rut ruin our day. Two or three such ruts snuck up on me along the road to Bowman Lake, which gets considerably more rough after passing the Polebridge Mercantile Store. The sharp impacts quickly reminded me what the Sienna was not. Still, the van proved plenty capable so long as I didn't get too eager. And the views at Bowman took my breath away, so all was forgiven once we got there.
"The only time AWD kicked-in noticeably was a few days later, on a long, single-lane uphill section of loose gravel. I'd actually just missed the turnoff to Morrell Falls Trailhead, which is where we were headed. The van didn't miss a step. I had the IP display already switched over to watch the front-to-rear power distribution or I may not have even noticed it was happening. Atop the hill I found a turnout, zoomed-in on the native navigation screen and found the road I missed there on the map. I suppose the nav system deserves some credit, too, for its accuracy. It at least saved me from further, 'Daddy took the wrong turn,' in-van ridicule." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
Let's say it again, the brakes are sensitive and the engine lacks guts
"Van life was definitely pleasant during my trip 2 hours north of Los Angeles; but acceleration on the Toyota Sienna was not.
The 2021 Sienna comes equipped with a hybrid powertrain, and you can feel the resulting smoothness on the road. However, stepping on the gas to gain speed on the freeway lacked oomph. Yes, it makes sense given the weight (4,285 lbs) of the Sienna. But I still found myself waiting longer than expected for that punch of speed to kick in.
Meanwhile, braking performance is adequate. The brakes felt grabby at times and made a smooth stop virtually impossible. Plus, you had to press on the brake hard to get the Sienna to slow down from highway speeds." — Jodi Tourkow, senior director, written content
Mike says this is the best adaptive cruise control in the market today
"In my opinion, Toyota has the best adaptive cruise control (Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control) logic available right now. I like its conservative response to traffic.
When the car ahead of me slows the Sienna is quick to start lightly braking. By starting early, it's a more gradual slow-down than systems that wait a second or two longer then apply the brakes more forcefully. Acceleration is also more leisurely than others. Most of the time I appreciate this. If I'm antsy I can always override it with a press of the gas pedal.
The only real problem is when you get caught behind a stage coach. Those are the worst drivers around." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
AWD means a lot more when it's on a car with ground clearance
"We opted for all-wheel drive because minvans are for family fun, and sometimes fun is at the end of a dirt road. Many of the popular attractions in Death Valley are accessible by reasonably maintained dirt roads. So it isn't like we needed AWD to see most sights. But in this case it was reassuring, I suppose. What we really wanted was more ground clearance. There are a lot of ruts and you can't drive around them all. You just have to take it slow — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
Long-distance seat comfort done right
"Comfort. We covered over 900 miles on one stretch, taking us from Idaho Falls, Idaho, all the way home to Southern California. More importantly, it was 14 hours in the saddle with just a few short rest-stop breaks. The antsy kids in the second row led the charge on trip-related complaint topics. But the cushioning that supported our haunches was never one of them. Thanks largely to its adjustability, I'd go as far as calling the driver seat fantastic. And the ride quality was agreeable, both on paved and dirt roads." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
These aren't the best cameras at night
"I appreciate the front and rear view cameras on the Sienna. But I can't say that I am very impressed with their low-light resolution. Maybe I'm expecting too much?" — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
We found the hands-free option was not headache-free
"Our Sienna is equipped with hands-free door opening for the side and rear doors. Kick your foot below the sensor two times quickly and the slider opens or closes. I like technology but so far this feature is hit-or-miss. It doesn't always work the first, or second, time. As you can imagine, it feels a bit ridiculous to kick at the air to no avail. It looks that way, too." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
Tell me about the rear entertainment system
"There are a few things to know about the rear entertainment system. On the positive side, the screen is pretty big and the display is clear. But there are sacrifices to be made. Not all devices connect since the system requires an HDMI connection. So if you pack the old DVD player for a road trip, like I did, the kids are going to have to plug it in and watch on their tiny screen. When the Sienna's screen is in use, it completely blocks the rear window, so you'll want to switch the rearview mirror to camera mode. It displays a crisp picture but keep in mind the ol' 'objects may appear larger' qualifier. More than once I was startled when a car that looked 'small' in the wide-angle rearview camera suddenly grew life-size when it overtook us in my peripheral vision. Scroll through the photo carousel above to get an idea of what I mean." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
Captain Obvious says, "Minivans hold a lot of stuff"
"This is why minivans are cool. What you see here is five nights of luggage for a family of four, all behind the third row. And in the front rows are four adults and two kids in booster seats. So much space." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
"It meant dusting off some Tetris skills from my youth, but I was able to fit eight tires into the back of the Sienna if I slid the second row all the way forward. These are especially wide tires for our long-term GT500 and Corvette. And if your going to point out that there were no round pieces in Tetris, well then you missed my point. Everything fits. That's my point." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
We ordered the spare tire and it was worth it
"An air compressor and fix-a-flat tub of goo come standard on the Sienna. For $75 we added a little peace of mind, a spare tire. It tucks into the quarter panel on the driver side, just behind the third row seats. If you skip this option, the space becomes a reasonably deep storage pocket." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
Pack a tent, 'cause you aren't camping in the back of this van
"We took the Sienna camping this past weekend. As expected from a minivan, it had more than enough space for our gear. The huge storage area meant we didn't even have to unpack a lot of it. Rather, we just opened the rear hatch to access our suitcase and feeding trough.
"One thing we couldn't do was sleep in the back. The combination of a not-so-flat load floor and the inability to remove the second row seats were limiting. The kids didn't seem to care because they wanted to sleep in a tent and listen to the coyotes anyway. But it's still worth knowing if car camping is your thing." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
Do we have another minivan convert in our midst?
"This is my first time driving a minivan since ... maybe ever? I learned to drive on a Chevy Tahoe when I was 15 and since then it's been Toyota Tercels, Mazda 2s and Jeep Wranglers. You know ... small bois. Needless to say, pulling the Toyota Sienna out of the Edmunds garage was a little ... well, it definitely felt like pulling a much larger ship out of port.
"So, I took it on a couple errands to get comfortable — notably on a Target run (using Drive Up). One of the handy features on the Sienna is the automatic trunk, which has an accessible button overhead. That took me a second to find, but once I did, I was on my way to complete the journey and get back home. The seal has been broken, I've parked the minivan and more fun is in store." — Jake Sundstrom, editorial assistant
Nothing like a road trip to show what a car really offers, both highs and lows
After being in lockdown for more than a year, my friends and I decided our first post-vaccination vacation would be to the place most likely to stress-test the effectiveness of our Moderna and Pfizer shots — Las Vegas. My wife, sister, mutual friend and I would be meeting the rest of the group in town, so at first glance, we really only required a two-row vehicle. But we also needed to board our dog, and our typical place is fairly far away and on the way to I-15, which leads straight to the Strip. With our needs for ample luggage space and a third row for Fido, only a minivan would do. And it just so happens that we have one of the best minivans on the market in our long-term fleet.
- Tons of room. The Sienna's cargo area had room for three full-size suitcases, an insulated tote-style cooler, a large duffel bag and a bag for the dog's supplies. All of it fit in the back without compromising rear visibility.
- Technology. Our Sienna Platinum is outfitted with a rear seat entertainment system, with an HDMI input and two pairs of wireless headphones. Perfect for pairing with a Nintendo Switch. My wife and I cruised up front, listening to Faction Punk while the two 30-year-old kids in the back were engaged in a Kirby versus Samus brawl. Good stuff.
- Fuel economy and range. One of the Sienna's strongest selling points is its standard hybrid powertrain. I thought I could travel from home to Vegas and back again on a single tank, and I gave it my best shot. But after traveling on empty for 15 miles, I decided to not run the risk of being stranded and filled up in Yorba Linda, about 20 miles from home. With 542 miles on a single tank, I pulverized the previous record by about 70 miles. If I had been a little lighter on the gas, I might have made it home (my overall trip economy stood at 33.3 mpg, or just below the EPA's highway rating). But I won't beat myself up too badly — the climb to the high desert taxes the powertrain and keeps the revs high on stretches like the Cajon Pass, which accounts for 2,000 feet of elevation change on its own. Which brings me to...
- Meager power. The four-cylinder and electric motors are quite efficient, but the fuel savings comes at the cost of performance. The powertrain is pretty lethargic on the highway, and acceleration is noticeably worse when you pack the van full of people, pets and luggage. Which, if you have the lifestyle that necessitates a minivan, is likely more often than not.
- Muddy rearview camera. We've covered this elsewhere, but the rearview camera's image quality is terrible. The muddiness is especially evident at night, as the camera doesn't do a good job at amplifying the illumination of the taillights.
- No fridge or vacuum. The 2021 Sienna was supposed to have an in-cabin fridge and a vacuum in its top trim levels, but both were axed by the time the Sienna was released. Both would have been welcome additions on our trip — the former for keeping bottles of water cold during our sweltering journey to Vegas, and the latter for sucking up the considerable amount of fur from our shedding dog. — Cameron Rogers, news and reviews editor
Soft door padding gets Mike's approval
"If 5,000 miles of driving the Sienna has taught me anything, it's that the driver door armrest isn't as high as I'd like. I present to you, Exhibit A. See those two little impressions in the door panel? Those are from my bony elbow. They stuck around for a couple of days before fading away. Props to Toyota, though, in making the material softer there. It worked for me." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
This may be the easiest child seat installation around
"Nobody makes child seat installation as easy as the Sienna. For one, the lower LATCH anchors are extremely easy to find. For another, there is an actual groove in the seat to allow extra space for fingers and keep the attached clips from rubbing. This is one of those small touches that goes a long way." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
Great build quality except for that one hiccup
"Check out this seat in our brand-new 2021 Sienna. That bottom cushion has been wavy since the day it arrived. This issue seems isolated to the front passenger seat only. The driver seat looks like it should. And none of the other seats seem abnormal." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
You don't need glamour when you have all this space
"I decided to take the Toyota Sienna on a road trip two hours north of Los Angeles to Santa Ynez wine country. And, I needed a vehicle that could haul seven adults around the area.
Needless to say, the thought of driving the 2021 Sienna didn't sound glamorous for a long-weekend, adults-only trip. But once I stepped inside, I quickly realized what I had been missing — and it's called comfort and space.
The driver is easily within arm's reach of all key controls and settings. The center console provided ample space to store all necessary items, such as sunglasses, snacks, additional chargers and face masks. Four cup holders and a cellphone holder added to the convenient storage amenities. But the gold star of the Sienna is the large storage area just underneath the shifter. It is the ideal space to put a purse or small bag, which, ladies, you know in most vehicles there is never an ideal spot to place your purse while your drive.
The automatic leather seats have plenty of settings to ensure any individual can fit comfortably while driving. Meanwhile, the captain chairs in the second row can be adjusted as far back as the start of the third row and almost fully recline, giving even the tallest people ample leg room.
And while there was nothing spectacular about the third row, passengers can still sit comfortably in the last row and you don't need to sacrifice cargo space for them to do so (We easily packed several cases of wine and a cooler in the trunk.). Additionally, the back seat passengers were able to control their own airflow and wind down with a show or movie that is displayed on a drop down screen. No, there is no DVD player involved. But, you do need an HDMI cable to connect to a computer in order for the screen to work." — Jodi Tourkow, senior director written content
Because you didn't ask
"Let the debate begin. Jodi applauded the Sienna's under-shifter storage space as a great place to store her purse. I found another, and I'll argue better, use for it. Cookies!" — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
"I don't know what kind of Car Eater you are. Maybe the thought of eating an entire pizza in the trunk of your sedan disgusts you. Maybe you're looking at the discarded remains of six fast food meals in the passenger seat of your crossover right now. I've been in both spaces and the Sienna allows you to cater to a lot of eating-on-the-go needs ... including eating ribs (with multiple sides) while on the road to Modesto.
Eating on the go is (usually) something you do because you have to. Sitting in one of the captains chairs , my legs sprawled out and meal neatly laid out, made it feel like something I should be doing ... rather than something I might get in trouble for later." — Jake Sundstrom, editorial assistant
Glacier National Park road trip in the Sienna
"We set off on a 10-day, 3,000-mile road trip from California to Montana and back. Our goal was to visit Glacier National Park near the Canadian border. We learned a lot about the Sienna along the way. Here are some of the key takeaways." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
Seven states' worth of road grime
"Memories. I feel a small sense of accomplishment when I look back at the filth covering my car after a long road trip. This one was no different. We drove the Sienna in the snow, the rain and the dirt. We might've brushed a roadside shrub or two. And sadly, many a bug met its demise across that brick-shaped front-end. Still, a little elbow grease, and two car washes, were enough to restore the van to as-new condition. Until the next trip." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations
Death Valley National Park road trip in the Sienna
"As promised, though a bit delayed, here is a carousel of images from Death Valley, National Park. The theme here is: the park is huge and the Sienna made quick work of much of it." — Mike Schmidt, senior manager, vehicle testing operations