Minivans are a lot like vacuum cleaners; people don’t buy them based on style or speed, but on how well they handle family chores. During our most recent Cars.com Minivan Challenge, the Toyota Sienna proved a poor appliance, landing at the bottom of the class thanks to its unruly powertrain and cut-rate interior materials. An update for 2015, though, boosts the van’s usability and likability.
The 2015 Toyota Sienna’s upgraded interior materials, revised control layout and additional convenience features are wins, but the van’s loud engine and unwieldy third row steal some of its swagger.
Other new features include subtle styling tweaks and new standard equipment — like a backup camera and an additional set of Latch anchors — as well as more options, such as the Easy Speak voice-amplification system; compare the 2014 and 2015 models here.
There are several major players in the minivan class, including the Honda Odyssey and the Chrysler Town & Country/Dodge Grand Caravan twins. Compare all four here.
Exterior & Styling
I have yet to meet someone who buys a minivan for its good looks. Toyota’s updated Sienna certainly won’t win any beauty contests, but small tweaks make it slightly more attractive this year. A sleeker, more streamlined grille is accented by revised headlights and LED daytime running lights (standard on SE trims and above). Some interesting new colors (Attitude Black Metallic, Crème Brule Mica and Sky Blue Pearl) also help distinguish the 2015 model. If you want a powder blue minivan, look no further.
Style-conscious minivan shoppers (oxymoron?) will want to check out Kia’s redesigned 2015 Sedona. There’s no mistaking its place in the minivan class, but the new Sedona wows with the segment’s most dramatic front end.
How It Drives
The Toyota Sienna is unexpectedly peppy. Low-speed power from a stop is strong, and it gathers steam steadily thanks to a prompt six-speed automatic. The 3.5-liter V-6 has plenty of pluck for the highway, too, I just wish it didn’t sound so strong — its loud, gruff note is a constant presence in the cabin. Wind and road noise, however, are well-checked (or maybe drowned out by the powertrain).
The Toyota Sienna remains the only minivan to offer all-wheel drive, which is available on LE, XLE and Limited trims. It proved capable during Chicago’s first taste of winter, easily muscling through compacted snow and maintaining a good grip on my neighborhood’s icy side streets.
All-wheel drive will cost you a couple mpg fuel economy, however. Two-wheel-drive Toyota Siennas are EPA-rated 18/25/21 mpg city/highway/combined, while all-wheel-drive models are rated 16/23/19 mpg. Honda’s Odyssey fuel economy is more efficient, with a rating of 19/28/22 mpg, and Nissan’s Quest delivers an impressive 20/27/22 mpg due in part to its continuously variable automatic transmission.
The Toyota Sienna’s ride composure is comfortable, with good bump absorption and road isolation. Despite its long length, it’s also surprisingly maneuverable, thanks to one of the smallest turning circles in the class. Body lean is noticeable, however, especially during sweeping turns like highway off-ramps, but handling never feels sloppy.
Inside, Toyota wisely hit the reset button, and the updates go a long way toward making the cabin look more upscale and feel more comfortable. Toyota’s greater attention to detail shows in the materials: Much of the previous generation’s hard, shiny, bargain-bin plastics have been upgraded to softer-touch textured plastics in key places, like the dash and upper door panels.
My top-level XLE Premium trim’s leather seats, dashboard contrast stitching and glossy wood panels imparted a high-quality vibe, and the chrome trim that ringed the control panel added a nice pop of class. The quality and design also carry over to lesser trim levels; even the midlevel SE trim has leather-accented front seats and trades much of the old, cheap plastic bits for more appealing materials.
Room in the second row is outstanding thanks in part to captain’s chairs with generous sliding travel. I was able to install twin rear-facing infant seats in these chairs, slide them all the way back and then pass in front of them to access the third row; the Sienna is also available with a second-row bench, which has three seats.
The third row is adequately sized for kids; with 38.3 inches of headroom, it offers a bit more room than the Odyssey (38.0) and Chrysler’s vans (37.9). The biggest news in the third row for 2015 is the additional set of Latch anchors, making it more flexible for child-safety-seat installation. The 2015 Sienna now has two sets of third-row anchors and two top tether anchors, up from one of each.
Ergonomics & Electronics
With the revised dashboard layout, the controls are all within easy reach of the driver. The standard Entune multimedia system has been updated, and my test van’s 7.0-inch glossy touch-screen was easy to use thanks to an intuitive menu structure, plus large, clear onscreen buttons and quick response time; a 6.1-inch screen is standard.
The climate control layout below the screen is also new. While everything is within easy reach, it’s hardly easy on the eyes. The controls went from being grouped in a circular, sweeping aesthetic to a panel cluttered with small buttons. Visually, it’s much busier and negates the more streamlined design of the revised multimedia system.
Also joining the cabin for 2015 is the optional Easy Speak voice-amplification system, which projects the driver’s voice through a hands-free microphone to the third-row speakers. With a 4-year-old who talks nonstop, I was eager to test Toyota’s voice-saver. In the third row, my tiny talker had no problems hearing my amplified voice, but Little Miss Chatty thought I sounded so funny she asked me more questions than usual and eventually told me to turn it off; she was “tired of playing this game.” That made two of us.
Kids are likely to be more impressed with the optional DVD entertainment system’s 16.4-inch flip-down screen, which can display two videos side-by-side and has an SD card slot and RCA and HDMI inputs. Parents will be happy to know that two pairs of wireless headphones are included.
Cargo & Storage
With three kids, I travel with half a houseful of stuff, and the Sienna swallowed it all in stride. With 39.1 inches of cargo space behind the third row, it’s at the top of its class ahead of the Odyssey (38.4) and the Chrysler vans (33.0). Double stroller? Definitely. Two portable cribs? Totally. Folding the 60/40-split third row opens up 87.1 cubic feet of room, again outstanding in the segment. The problem is getting the third row back up into its seating position. The ungainly, two-step process requires a lot of muscle and is not something I’d like to do often. It’s an easier, more fluid maneuver in many other vans.
In terms of small-items storage, the double glove box is nice and roomy, but the center console is lacking. Though fairly deep, it’s not wide enough for a purse, like the Honda Odyssey’s console. The large floor tray in front of it is fine for holding a purse or smaller backpack, but it’s a lot like putting your stuff on the floor.
In the second row, the floor-mounted cupholders are set too low for easy use when buckled into the captain’s chairs, but Toyota did a great job with the third row. Each side has two cupholders and a small covered storage bin, sized right for some snacks and stickers.
The 2015 Toyota Sienna is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick Plus, the agency’s highest designation. It scored good in all of the agency’s tests and earned a rating of advanced for front-crash prevention. The Honda Odyssey and Kia Sedona are Top Safety Picks; they also scored good in all crash tests but received a basic score for front-crash prevention. Chrysler’s vans failed the IIHS’ small overlap front crash test, disqualifying them from Top Safety Pick status. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing, front- and all-wheel-drive versions of the 2015 Sienna earned an overall score of five stars, the highest rating.
The 2015 Toyota Sienna has eight standard airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag and a new front-passenger seat cushion airbag. Toyota says the side curtain airbags are 30 percent larger this year, for coverage from the front seats to the third row. A backup camera is newly standard on all trim levels. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is standard on SE Premium, XLE and Limited trims; Toyota’s Pre-Collision System, which uses audio and visual alerts as well as automatic braking to prevent a crash, is optional on Limited models.
Value in Its Class
A minivan is only as good as how happy its occupants are, and the upgrades to the 2015 Sienna should put a smile on most families’ faces, but they’ll have to pay extra for the added refinement and features. The 2015 Toyota Sienna starts at $29,485, an increase of $1,680 over the 2014 Sienna L base model ($27,805). The Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Town & Country have similar starting prices, but the Dodge Grand Caravan undercuts the Sienna by more than $7,000, though the base model lacks many creature comforts. The well-equipped 2015 Kia Sedona comes in around $2,500 less than the Sienna (all prices include destination).
Toyota calls its minivan the swagger wagon, but the previous version didn’t have much to strut about. Updates for 2015 definitely put a little extra pep in the Toyota Sienna’s step.