Review: 2022 Toyota Sienna blends space with efficiency
It's a minivan with a hybrid powertrain. Does this make minivans cool?
The Road Beat tests and reviews the 2022 Toyota Sienna XSE.
What is it?
Toyota's Sienna minivan, now in a fourth-generation, featuring newly sharpened looks and the notable introduction of a standard hybrid powertrain. Yes, this minivan is a hybrid, and is also the only way you can have a Sienna from here on. What took them so long? You can also spec all-wheel drive, too. In a world of rising gas prices, the prospect of averaging over 30 MPG in a vehicle this size sure does become extremely alluring. But, is it any good?
For starters, the sharpened looks do help the Sienna stand out in a sea of other, boring people movers. It's not quite textbook pretty, but then what minivan is? With this XSE trim, the so-called sporty acronym in Toyota's vocabulary, the Sienna does appear more exciting than rivals from either Honda or Chrysler. Whether you desire that boldness is up to you, but it's nice that Toyota is trying to differentiate their models and be more daring with designs. Kia's Carnival, conversely, looks more grown up and elegant as it ditches traditional minivan proportions to look more SUV-like.
Space is enormous, as is commonplace with minivans. The interior can fit seven people, adults even, more comfortably than you'd initially think. Shoot, even without an eighth seat, an eighth adult could fit and not be that uncomfortable. And yes, I did use all the space, cramming six friends inside the Sienna as we drove to the tennis courts. Even with the third row of seats, there is a decently roomy cargo area. While not particularly deep, the height of it allows for some imagination. If you fix the rear seats down, the storage area increases greatly for basically anything. Small Christmas tree? Sure, put it inside.
Overall quality in this well-equipped Sienna was good without being particularly impressive - This becomes more apparent when next to a similarly priced Highlander. The front seats do have a cockpit-like feel to them, helped by the high center console that wraps around you and brings the controls closer to you. Underneath lies a storage area that can be useful, but my hydroflask would roll around there endlessly on its own without wedging something else in there to help. It is undeniably comfortable, and from most seats - The second rows can slide to create tons of legroom for rear passengers.
Fuel mileage is likely the biggest selling point of the new Sienna, that, and the available all-wheel drive. But, let's talk MPG first. Ready for this? I averaged 33 during my time with the Sienna. Thirty-fricken-three. That's incredible for something so vast. That also is nearly 50 percent better than the last Honda Odyssey I tested. On the highway at 72 MPH, that number grew to an astonishing 37! If you're looking to save on gas, the Sienna is an easy choice and offers substantial savings and gains over non-hybrid rivals. Chrysler, however, does offer a hybrid variant of their own excellent Pacifica minivan to consider.
If you're wanting a minivan, there isn't much to not like. It does all the minivan basics with competence while combining those core traits with insane gas mileage. But, not all is as rosy as the ruby paint. And, disappointingly, it's the little things that bugged me with the Sienna. Take for the instance, the rear door handles. Something about them felt clunky, unnecessarily heavy, and yet loose at the same time. And there were multiple times I would pull on them and the rear doors refused to slide open. Yes, it wasn't just one, but both sides, too. I can't help but sense that a more reassuring door handle wouldn't too hard to come by. In addition, I wish the rear doors opened farther to create a larger portal for ingress.
Once those doors do open (and subsequently close), they do so at a glacial pace, akin to Australopithecines evolving into the Homo genus. Also less than ideal were adjustments for the rear seats. They slide this way and that way to make access to the rear easy, sure, but some of the levers were not intuitive. I stood there multiple times pulling levers, even - dare I say it - reading the levers for clarity to figure it out, and they just didn't work or do what I wanted. Then magically, they suddenly would work. I found this strange when in other cars have a clear handle to pull and just shazam! it works.
The third-row seats do fold into a cubby, but not as cleanly or easily as in other minivans like the Pacifica or Odyssey. Furthermore, the second-row seats have to be removed to clear out complete access for serious cargo hauling. Chrysler steal leads the way with their Stow 'N Go system where you can easily fold the second row seats even completely flat and hidden away. It's easy and brilliant to use. If you never plan on needing something like that, then you won't have to worry.
The engine/propulsion set-up, while efficient as heck, is a noisy and annoying four-cylinder engine at its core. So, when accelerating, you get thrashy and ragged noises from the stressed little unit, unlike the smooth and powerful V6s from Honda and Chrysler. But, it's all bout them (MPG) gains , though. Performance is adequate enough, with 0-60 MPH happening in 7.6 seconds, but does lag behind the Honda's V6 thrust.
Driving wise? It drives like I expected: a minivan, meaning boring. It's fine just meandering around your daily errands, with steering that doesn't wander and has a welcoming accuracy. The ride quality could be improved with better rebound control over bumps, and I didn't find it all that quiet on the highway either. Things do improve as you drive quicker, surprisingly, where I was treated to an unexpectedly good balance on my cloverleaf onramp test, with enough bite from the front tires to instill some confidence. However, Honda's Odyssey drives and handles better.
A rationally rational choice?
There is one big, overshadowing reason to choose a Sienna minivan: that gas mileage. I really do believe that this hybrid powertrain is going to take chunks of sales out from minivan-sales-leader Honda due to the enormous fuel economy benefits. I think the Honda drives better, but the look-at-me styling of the Toyota and hybrid efficiency might be enough to convert people over and also draw new buyers who might not have considered a minivan prior.
There's another new kid on the block, too, the Kia Carnival. It's a minivan without looking totally like a minivan. It does not have a hybrid option and therefore gets far worse fuel mileage, but it has good dynamics and a lovely interior. My take? If you're a Toyota-for-life customer, as many are, The Highlander Hybrid drives better and has a more luxurious interior. But, if you need the maximum in space, a minivan can deliver.
2022 Toyota Sienna XSE
As-tested price: $47,049
Pros: Wonderful fuel economy; looks that standout
Cons: Rivals drive better; looks might stand out too much
Verdict: Space plus economy, a winning combination for a minivan