Let’s face it, the minivan craze is over, and the segment is quickly shriveling up. However, segment favorites like the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey continuously receive major updates. For 2021, Toyota gave the Sienna a sporty new look, a hybrid powertrain, and a ton of standard safety features. However, in the pursuit of making the new Sienna appealing to a wider group of buyers, the brand has introduced an unexpected new flaw.
What’s new in the 2021 Toyota Sienna?
Given the Toyota Sienna’s status as a family vehicle, it is no surprise that the 2021 model includes Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, an updated suite of safety tech. We now get refined versions of the systems available in the 2020 model, such as the Pre Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Lane Departure Alert. New for 2021 is the inclusion of Lane Trace Assist and Road Sign Assist.
There’s new tech in the interior, now that the Sienna benefits from a larger infotainment screen. Included are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, like in most other Toyota models. The biggest improvement, however, is the interior layout. The previous-gen Sienna’s interior looked very cheap, largely due to the widespread use of hard plastics. The layout itself was also very van-like, which certainly didn’t scream luxury. Thankfully, the 2021 Sienna benefits from an SUV-like interior with better materials on offer.
The standard engine is significantly weaker than the 2020 model
Despite all of the efforts to make the 2021 Toyota Sienna feel more upmarket with a refined interior, its engine spoils the fun. For 2021, you can’t get the Sienna with a normal engine; instead, the only powertrain available is a hybrid one.
Powering the Sienna is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine developing 189 hp. Thankfully an electric motor joins the fold and bumps the power for a combined output of 245-hp. A welcomed addition given that it has to lug around a 4,600-lb minivan, and that’s before you even put your family in it.
Consumer Reports recently tested the new Sienna and noted the engine as being one of its main flaws. Despite consuming an estimated 36 mpg average, the engine develops most of its power at 6,000 rpm. This is significant because if you want to join the highway and have to accelerate, the variable transmission has to rev the engine very high to make any power. As a result, the engine makes a considerable amount of noise, which permeates throughout the cabin.
To add insult to injury, the new standard engine is less powerful than that of the 2020 model. Despite having a weaker engine by about 51 hp, the new Sienna is about 200 lb heavier than the 2020 model.
The new wave of SUVs outguns the Sienna
If the allure of having a minivan has faded over the years, you’re not alone. According to CarSalesBase, sales of the Toyota Sienna in the U.S. have been steadily declining since 2015. In 2015 Toyota managed to sell 137,497 Siennas, while in 2019, they only sold 73,585.
It’s not like Toyota doesn’t make great cars either. Sales of the similarly priced Highlander have increased steadily during the same four-year period. The same goes for the slightly cheaper RAV4, which managed to sell 448,068 units in 2019, according to CarSalesBase.
While the reasons for the shift in buyer behavior are unclear, the Sienna is beginning to struggle. Luckily for Toyota, minivan buyers may appreciate the new creature comforts enough to overshadow the performance drop. Regardless, future sales figures will tell all.