On the Road Review: Toyota Sienna Hybrid Limited

Lubec, yes, the quaint (and quiet) little seaside village with the easternmost lighthouse in the United States as well as some of the most beautiful coastline in Maine, doesn’t have a lot in common with Natick, the bustling Massachusetts shopping mecca and ’burb community west of the over-paved Boston megalopolis. Other than Natick is where we picked up this week’s Sienna Hybrid minivan, and several cases of tile for the navigator’s remodeling project, and subsequently spent hours mired in typical 128/I-95 traffic, while picturesque Lubec proved to be the salve that revealed the un-Limited virtues in this family hauler.

That the Sienna proved to be a stellar performer in both of these opposed environments is a credit to the resolve that Toyota is showing by continuing to add value to its big wagon while naysayers attempt to undermine what remains the best way to take lots of people from point A to point B — as well as every place in the middle.

Toyota’s mix of hybrid-powered vehicles continues to grow — and each exposure proves the merit of building these sensible vehicles. From the diminutive Prius to this 201-inch-long, seven-passenger minivan, the hybrid powertrain (245 hp combined from the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, electric motor and battery) provided ample power and more than exemplary fuel economy. Against an EPA estimate of 36/36/36 mpg (no misprint), our root beer-colored van (actually, Sunset Bronze Mica) achieved a real world 37-plus mpg for four adults, with all of our gear, driving over 240 miles touring Maine’s Bold Coast, Washington County, and every rural neighborhood in Lubec. With the tank full, your range is over 600 miles — try that in your battery electric!

Every Sienna this year is a hybrid. You can choose from five trims (starting at $31,640), including sporty new XSE, and AWD returns as an option — making the Sienna and the Pacifica the only two minivans that are so endowed: hybrid power and/or AWD.

Highlights include long-track second row captain’s chairs that include folding ottomans, 12-speaker JBL audio, hands-free power sliding doors and rear liftgate, plus four-zone automatic climate. The front seats in our leather-clad Limited (fully loaded for $50,010 with wireless rear entertainment, 1500W inverter, all-weather carpets, but no heads-up display) were heated and cooled, while seven USB ports are sprinkled about the cabin as well as a surplus of cubbies and beverage slots. The Sienna’s console layout earns four stars for swallowing a boatload of traveling paraphernalia, neatly, while the flat shelf across the whole dash, left of the steering wheel too, including a wireless charging home, is very useful.

In the slog home from Massachusetts, a four-and-a-half-hour grind, the Toyota’s seats proved to be excellent. In the meandering visits to 11 of the 35 conservation parks around Lubec and Trescott over three days, the Sienna’s ease of access, great visibility and spacious cabin eased the transition from constantly changing gear in the fog, rain, wind and more fog.

It was all good; those 11 parks are very impressive. Several were existing and familiar retreats like Quoddy Head Light, however, the recent entrance of the Butler Conservation Fund to Lubec is making a huge impact. Their work is extremely significant, A) for the quality of the land secured for all to share, B) the manicured trails, seclusion huts and general high levels of improvements, plus C) the spirit that the exposure to the trails and to the people of Lubec will do for a community that has undeniable beauty and an indomitable spirit. Every encounter, from our B&B to each restaurant we visited, the people of Lubec know how to welcome you into their home.

The Sienna made us feel that way too. We trashed the carpets from each hike, littered the cabin with food, wet clothes and “gift-shop” extras — the Sienna seems to revel in the abuse. And then it got 37 mpg, again.

OK, so maybe the threshold is a little wide stepping in and out — but that is due to upgraded safety standards, and also works to cover the wide-track chassis below that provided great composure over less than perfect surfaces. Steering feel was better than I expected, plus the tactile feel of the conventional controls is vastly superior to the vague engagement of too many “touchscreens.” Of course, Toyota’s extensive Safety Sense 2.0 electronic driving aids are all included.

With more room than the Highlander — a real third-row seat for adults exists here — plus the deep cargo well behind that third row, the Sienna is poised to battle that upstart minivan as well as its two other remaining rivals. The added benefit of hybrid power and enhanced fuel efficiency should be a home run for any van-buyer who recognizes the inherent value available here.

As for Lubec, you folks are about to be discovered, again. There won’t be any hidden gold scandals this time (look it up, it’s a fascinating story) and you won’t be packaging sardines again. The treasure in the region is the places we are going to discover and the people we are going to meet.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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