Toyota Sienna proves worthy travel companion — Even for just two people

By Jim Meachen

(September 10, 2019) We needed comfortable, reliable transportation to use on a 1,500-mile round trip from eastern North Carolina to north-central Tennessee for a weekend visit. While the 2019 Toyota Sienna minivan sounds like a bit of overkill for just two people, it proved to be comfortable and relatively fuel efficient transportation.

And had we needed a vehicle to transport people from our friend's home to a restaurant or local attraction, we were considerably prepared. Our Sienna travel vehicle was designed to hold seven as well as cargo. Even though that eventuality never materialized, we like to think we were fulfilling the Boy Scout motto — Be Prepared.

Even though once-popular minivans have been persona non grata in this age of crossovers and pickup trucks, they are still the best way to transport people and their cargo — no matter how many variations of the crossover SUV hit the market. 

2019 Toyota Sienna at a rest stop off Interstate 40 in western North Carolina

And here's the thing — if we had driven any of the popular mid-sized crossover SUVs we would not have had a vehicle that drove any better, was more fuel efficient, had more modern safety features, possessed more advanced driver-assistance features, or provided a more quiet and comfortable cabin. And there are few crossovers on the market that would have allowed more up-front storage compartments and cubbies for our stuff.

And if you live in a cold-weather climate and have come to rely on all-wheel drive — the 2019 Sienna has you covered. Optional AWD is now available and it was included on our test vehicle.

The Sienna features flexible seating and cargo arrangements. It can be equipped in either a seven- or an eight-passenger configuration, with power or manual third-row operation. The third row tumbles down into the floor, while the second-row seats can be removed to create a large cargo area. Here are the numbers — 39 cubic feet with all three rows in use, 117.8 cubic feet with the third row stowed away and 150 cubic feet with the third row folded and the second row removed.

Our two rollerboards and one briefcase probably took up about 10 cubic feet — so we had room to store a 70-inch flat screen TV had we found one on a super sale in Tennessee.

The Sienna was endowed with a reworked V-6 engine in 2017 — shared with the Toyota Highlander — mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Toyota has the highest horsepower minivan on the market sporting 296 ponies and 263 pound-feet of torque, up 30 horsepower and 18 pound-feet of torque from the previous V-6.

You can feel the performance from behind the wheel and we think the family who uses its minivan for hauling large numbers of passengers and cargo will appreciate it. Combined with the mew eight-speed, the Sienna has been recorded by a major magazine from 0-to-60 in 7 seconds, a good number for a people mover.

The Sienna is a big vehicle so the EPA mileage of 19 city and 26 highway for a front-drive model and 18/24/20 for the AWD model such as we drove are actually as good as any large SUV on the market. We enjoyed 23 mpg with regular gas on our trip, which we considered quite good.

The Sienna's interior, which was redesigned for the 2015 model year, with higher-quality fabric upholstery on the lower trim levels and leather seating surfaces and good-looking simulated wood on the upper trims. We found the switchgear user friendly. We like the shifter up by the steering wheel and the abundant storage spaces. Climate controls are operated by large knobs, but you have to go into the navigation screen to get to the audio pre-sets.

We particularly like the wide screen that flips out of the ceiling for rear-seat passengers. It can serve as a split-screen monitor that allows for two different media — a movie on one side and a video game on the other, for instance.

Our XLE test vehicle had a seven-passenger configuration with captain's chairs in the second row, the configuration we prefer. The very friendly captain's chairs slide fore and aft and can be ordered with extendable foot rests. And it is easy to access the third-row with the captain's chairs. The rear-most seats can be stored flat into a well. But the second row has to be muscled out of the minivan to get the optimum storage space.

The 2019 Sienna comes in five main trim levels — L, LE, SE, XLE and Limited. The SE, XLE and Limited are further available in Premium sub-trims. Prices start at $32,160 for the base LE model. We recommend moving up to at least the LE to gets worthwhile features starting at $35,040 including destination charge. Our XLE with AWD and a couple of worthwhile options such as rear entertainment ($2,360) and navigation ($1,410) carried a bottom line including destination of $45,223.

Full disclosure — there aren't many minivans left from which to choose, but there are two relatively new models with fresh designs that should be on every shopping list. They are the Chrysler Pacifica and the Honda Odyssey. The Pacifica can be purchased in hybrid format that comes with outstanding gas mileage measured at 30 mpg combined.