Toyota Sienna — It's all about the gas milage

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(June 26, 2022) When we first drove the newest generation Toyota Sienna minivan about 14 months ago we were impressed by a number of things Toyota had done to improve styling and update the vehicle with scads of storage, a user-friendly interface, and a large helping of new technology. We also praised its extraordinary gas mileage. We recently drove another Sienna, a 2022 Platinum Hybrid, this spring on a 350-mile round trip to our favorite beach and we have elevated the Sienna's exceptional gas mileage to the top of our list for reasons to purchase.

The gas mileage is EPA-measured at 36 miles per gallon city, 36 highway and 36 combined, an exceptional rating for any kind of passenger vehicle without a plug.  With gas prices on the East Coast hovering in the $4.50 range during the week of our trip, it was a downright pleasure to complete the vacation without the need to visit a gas station. And in fact, by the time we got back home the gas gauge indicated we still had 125 miles before empty.

You can imagine our heightened delight had we been traveling in California where prices are nearly $2 more a gallon.

Minivans, once the vehicle of choice for families with kids, have lost favor over the past decade to the car-based crossover SUV even though a minivan has significantly more passenger and cargo space than most SUVs.  So Toyota thought why not give the new Sienna, introduced in 2021,  a more SUV-like appearance by raising the hood, pulling back the base of the A pillar, and creating bulges around the rear wheels?

That helps mitigate the mommy-mobile stigma that has been attached to anything with sliding rear doors. The sliding doors are still there — thankfully because it is one of the most ingenious inventions of the 20th Century for easy entry and exit  — but they aren't noticed as much with Toyota's SUV touches.

The interior has also received a complete makeover. It's spacious with plenty of glass to keep passengers from feeling claustrophobic, and Toyota has checked all the boxes with a myriad of storage areas including a unique center console bridge over a huge open area good for storing a laptop computer or a big purse. A cargo tray covering the right half of the dashboard works for storing an assortment of the many odds and ends passengers carry these days including cellphones.

Inside our Limited test vehicle were second-row captain's chairs that have an enormous 25 inches of fore and aft slide — and with an optional ottoman feature. There are seven USB ports and available WiFi; an optional refrigerator in the second row; and 18 cup holders.

Cargo space is good measured
at 33.5 cubic feet with all three rows of seats in use expanding to 101 cubic feet. However, the second-row cabin's chairs cannot be removed or folded out of the way as in competitors minivans.

To achieve the excellent gas mileage numbers in a big vehicle, it necessitated dropping the traditional V-6 engine that has powered the minivan for years. In its place is a  hybrid powertrain that includes a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine paired with two electric motors that sacrifices acceleration for fuel economy producing 245 horsepower compared to the outgoing 3.5-liter V-6 that was good for 296 horsepower. The new engine still gets the job done, but at a more leisurely pace measured at 7.7 seconds from 0-to-60 (compared to 6.8 seconds in 2020). And it can get bogged down under a full load of passengers and cargo.

But the key problem is with Toyota's continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has a tendency to dull the engine's responsiveness. And with no transmission shift points, the engine gets louder and louder as the driver asks for more power during passing and merging events becoming very raucous and annoying inside the cabin.

If Toyota had simply included a CVT with artificial shift points or a standard six-speed transmission, we think it would have made all the difference. Toyota has tripled down by using the same unsophisticated hybrid drivetrain in its RAV4, Venza and Highlander hybrid variants.

Remarkably, the change in engines did not change towing capacity, which remains at 3,500 pounds. You will still be able to pull your small boat to the water. And the Sienna can be purchased with all-wheel drive — something that will appeal to cold-weather climate owners — with the loss of only one mile to the gallon in city driving at 35 mpg.

We were pleased with the Sienna's drivability and interior refinement. We found excellent handling traits with quicker and more precise steering than in the past. Minivans are not known for road-carving ability, but the Sienna felt very composed under normal speeds on the twists and turns of our usual rural road "test track."

Safety is important especially for minivan owners and Toyota has a full suite of standard safety called Toyota Safety Sense. This includes pre-collision with pedestrian and lowlight detection, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, lane trace assist, automatic high beams and road sign assist. There are 10 airbags in the Sienna including curtain side airbags for all three rows.

The Sienna is available is five trim levels — LE, XLE, XSE, Limited and Platinum — starting at $36,500 and topping out with the Platinum trim at $51,940. Our front drive Platinum with captain's chairs and a couple of options including rear-seat entertainment carried a bottom line of $53,130.

2022 Toyota Sienna


Base price: $36,500; as driven, $53,130
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, 3 electric motors
Horsepower: 245 @ 6,000 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Drive: all wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 120.5 inches
Length: 203.7 inches
Curb weight: 4,610 pounds
Turning circle: 38.3 feet
Luggage capacity: 33.5 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 101.0 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 36 city, 36 highway, 36 combined
0-60: 7.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Kia Carnival

The Good
• Superb gas mileage
• Roomy interior
• All-wheel drive available

The Bad
• Second-row seats cannot be removed

The Ugly
• Slow acceleration