And the award for the most versatile, practical, sensible, spacious vehicle to load six people in, all of their gear and head to Maine on vacation for the summer is….
Our best season has finally arrived and with it comes thousands of visitors anxious to sample “Life the Way it Should Be.” For many of them, with kids and recreational toys in tow, the venerable minivan remains a viable transportation device to make it all happen.
Essentially, five minivans remain in the market — Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest and Toyota Sienna — accounting for over 600,000 vehicles a year sold, which is no small potatoes. At this space in time, the best-selling van is the Toyota Sienna — our test vehicle this week in Limited Trim with optional AWD.
Despite a slight redesign in the wings for 2018, the 2017 Sienna gets a revised 3.5-liter V-6 engine that bumps peak output by 30 horses to 296 hp total, while a new eight-speed automatic adds some gear ratios to improve EPA ratings. Irony notice: Chrysler, the brand that created modern minivans, used to have several AWD models, but now doesn’t, while Toyota, the king of hybrids, does not offer a hybrid minivan but now has the only AWD minivan available while Chrysler has the only hybrid minivan.
Buyers may not care, especially if they get the kind of mileage our Toyota delivered. EPA projections are 18/24/20-mpg; three tanks of fuel returned a calculated (not estimated) 26.1 mpg — blowing right past the government wonk’s measurements. Take that, EPA — a big van with more power that accelerates faster gets better mileage than before!
The Sienna’s attributes are extensive. And Limited Trim puts them fully on display — power sliding doors and power liftgate, dual sunroofs, power rear vent windows, one-hand fold-away third row seats, sliding second row captain’s chairs, huge rear DVD entertainment system, three-zone auto-climate system, heated leather seating and heated steering wheel, plus JBL Audio with Entune as well as several electronic driving aids. Lane departure warning is missing at this price ($30,710 for base FWD, $48,250 as shown), and really no loss, yet dynamic cruise control was expected and not featured. XM reception was often interrupted during rural driving (very annoying), but that is the end of the complaints.
Controls are large and convenient, skewing to the traditional side of automotive-dom instead of the latest touchy-feely nonsense. Dual glove boxes, a floor console with a large forward bin for bags or purses are included, plus Toyota has added a driver-to-rear speaker system so you can counsel errant back-seat occupants. Push-button access and ignition is a welcome upgrade, while such simple things as including the rear power vent windows improves airflow and eliminates wind buffeting when any windows are open. The cabin has a very open, airy feel with great sight lines that creates driver comfort and confidence — a feature rarely evident in large crossovers.
The Sienna’s sliding second row seats creates versatile packing options, as do the multifunction third row seats, which collapse into a deep well when you need maximum cargo room. While the Sienna can swallow 4-by-8 sheets of building materials, you will need to plan ahead and remove the second-row seats before leaving home. Cupholders and storage bins abound; power sockets and ports are slightly less evident. Third-row seating is not the punishing coach-class space common when flying either — there is real adult space on a seat with actual cushioning, with entertainment and room for your snacks.
Just the facts, ma’am: the Sienna has more interior space and outward visibility than any full-size crossover, has travel-aiding AWD like a crossover, rides smoother than any crossover with a 119-inch wheelbase and wide-track chassis, while providing the chair-like seating and elevated stance that crossover drivers prefer over low-riding sedans.
Built in Princeton, Ind., the Sienna also carries with it Toyota’s record of reliability and long service life. Boiled down, the Sienna is actually the “Camry of Minivans” — stable, consistent, never draw attention to yourself, but always working when necessary. The sales indicate buyers want that level of commitment from the family van.
So the winner this summer is the minivan, streaming into Maine with fun-seeking visitors looking for memories. I hope they’re driving a Sienna with AWD — the winner in a state with six months of winter.