2019 Toyota Sienna Minivan Review

2019 Toyota Sienna Minivan - All-wheel drive a Sienna exclusive

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 In an era of information overload fueled by social media, broadcast television, cable TV, trusted old-school newspapers and a dizzying array of downloadable podcast  (just to name a few), messages tend to get mangled, misconstrued, misinterpreted, simply forgotten or filed within the lower depths of the hippocampus.

Same holds true in the automotive sector with scores of sizes, body styles price ranges and propulsion variants from which to select.

So after perusing and digesting this piece highlighting the 2019 Toyota Sienna, if there's one takeaway to remember it's this; Sienna offers the only all-wheel drive minivan configuration sold in America.

Quite a defining characteristic for those residing in the upper Midwest; a recent late-November post-Thanksgiving snow pummel made travel by plane, train, bus or automobile extra challenging. All-wheel drive muddles through deep snow with better traction than lighter-weight front-wheel and certainly performance-specific rear-wheel drive.

Our 2019 Sienna got dropped off for testing days before the snow dump, exchanged for a rear-drive Ford Mustang with track-specific summer tires.  Mustang would dare not have ventured outside the garage. Sienna, on the other hand, accepted and thrived upon the challenge

Sienna arrived in 1998, rather late in minivan evolution as the reimagined minivan burst onto the scene in the mid 1980's.  However, Sienna survived a boom-and-bust minivan cycle. For a time in the Go-Go 1990's, about every major automaker hawked a minivan.  Today about a half-dozen players remain as full-size crossovers gained additional acceptance with growing families.

The 2019 Sienna reflects underpinnings introduced in the third-generation redesign way back in 2010.  In contrast, Honda's Odyssey minivan (with a 1995 debut) received a fifth-generation redo in the 2018 model year.  The 2018 model year Sienna introduced several tech-savvy, radar-enhanced safety nuances and in 2019, includes Apple Car Play integration, allowing seamless interaction with Apple Smartphones through the in-dash touch screen.

Sienna is designed for the North American market and built in Princeton, Indiana along the southwest corner of the Hoosier State.

Sienna sales in the 2017 calendar year totaled 111,489, qualifying for a Bronze medal and third-place finish for Toyota in the Minivan sales derby.  Fiat Chrysler Automobiles grabbed 50 percent of the market share with the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Pacifica.

For 2019, Sienna returns with one engine selection and five trim levels: L, LE SE, Limited and XLE. While base L offers solely front wheel drive, upper trims come standard with front-wheel drive with all-wheel-drive optional. This reflects a slight update from 2018 as SE now offers all-wheel drive.

The sole engine, a 3.5-liter six-cylinder delivers an ample 296 horses. This power source received a power tweak two years ago, gaining an additional 30. Regular 87-octane fuel fills the relatively generous 20-gallon tank.

Toyota, the industry sales leader in gas-electric hybrid powertrains, has yet to offer this fuel-extending technology under hood of Sienna.  Chrysler's reimagined Pacifica, introduced in 2017, currently offers the only hybrid powertrain option in a minivan.

Pricing starts at $31,115 for a base, 2019 front-drive seven-passenger L. Our SE Premium with all-wheel drive started at $44,865.  A smattering of non-factory add-ons (mud guards, carpeted floor mats) and a $1,045 destination charge brought the bottom line to $46,477.

Second row configurations include the choice of two tall-standing captain's chairs (seven-passenger seating) or a three-row split-bench offering (eight-passenger seating).  Second-row seating is removable from the minivan if desired.

Our SE's row-two captain's chairs included a long floor track allowing substantial back-and-forth positioning.  Backrests tilt and slide forward, allowing relatively easy access to the back expanses, or some may choose to simply walk between the two seats, as I did to check out three-passenger back-row accommodations.

Extensive second-row seat travel offers ample third row leg negotiation.  Quintessential minivans generally offer better human storage capacity when compared to the crossover body style's back row. Three adults can co-exist within Sienna's third row encampment.

The versatile third row includes 60/40-split-and-stow bench seating which manually folds seamlessly into the floor by pulling forward a sturdy, well-indicated seat back bar when standing outside the hatch area. Posted instructions and grab straps aid repositioning seats into sit-able positioning.

The electronically-controlled eight-speed automatic transmission shifter locates on the dashboard right of the steering column, opening up creative opportunities for the region between front captain's seats. These chairs offer a higher seating positon than traditional sedans and good road perspective.

Three-zone climate control comes standard across the board. Base L trims opt for manually-sliding rear side doors; all trims above include power slides. The back hatch opens manually in L and LE trims while power operated in SE, XLE and Limited.

Both Toyota and its up level Lexus luxury division offer transports brimming with quiet interiors, setting the bar for the industry.  Sienna borrows many of these sound-deadening cues, creating one of the segment's quietest minivan (as long as screaming tots stay at home or at Grandmas). Sienna's long length (200.6 inches) doesn't help performance characteristics, but electronic power steering (EPS) minimizes steering effort for a vehicle this size, enhancing its response.

The easy-glance, easy-read instruaament panel includes two circular analog gauges surrounding a digital window. As with most Toyota-badged vehicles, a small rectangular appendage darting out the steering wheel's 5 o'clock position handles cruise control duties. This appendage along with the turn signal stalk often prevents direct, easy access to the standard electronic push-button start.

Standard in SE Premium, Toyota's dual-view, Blu-Ray second-row entertainment center featuring an extra-wide 16.4-inch rectangular fold-down ceiling screen. The unique screen allows either one wide-angle image or two smaller images from separate sources simultaneously.

A dual glove box set up resides in front of shot-gun front passengers; a top door flips up and the bottom door pulls down. A floor caddie between front seats includes a deep storage bin and two side-by-side cup holders. Got more cups?  Two additional grabbers retract out from the center lower dash.

Sienna's pleasant, clean exterior features rear sliding door side rails masked from view through incorporation into the bottom window frame.  Middle B and C pillars blacken out, for seamless interplay with side windows.  In front, Toyota's circular logo centers the grille with narrow wing like honeycomb extensions reaching to the side fenders and a prominent lower air dam anchors the lower extremities.

In the 2018, Sienna added 'Toyota Safety Sense' standard, an umbrella of high-tech safety nuances (pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure assist, automatic high-beam lights, dynamic cruise control) now standard in just about all Toyota offerings sold in the U.S.

2019 Toyota Sienna

Price as tested: $46,477

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6

Horsepower:  296

Wheelbase: 119.3 inches

Overall Length: 200.6 inches

Overall Width: 78.1 inches

Overall Height: 71.3 inches

Fuel economy:  18 mpg city/24 mpg highway

Assembly:  Princeton, Indiana



Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.