Toyota AWD minivan

Toyota Sienna AWD stands out among minivans - Automotive Reviews

Despite having to endure prejudice and snotty comments from the uninformed, minivans like the 2016 Toyota Sienna remain the most useful vehicles on the planet.

There's nothing that comes close to their passenger and cargo carrying capability, not to mention long-distance comfort, good performance, fuel economy, and capable handling.

Some of the big truck-based sport utility vehicles offer as much interior room and better towing capability. But they are ponderous beasts with slow handling and little in the way of good fuel mileage. The remaining choice, car-based crossover SUVs, don't have as much space or comfort for passengers. Big commercial vans are uncomfortable.

Nope. If you want it all, a minivan is the choice. It's a shame that some customers who really need the total package reject it in favor of some gas guzzling behemoth simply because they buy into a stereotype of a minivan as a frumpy vehicle for grandparents with a big brood or soccer moms.

Unfortunately, choices have become more limited. General Motors and Ford got out of the minivan business. Dodge is getting out. Kia dropped out but returned. The ones left are the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest and, temporarily, the Dodge Grand Caravan.

The two top sellers currently are the Sienna and Odyssey, and for good reason. Both have well-earned reputations for standing up to family punishment over the long term.

Minivans sales are respectable but by no means outstanding. Sales of all minivans in the first six months of 2016 totaled 337, 931. That was 57, 313 fewer than the number posted by a single nameplate: the Ford F-Series pickup truck, with a total of 395, 244.

Toyota aims at a broad spectrum of customers. It offers 16 variants of the Sienna, starting with the L model at $29, 750, including the destination charge.

Tested for this review was the top-line Limited Premier, which owns the distinction of being the only all-wheel-drive minivan offered anywhere. It is priced at a whopping $47, 310 but delivers the peace of mind that goes with all-wheel drive, especially in areas of foul weather.

But don't think for a minute that this minivan - or any other - is any sort of candidate for off-road duty. It is 16 feet, 8 inches long and, with just 6.6 inches of road clearance, would get hopelessly mired in the first groove or wallow it encounters.

On the road, however, it is a star. Straight line steering is solid and fatigue-free, and the handling in traffic and around curves is predictable and fuss-free.

Power comes from a responsive 266-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 245 lb-ft of torque. Power goes seamlessly through a six-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels, with traction allocated according to conditions.

The Sienna's city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 16/23/19 mpg, and there's no reason for doubt. Over a week of driving, the tester consistently returned mpg in the low 20s.

There was one performance negative - a brake pedal that felt reluctant to engage and communicate its stop messages to the antilock disc brakes. In a few instances, there was a bit of anxiety over the minor delay in grabbing. But it was okay after the driver got used to the feel and anticipated the hiccup by applying pedal pressure sooner.

The Sienna had all of the usual minivan attributes: power sliding side doors, a powered rear lift gate and third row seats that disappeared into the floor for extra cargo carrying. They were manual and took a bit of tug and grunt to operate. Power folding seats would have been welcome. Second row captain's chairs could slide and be flipped forward but had to be removed for maximum 150 cubic feet cargo capacity.


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