It’s a product category that’s inherently not very exciting: the mini-van. If you have a family, you know what I’m talking about, whether you own one or not, because the cross between a cargo van and an SUV is something that appeals to quite a lot of families. Heck, we had our spate of minivans too, starting with a Chrysler Town & Country that replaced my Toyota Supra convertible.
<<sigh>> The sacrifices we make for our children!
We replaced the Town & Country with a 2006 Toyota Sienna minivan and were pleased at the upgrade back then, moving from a “van on a truck body” to a proper, comfortable van that seated seven and made road trips a breeze. Space for the kids to stretch out, space for dogs, and lots of cargo capacity. The driving experience? Well, people don’t buy minivans because they’re heading to the test track or trying out the advanced traction control in the mountains.
But what’s changed in 11 years of Toyota and minivan evolution? The answer when I got behind the wheel of the 2017 Toyota Sienna LTD Premium AWD was “surprisingly little”. In fact, while there were significant upgrades – including all wheel drive – the overall experience was that I was surrounded by lots of incremental improvements at best. The driving experience was good and there was power under the hood when I pushed it to leap onto the highway, but truth be told, nothing about the Sienna wow’ed me.
Let’s go through the vehicle, shall we? First off, the exterior. It’s quite a sleek, streamlined vehicle:
The form-factor of a minivan seems to dictate that they all end up looking quite similar, with the hinged front doors, sliding middle doors and back liftgate, so these lines are almost identical to our old 2006 Sienna.
Looking from the front it’s a solid design that looks like it’s been tested in the wind tunnel thousands of times to ensure it has the least drag possible. Sexy? No. But streamlined? What do you think:
Interestingly, even with the effort to make it streamline, the inclusion of a 3.5-liter engine and 8-speed automatic doesn’t do much for fuel efficiency and it averages about 20mpg city and highway combined. I saw about 21mpg, as you can see in the dashboard photo (below). According to the Department of Energy, 20-22mpg is what just about every minivan in the industry gets, so it’s not exceptional with its 20mpg rating.
And then there’s the dashboard design, which surprised me quite a bit. Look closely at the main dash gauges below:
Unlike many other modern vehicles – like the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan, which I’ll be reviewing shortly – this is a very old school, mundane, almost mechanical gauge set. But what’s worse is that the silver tick marks along the outer edge of the gauges? That’s just painted plastic, something I’d expect in a sub-$20k entry level vehicle, but not in this expensive, top-end Toyota.
Let’s switch to the good, however. The interior itself. Big, roomy and comfortable, plenty of space for 7 people with its two rows of so-called captain’s chairs and back bench:
The middle seats were easily folded and slid forward or backward, making it easy to create room or gain access to the back row, and the entertainment system was fantastic. The centerpiece was a huge fold-down video screen that middle and back row passengers can enjoy, there are also component video input plugs immediately adjacent to the driver’s seat. Yes, you can plug in a gaming system and there’s a 110V outlet there too!
The system also supports playing both DVDs and even Blu-Ray disks – with the player located on the front dashboard below the entertainment / navigation and climate control areas. Because it’s a big vehicle, there’s lots of storage room too, and it would be a breeze to have 15-20 favorite movies stashed in the driver’s armrest for long haul roadtrips.
The keyfob was great too, with the ability to open either side door, the back liftgate and even remote start the vehicle on a cold day:
I’ve been a loyal Toyota customer for many years and really wanted to love the 2017 Toyota Sienna AWD, but even with all the bells and whistles, it left me yawning and bored. It’s well past time for Toyota to give the vehicle and substantial interior redesign: from the navigational system to the second row seat controls, everything is done better in competitive vehicles, and with a lower price tag. Rumor has it the 2018 Sienna will be significantly redesigned, and that’s good. It’s past time for Toyota to have upgraded the design of this vehicle.
And speaking of the price, I was astonished when I looked at the Monroney for this particular vehicle. A 2017 Toyota Sienna AWD LTD Premium with cargo organizer, wireless headphones, alloy wheel locks, remote engine starter, roof rack cross bars, glass breakage sensor and four season floor mat package will set you back a cool $50,769.00. Yes, over $50K for a minivan.
Perhaps I should have started this review by quoting the retail price because in my way of thinking, once I hit that $50,000 mark, I want top-end luxury and fancy accessories that impress and affirm that I made a smart investment. The 2017 Toyota Sienna is a very nice minivan and undoubtedly a great addition to any growing family, but at this premium price I expected much more. More design, more comfort, and better driving performance.
AS DRIVEN: 2017 Toyota Sienna LTD AWD Premium with just about every possible optional package available to include. Base MSRP: $47,310. Price as driven: $50,769.00
Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the Sienna for the purposes of this review. My opinions, however, are clearly my own.