The Toyota Sienna was in a bit of a pickle before it was redesigned for 2021. It was a capable minivan, but it suffered from having frumpy exterior styling, forgettable performance hardware, and rapidly aging interior technology. Toyota is out to change that for 2021 and has unveiled an all-new Sienna that aims to draw more attention to itself and bring it closer to traditional SUVs. We’ll understand if you’re still trying to process the latter item. Still, with the recently launched Kia Carnival embracing its SUV side, it’s apparent that this is rapidly becoming a new sales trend in minivans. But how well does the 2021 Toyota Sienna pull off this act, and is it enough to flip its reputation around?
Bolder Sienna Styling Draws Attention To The Sliding Doors
We might as well address the obvious and tell you that the Sienna follows the time-honored tradition of offering a pair of sliding doors for passengers to go in and out of the cabin. But unlike some other minivans, these slidable doors are now part of a styling package that’s perhaps the most expressive set of clothes we have seen yet on a Sienna. Toyota stylists went to great lengths to make the Sienna look more exciting to look at. The company claims that the Supra lends some of its mojo, but we won’t blame you if you don’t spot it.
Instead, the Highlander’s DNA comes to the surface with the larger front grille and the tweaked headlights channeling this connection. The design also incorporates several angles and creases that snake out to the van’s rear. The wheel arches are flared out and connect to the main bone line that runs to the van’s rear. When you arrive back there, you’ll see sharp-looking taillights and more creases. While no one asked for a more aggressive-looking minivan, we’ll take it, especially when reminiscing to the days when minivans were nothing more than heartless boxes that excelled at carrying people and cargo but little else in terms of completing the package.
The minivan segment has also been feeling the heat from SUVs and pickups, but there’s still plenty of big names to choose from. The Chrysler Pacifica is sold by a brand that has been in a sales coma for the past few years, but the Pacifica has softer styling and a greater emphasis on luxury when equipped in the range-topping Pinnacle trim. Meanwhile, the Kia Carnival is also doing its best to pretend to be an SUV, but its slab sides and more utility-focused look can’t be really ignored. This helps the Sienna be in a unique spot and might please buyers looking to make a flashy statement in the carpool lane.
Modernized Interior Gives Sienna Owners More
Slip inside the cabin of the 2021 Sienna, and you’ll see that some big changes have taken place. The cabin is crisper and feels much more modern than the old and dated highlights that defined the outgoing model. A greater emphasis on the driver is present, but there’s still plenty that it brings to the rest of the family. A bridge-like floating center console features massive storage space underneath that’s useful for a wide range of items. We put it to a demanding test ourselves, with the Sienna being tasked with hauling spring water from our source in rural Michigan. We typically use two one-gallon jugs to haul the water and the fore-mentioned space underneath still had room for some smaller items after both jugs were placed carefully inside. When it’s not hauling H20 refreshment, the storage space can also be used to haul groceries and other items.
The console also houses four of the 18 cupholders installed in the Sienna, and the storage bin offers an impressive amount of volume to hold even more stuff. Oh, and we like the traditional shifter Toyota chose to use versus some of the novel push-button style variants that we have seen enter the minivan market recently. Move behind the front seats, and it’s clear that Toyota made great strides in improving life for passengers. The Sienna can now haul up to eight passengers when equipped with the center stowing seat. Our range-topping Platinum example had second-row leather-lined captain’s chairs. The chairs are very comfortable and slide forward and backward to improve entry into the third row or give passengers more legroom. But while these thrones do have the ability to be folded down, they cannot be removed from the van, which diminishes cargo space to 101 cubic feet (versus the 150 cubic feet the old model had with the third row folded and the second row removed.)
Toyota also made some changes to reduce the amount of effort needed to fold the third row down, and we think that they hit the mark here with our tester having nearly effortless operation. Our range-topper also came with a bigger rear entertainment screen, which allows passengers to wirelessly stream content to the screen and do so via a built-in HDMI port. When combined with the 110-volt outlet back there, young gamers could theoretically play video games, surf the web, and more with the help of the nifty rear screen. The one gripe here is that it’s not a touchscreen unit and is operated via an old-school remote control.
Sienna Embraces The Hybrid Life, Green Tech For Everyone
The Sienna moved to Toyota’s TNGA-K platform for 2021, with the underpinnings being shared with both the Highlander and RAV4 SUVs. This new set of bones is lighter and also gives the van an all-new multi-link rear suspension. A big change is found under the hood with the 2021 Toyota Sienna pitching the old 3.5 liter V6. In its place is a smaller 2.5-liter four-cylinder which is paired with two electric motors. The combination helps produce 245 horsepower and allows the Sienna to jog to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds. This is more than the 6.8 second time logged by the old V6, but the hybrid setup does offer plenty of low-end punch though it transforms into a noisy racket as the RPMs climb higher.
The Sienna was never known as a performance offering anyway, but you might wonder why Toyota chose to make such a move? The answer lies in fuel economy, with the 2021 model getting over 30 mpg in city driving. Front-wheel drive Siennas are the thriftiest and have the highest figures. All-wheel-drive models like our tester lose 1 mpg in both the city and combined ratings, but it’s still very impressive for a minivan. Our dark green tester recorded an average of 29 mpg during its stay with us. This is still a significant improvement over the old V6, which could only muster a mere 19 mpg in city driving.
The optional all-wheel-drive system sends power to the rear wheels but pitches the heavy driveshaft assembly for a lighter electric motor which does the job just as well. The hybrid powertrain also has the ability to run on pure electric power, but The Sienna can only do this for a short distance and at low speeds. The Sienna can still tow 3,500 lbs, but drivers will see less mileage when the Sienna is tasked with lugging the extra weight.
Pricing for the 2021 Toyota Sienna reflects the strong family market that the van is trying to penetrate with the base LE model starting at $34,460. The family’s volume sellers are expected to be the sporty $42,000 XSE model and the $39,750 XLE trim. Buyers looking to add more features to the van will have to start their climb with the $46,700 Limited model, which adds the second and third-row sunshades, the sliding second-row captain’s chairs, and other luxury goodies. However, buyers looking to step into the range-topping Platinum model will have to pay accordingly for the privilege, with those models starting at $49,900. Our lightly optioned tester came with the $1,915 entertainment package, which helped push the final price tag just over $52,000.
That’s a lot of money for a minivan, but the Platinum is in the same pricing ballpark as the Pacifica Pinnacle and select flavors of the Honda Odyssey. However, it’s also noticeably more expensive than the 2022 Kia Carnival in SX Prestige trim with that flavor of people hauler starting at $46,100. A Carnival equipped this way can also stay under the $50,000 barrier when equipped with some of its more luxury-oriented goodies.
As a whole, the 2021 Toyota Sienna is a very compelling package. The aggressive styling allows the van to stand out from rivals yet still retains the high levels of equipment and functionality that family buyers come to expect from a proper minivan. While a hybrid-only engine family is a big gamble for a family-focused vehicle, it does allow Toyota to demonstrate the flexibility of its hybrid technology and perhaps allow the Sienna to make a big impact with fuel-conscious buyers.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.