You might not realize it, but the minivan category thrives on innovation. Not in form, but in the small details of functions — the convenience features that make real life easier for most of us. An in-car vacuum, fold-flat second-row seats, an amplifier to make your voice cut into the kids’ headphones? You’ll find them in minivans, and nowhere else.
As the elder statesman of the minivan class, however, Toyota’s Sienna boasts little in the way of unique convenience novelties. Yet the Sienna does boast one trump card none of its rivals can match: all-wheel-drive. Wander into a Honda, Kia or Chrysler dealership, and you’ll find minivans with vanishing seats and plug-in hybrid powertrains…but they all come with front-wheel-drive. Most people who want AWD are probably going to buy an SUV anyway, goes the logic, so why bother?
This sort of reasoning, however, deprives the public of choices with regards to ideal family transportation. If you need to lug more than four people around (or really any mix of people and gear) a minivan is the most efficient form of transportation that doesn’t carry the stigma of criminal activity; adding AWD to the mix means it has the added grip to plow through snow and mud that would stymie two-wheel-drive cars. For that reason, if nothing else, the Sienna is worthy of consideration.
(Of course, that’s only the case until late this year, when Chrysler will be adding AWD back to its minivan lineup. But for now, the Sienna is the only game in town.)
All-wheel-drive + snow tires = all the grip you’ll likely ever need.
People began flocking to SUVs because of the added traction of having power go to all four wheels, but unless you’re planning on going well beyond the ends of the roads — which very few SUV or truck buyers do — there’s really no practical reason to opt for the added size and mass that comes with choosing a taller vehicle. When paired with a good set of snow tires, all-wheel-drive makes a vehicle capable of tackling bad winter roads with aplomb.
The Sienna rides at compact crossover height and serves up similar fuel economy, but delivers full-size SUV space. Clad in the right rubber, it’s as capable as any crossover…at least, capable of handling the conditions most crossover owners come across.
It may be old, but you won’t care from behind the wheel.
A 296-horsepower V6 connected to an eight-speed automatic means this van hustles with surprising vigor when you push it; no one’s likely to mistake it for a Ferrari, but it still flows through traffic well. Its 4,605-pound curb weight may land it in crossover territory, but it has the advantage of carrying its center of gravity a good deal lower.
Of course, most of us don’t consider a minivan for its handling. Buyers will more likely be happy to hear about the host of modern convenience features: Amazon Alexa and Apple CarPlay, a collision-avoidance system that detects pedestrians and cars, active cruise control, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, a tire pressure monitor and a rear-view camera all come standard; parking sonar, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a system that lets you save your voice by projecting it through the third-row speakers and a second-row multimedia system with a 16.4-inch screen that can play two separate videos at once all come as options.
Oh, there are five USB ports and a ton of cupholders, too.
You can’t beat a van when it comes to space.
No, minivans aren’t sexy. The Sienna attempts to look cooler than most with its distinctly Japanese-spec front fascia, but still, it’s ultimately a block of cheese on wheels. Yet it’s that one-box shape that makes it such a great value, as it maximizes the interior volume. Fill all eight seats, and there’s still 39.1 cubic feet of space behind them — as much as a Chevy Suburban. Fold down the third row, you can seat five and carry 87./1 cubic feet of stuff; get the second row out of the way, and you can take on a cool 150 cubic feet of gear — more than any extra-large SUV on the market.