2014 Toyota Sienna Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 12, 2014

The Toyota Sienna only comes up shy in fold-away second-row seats and gas mileage; otherwise it's a leader in power and durability.

The Toyota Sienna is one of the best ways to tote a large group of people, when you don't want that group to end up in a brawl over elbow room or entertainment.

The Sienna's one of the best-selling minivans in America, and for good reason. It's spacious, safe, posts good fuel economy figures, and vies with the Honda Odyssey with its flexible-seating game--though both still lose that scrimmage to the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country.

The Sienna only undergoes mild changes for 2014, by adding a cargo version and by making a towing package standard on all versions.

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Minivans are all about space and functionality. At more than 200 inches long, and more than 78 inches wide, the Sienna's a big van. There's space everywhere, even in the third row. The front seats get a regal seating position, and even in the second row, a pair of airline-style reclining bucket seats are available. The basic bench is comfortable, with expanses of head and leg room--and it slides on an elongated track so that either second- or third-row leg room can be expanded. It also aids in loading passengers into the third row. The second-row seat can be removed entirely, but does not fold away into the floor--the Chrysler minivans' special trick. The third-row seat does fold flat, and with it stowed and the middle seats pushed forward, the Sienna has 150 cubic feet of cargo space.

There's no more four-cylinder engine, so all Siennas now come with a 3.5-liter V-6 with 266 horsepower, coupled to a six-speed automatic. Performance is brisk, but gas mileage dipped overall with the loss of the four-cylinder, while it rose on the Honda Odyssey. Handling isn't quite as crisp as the Odyssey, but the Sienna's electric power steering and independent suspension are sorted out well, without much body roll. The SE version has slightly more direct feel, but it's a very subtle distinction to be drawn--one we think gets lost by most minivan shoppers.

Few of us shop for minivans based on style, but Toyota at least makes the effort to bring the Sienna into a modern flow. The front end shares the latest Toyota design cues, with a low grille that tapers upward softly into a roofline that does nothing to upset tradition--not like the Honda Odyssey's lightning-bolt side cue, or the Nissan Quest's ape of the Ford Flex. It's a tidy take, free of controversy, and full of utility, since the regular, rectangular shape plays out directly into vast interior space. The cockpit's styled with a bit of drama, and a bit too much grainy plastic, but it's organized with care.

Standard safety features include curtain airbags and stability control, and a rearview camera and Bluetooth are available, and blind-spot monitors are now standard on upper trims. All Siennas come with dual sliding side doors; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; a CD player and aux jack; a tilt/telescoping steering wheel; and three-zone climate control. Upscale versions add a power tailgate and power sliding side doors; steering-wheel audio controls; leather upholstery; heated front seats; a dual sunroof; and a huge 16.4-inch-wide LCD screen and a DVD player to keep the two back rows of passengers entertained.

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2014 Toyota Sienna

Styling

There's nothing new under the sun, especially if you're caught in the minivan orbit.

It won't be the minivan segment that sparks a styling revolution. The Toyota Sienna keeps to that logic, with its one-box approach to family-hauling–although it does wear a few sporty styling cues, but nothing wild enough to launch families into riots. It looks a little more interesting than it has in the past, as it grows closer and closer to the more polarizing Honda Odyssey's design, especially in the Sienna's sporty SE guise.

The modern Sienna's interior divides the driver and passenger spaces with its wide, sweeping dash–leaving the gauges and the controls on the driver's side, while the passenger gets access to the climate and audio systems. If anything it amplifies the sense of space inside the Sienna, as do slimmer seats and a thinner dash, Toyota says. Our main gripe with the cabin is that it was designed during an era when Toyota adopted some unusual horizontal plastic graining that looks dull and almost unfinished, and isn't helped by the matte woodgrain trim that's applied on more expensive models. Much more convincing are the Optitron bright-white gauges on pricey models that mimic the dials found on Lexus vehicles.

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2014 Toyota Sienna

Performance

The Sienna remains the only minivan with an all-wheel-drive option; it handles respectably, and conservatively.

Minivan performance is more of a relative conversation, mostly focused on merging onto the highway and the ability to accelerate off the line. However, the Sienna SE is designed to offer a little extra driving involvement for those who need a minivan, but didn't want to give up all of the excitement behind the wheel.

The latest Sienna carries over a straightforward MacPherson front strut and independent rear suspension. Electronic power steering is a new arrival, and it's fine in a vehicle like the Sienna, in which handling is a lower priority than space and fuel economy. While it's no sportscar, the Sienna has smooth ride motions and quick steering, making it nicely maneuverable in city driving.

A special SE edition gets tighter suspension tuning, big 19-inch wheels, and a lower body; it's a gamble that may not register with average minivan buyer, especially as it's a subtle difference from the XLE or Limited feel.

What's missing  from the Sienna performance portfolio is its former four-cylinder option. For the past two years we've thought the four was a good alternative to the optional V-6, since it kept the Sienna's price lower. It's gone for the 2014 model year, leaving the 3.5-liter V-6 and its 266 horsepower as the only engine offered. It's a good one, combined with a six-speed automatic for strong acceleration and fuel economy that's almost as good as the outgoing four. Mostly, we think, it's Toyota's need to install four-cylinders in other cars that brought about the change.

The Sienna is rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds, and itself weighs from 4,275 to 4,750 pounds. It's the only minivan to offer all-wheel drive, which accounts for the top end of that weight range.

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2014 Toyota Sienna

Comfort & Quality

It doesn't have fold-away second-row seats, but the Sienna does have airline-style reclining chairs and a hideaway third row.

In terms of overall dimensions and interior volume, the 2014 Toyota Sienna is one of the largest minivans you can buy, having grown slightly over its previous generation model. The revamped interior suffers a bit in richness; interior materials and appointments feel a bit less refined compared to those of its competitors, in particular the horizontal grain on the dash and door caps. You won't open a vein, but you will notice a difference if you compare it to Aunt Barb's '96 Camry.

In front, the Sienna has supportive, comfortable seats with lots of head and leg room. Most versions have standard power front seats, too.

The second row is where the Sienna distinguishes itself from most other minivans. The standard setup is a bench seat that slides to expand passenger or cargo space as needed. It also has a removable section that can be stored in the cargo area, to reveal a cupholder and tray--and space to walk through to the third-row seat. The second-row bench can also be swapped out for captain's chairs, or on the plushest models, lounge-style seats that recline like first-class airline chairs, down to the leg-cushion extenders and footrests.

Still, while it's possible to remove the second-row seats, they don't disappear into the floor. The Sienna is a reskin of the former model, and it wasn't designed to allow the middle seats to stow away in that way--a nifty trick formerly available on the Nissan Quest, and still offered in the utility champions, the Chrysler minivans.

The third-row seat actually has adult-sized room in all directions. It isn't that difficult to enter-and they fold almost flat into a deep well in the cargo area. With the second-row seats moved as far front as possible, the Sienna has 117.8 cubic feet of cargo room; with the second row removed and the third row folded, it will hold 150 cubic feet of cargo. Even behind the upright third-row seat, there's 39.1 cubic feet of space, almost twice as much storage room as the 2010 Ford Taurus' trunk. The Sienna also can carry an actual 4x8 sheet of plywood.

There's also plenty of small-item storage inside in the Sienna's console, twin gloveboxes, map and side pockets, and available cargo organizer.

By the numbers, the Sienna rides on a 119.3-inch wheelbase, and is 200.2 inches long overall, and 78.2 inches wide. Total interior cargo volume: it's 150 cubic feet. That's big.

That makes the Sienna an eight-passenger van with enough space for at least five adults, and a configurable cabin that has a fold-away third-row seat and a maneuverable second-row seat (or seats), though it lacks the fold-away second-row chairs found in Chrysler's minivans.

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2014 Toyota Sienna

Safety

The Sienna has scored well in crash tests, but results need some updating.

While some of the Sienna's crash test ratings haven't been updated, it's always been a star performer–and now it has some of the most modern safety tech available on the market.

All Sienna minivans come with side curtain airbags that offer protection for all three rows of seating, as well as a driver-side knee airbag. A pre-collision protection system that preps the car for an imminent accident is offered on higher-level trims, as is dynamic cruise control. A rearview camera is now standard on the LE model and all models above it in the hierarchy, and front and rear parking sensors are standard on the Limited. Blind-spot monitors are now standard on the XLE and Limited and available on the SE, and they incorporate cross-traffic alerts, for backing out of parking spots more safely.

Visibility is excellent in the Sienna, and its upgrade rearview camera offers a 180-degree view.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) bumped the Toyota minivan up to an overall rating of five stars, although it took a rerun of its side tests--and apparently, a very strong performance in that test, to overcome its four-star frontal test.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has called the Sienna a Top Safety Pick in the past, with top 'good' ratings in all categories--but since it hasn't yet been tested in the new small-overlap frontal test, it does not qualify for the award this year.

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2014 Toyota Sienna

Features

It's not quite as tech-savvy as Chrysler's minivans, but the Sienna has a widescreen entertainment system on its options list.

The 2014 Sienna offers a slightly more luxurious take on the minivan segment than most of its alternatives, which means it starts a little higher in price–at around $27,000–and can climb to nearly double that.

The Sienna LE has added some of the equipment that had been standard in more expensive models in previous years. It now offers a USB port; Bluetooth with audio streaming; automatic climate control; power front seats; a power tailgate; power sliding side doors; a center console; sunshades for the rear seats; satellite radio; and steering-wheel audio and phone controls. The well-trimmed XLE gets leather upholstery; a sunroof; and heated front seats.

At the most expensive end of the lineup, the Sienna Limited takes the XLE's features and adds a dual sunroof; overhead console; a sliding center console; second-row "lounge seats" and a power-folding third-row seat, as well as a JBL audio system.

The base Sienna comes with a good list of standard equipment, including three rows of seating, with a fold-away third-row seat and side doors that slide manually; power windows, locks; and mirrors; three-zone air conditioning; remote keyless entry; a tilt/telescoping steering wheel; and an AM/FM/CD player with an auxiliary jack.

The mildly sporty Sienna SE has specific suspension tuning, and also gets 19-inch wheels; sport trim; LED taillights; and a leather-trimmed steering wheel.

Options on various models include DVD navigation, with Toyota's Entune mobile-app connectivity suite; a Dual View rear-seat DVD entertainment system with an immense 16.4-inch wide pair of screens; and premium audio. On a recent drive, we watched the latest Star Trek movie on the Sienna's widescreen system; trust us, you'll want it.

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2014 Toyota Sienna

Fuel Economy

The Sienna fares well in EPA testing--but it's no Odyssey.

The Sienna is only available with a V-6, making its fuel economy a little lower than the competition. Its front-wheel-drive version is rated at 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway–competitive with Chrysler and Nissan, but behind the Honda Odyssey's 19/28-mpg rating.

Opt for all-wheel drive, and the Sienna's mileage ratings fall to 16/23 mpg, down 2 mpg on either side of the cycle.
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