2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
A sporty look and a sporty driving experience in the minivan category
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyers Guide
A minivan may not be a status symbol, but there is no other automotive genre that is as space-efficient and versatile in use. If you regularly need to transport up to eight people in comfort and carry medium-large cargo items that won't easily fit into a sedan, and park easily, a minivan is the way to go. Sure, you could use a large SUV -- with less interior space, a larger and harder-to-dock footprint, and greater thirst for gasoline. Unless you live where pavement is optional and the Pleistocene is more than lessons in geology class, a minivan beats a large SUV every which way.
Toyota's minivan is the Sienna, now well into its third generation and with some important changes this year. Exterior styling has been freshened, the unibody structure has been stiffened by use of more spot welds during assembly, and the interior pleasantly upgraded. Say goodbye to cheap-looking plastics and hello to higher-quality materials and redesign of nearly everything inside. Powered by the familiar 266-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, the Sienna is the only minivan currently offered with all-wheel drive in addition to the standard front-wheel drive. Offered in L, LE, SE, SE Premium, XLE, XLE Premium, Limited, and Limited Premium grades in FWD form and LE, XLE, and Limited with AWD, there is a Sienna for every need and budget from basic family hauler to near-luxury transportation.
And sport? Besides visual cues including smoked headlight covers, side sill extensions to visually lower, and sporty-looking lower front styling, the SE gets a firmer and lowered suspension and 19-inch alloy wheels with low-profile tires. SE Premium adds Driver Easy Speak, a new system that uses the microphone in the overhead console (for voice-activated accessories) and the audio system to broadcast front-seat voices to the rear seats. Just in case someone has headphones and isn't paying attention… or is too immersed in the Blu-Ray/DVD entertainment system. It also adds the Smart Key System on all doors, push-button start/stop, and the Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert system.
Such was my test car for the past week. "Sport sedan morphed into family van" isn't quite true, and it's still a large vehicle, but it does drive well, with a good combination of comfort and handling. The drivetrain -- 266-hp V6 plus six-speed automatic -- hasn't changed since 2011, but no problem there. There's plenty of power for merging and passing and surprising people who don't think a minivan can get out of its own way. EPA mileage estimates are 18 mpg city, 25 highway, and with more than my usual amount of highway driving I got 22mpg overall for the week. Try that with a three-row SUV!
With dual power sliding doors, a power tailgate, ample seating for eight including about two feet of fore-and-aft travel for the second row plus the ability to arrange that seating in many different ways, the Toyota Sienna SE has all of the usefulness and versatility of a minivan plus upscale appointments and a good driving experience.
APPEARANCE: The basics of the Sienna's styling haven't changed much since the current version debuted for 2011. The grille and headlights have changed a bit in some models. The SE is distinguished by sport-inspired lower styling, with a vertical "air dam" lower front bumper fascia incorporating foglamps set into faux ducts and a small splitter at the bottom. That flows into side sill extensions and then to a rear lower fascia that reprises the front. Smoked head- and tail-light covers, flat black trim, and 19-inch alloy wheels with low-profile tires complete the look.
COMFORT: I think I've lived in smaller spaces… The interior is the most important thing for a minivan, and it's here that the biggest improvements have occurred. The old textured hard plastics were functional, but not the best-looking bits. They're history now, replaced by better-looking materials for a pleasant, stylish, and, above all, functional interior. Soft-touch textured and stitched materials rule. Trim is sport-look faux carbon fiber. Major seating surfaces -- front and outboard second-row with a second-row bench as here -- are leather, with leatherette for the center second and third rows. The seating position is comfortably upright. Both front seats are power-adjustable, and recline enough for a good nap. The second row bench is split 40/20/40 with a removable center section and nearly two feet of fore-and-aft travel. Leg room will not be a problem. Outboard sections slide and flip for third-row access.
The third row is wide enough for three kids or small adults, and unless the second row is most of the way back legroom is very good. No penalty box here! It folds down into a well behind when a long flat floor is needed; when not, that well increases cargo capacity and helps prevent errant groceries from becoming science projects. Back up front, the instrument panel places instruments and controls well, and climate, audio, and navigation systems are simple to use. The touchscreen in the center stack is the primary interface with climate also adjustable via traditional controls. Storage spaces and cupholders abound -- what else did you expect in a minivan? All current audio formats are supported, and the space-saver spare tire is found under the second-row passenger's side.
SAFETY: Toyota's "Star Safety System", including antilock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, Brake Assist, an enhanced version of the Vehicle Stability Control system, and traction control is standard in all 2015 Sienna models, as is a backup camera. So are dual-stage front, front seat-mounted side, full-length side-curtain, and driver's knee air bags. Side and side-curtain airbags have been redesigned for fuller coverage.
RIDE AND HANDLING: When it debuted in 2011, the third-generation Sienna's suspension tuning was revised for a more engaging driving experience. Gone was softness that might feel comfortable on a smooth, straight road at the expense of excessive roll in corners or pitching on uneven pavement. The MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension was retuned to be firmer, but with properly-match damping rates so ride quality is still very good on smooth, straight pavement, with minimal roll and pitch when the road gets more interesting or degraded. Relative to other models, the SE gets slightly firmer springs and shocks and sits three-tenths of an inch lower, both improving handling. The electrically-assisted steering is not over-assisted. The result is a minivan that can be enjoyable to drive. Excessive enthusiasm there could result in unhappy rear passengers, so driver beware. Also note that with the lowered stance and front bodywork, front clearance is far closer to sports sedan than standard minivan. Don't even think about finding parking stops or curbs by feel!
PERFORMANCE: While a four-cylinder engine was offered when the third-generation Sienna debuted, it didn't prove popular and quickly disappeared. No worries, the familiar 3.5-liter V6 is perfectly suited for any task here. Maximum horsepower is still 265 (at 6200 rpm), with torque peaking at 245 lb-ft at 4700 rpm and plenty all the way down to just off idle. The six-speed automatic helps both economy and performance, and with a 0-60 time in the eight-second range, short onramps are no problem. The brakes work well. EPA mileage is 18 mpg city, 25 highway, and 21 overall. With more than the usual highway driving I saw 22 overall, with the best stint (highway) at 23.4. Last year all Sienna models were upgraded to include the towing package as standard equipment, and so can tow 3,500 pounds. So, in the unlikely event it can't fit inside, it can be towed.
CONCLUSIONS: The Toyota Sienna SE Premium adds a sporty look and driving experience to the minivan class.
2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium
Base Price $ 39,680
Price As Tested $ 41,164
Engine Type DOHC 24-valve aluminum alloy V6
Engine Size 3.5 liters / 211 cu. in.
Horsepower 266 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 245 @ 4700 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 119.3 in. / 200.2 in.
Curb Weight 4560 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 17.1
Fuel Capacity 20 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P235/50R19 99V m+s Dunlop SP Sport 7000 A/S
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, BA, EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / torsion beam axle
Drivetrain transverse front engine, rear-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 25 / 22
0 to 60 mph est 8 sec
Towing Capacity 3500 lbs.
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Roof Rack Crossbars $ 185
Wireless Headphones $ 55
Security System $ 359
Destination Charge $ 885