2021 Toyota Sienna Review: Democratizing Fuel Efficiency for Families

Hybrid power is standard in the redesigned 2021 Sienna, but it still costs extra.

Christian Wardlaw | 
Sep 2, 2021 | 10 min read

Capital One

2021 Toyota SiennaChristian Wardlaw

Hybrids are a tough sell, in part because they typically cost more than vehicles equipped with a traditional gas-only powertrain. But with the redesigned 2021 Sienna minivan, Toyota is experimenting with making the hybrid drive system standard equipment. It comes only with a gas-electric hybrid drivetrain rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to return up to 36 mpg in combined driving.

Prices for the new 2021 Toyota Sienna range from the mid-$30,000s to just over $50,000. In base LE trim, the Sienna is priced higher than equivalent rivals, including the Chrysler Voyager LX, Honda Odyssey LX, and Kia Carnival LX. Over time, savings at the gas pump should make up the difference.

2021 Toyota SiennaChristian Wardlaw

In addition to going fully hybrid, the 2021 Sienna receives dramatic new bodywork, super-long-slide second-row captain's chairs, and upgraded infotainment and safety technologies. Simultaneously, Toyota carries forward some of the Sienna's unique features such as optional all-wheel drive (AWD) and driver voice projection through the stereo speakers.

In addition to the standard LE trim, the new Sienna comes in popular XLE, sporty XSE, upscale Limited, and luxurious Platinum trim levels. For this review, Toyota loaned us a Sienna XSE which I evaluated in my usual Southern California stomping grounds. The test vehicle included:

  • Ruby Flare Pearl paint (this color comes at an extra cost)
  • Carpeted floor mats
  • The XSE Plus option package
  • The Entertainment Package with two pairs of wireless headphones

2021 Toyota SiennaChristian Wardlaw


The new 2021 Sienna's bold bodywork works unexpectedly well on this minivan, which otherwise adheres to conventions. The XSE trim level's aggressive honeycomb grille, simulated air intakes and vents, blacked-out trim and wheels, and rear diffuser panel may seem out of touch for a minivan, but the result is both distinctive and appealing.

Inside the test vehicle there is a Moonstone light gray dashboard, door panels, and seat accents offering sharp contrast against the otherwise dark and drab interior. Aside from an available four-zone automatic climate control system, the passenger compartment is standard-issue for a minivan. Up front, however, the tall center console forms a bridge over a large storage tray leading into individual armrests to give the Sienna's interior a futuristic appearance.

2021 Toyota SiennaChristian Wardlaw

Quality is hit and miss. Toyota makes efforts to cut down costs by incorporating plenty of plastic inside of the Sienna. The automaker also needs to refine specific details to make the experience of the Sienna feel seamless, such as the transmission shifter's less than graceful operation. It could also benefit from less road and powertrain noise.

Except for the row of secondary function buttons on the lower left side of the dashboard, the Sienna's controls are logically arranged, clearly marked, and easy to use. The infotainment system includes numerous function and shortcut buttons flanking the touchscreen as well as knobs for stereo volume and tuning.

Compared to the former-generation Toyota Sienna, the driver and front passenger sit lower in relation to the dashboard and controls. This change makes the 2021 version feel more like a crossover SUV than a minivan.

Front seat comfort is commendable. While Toyota's SofTex simulated leather does a good job of emulating the real thing, it also tends to trap sweat against your body. The test vehicle had heated front seats but lacked ventilated front seats offered only in the Limited and Platinum trim levels. Those could have come in handy to reduce trapped heat and moist clothing.

2021 Toyota SiennaChristian Wardlaw

Hands-free power sliding doors are available for the Sienna; an icon stamped into the lower body trim shows you where to place your foot to activate the feature. Once the doors slide open, large grab handles assist passengers with entry and exit.

Those holding a second-row seating assignment can enjoy the comfortable captain's chairs. Thanks to their available long-slide design, legroom is exceptionally generous, and occupants sit high with excellent thigh support. Both chairs also recline. But the ottoman-style leg supports are only available with Limited and Platinum trim levels.

Place the second-row seats in their middle position and the third-row bench seat easily accommodates most adults. The side windows are rather small, but air conditioning vents, USB-A and USB-C charging ports, and headphone jacks with volume control should keep third-row passengers satisfied.

Notably, Toyota partners with BraunAbility to install a power lift-up seat making it easier for the mobility impaired to get in and out of the minivan. Buyers can add this upgrade for the front passenger seating location or the second row.

The 2021 Sienna is seemingly made for road trips. A smartphone storage slot for second-row occupants would be nice to have, but instead there is a 1,500-watt power outlet that draws from the hybrid powertrain and is perfect for campsites needing occasional electricity.

2021 Toyota SiennaChristian Wardlaw

Cargo space measures 33.5 cu.-ft. behind the third-row seat. There are both grocery bag hooks and a storage well to conveniently hold items such as gallons of milk. Fold the third-row seat down and you’ll create 75.2 cu.-ft. of volume. Both measurements supply usable space, but the cargo floor surface is uneven and looks unfinished.

Maximum cargo space measures 101 cu.-ft., which is quite small for a minivan. You also cannot remove the Sienna's second-row seats; they don't collapse into the floor like other segment models such as the Chrysler Pacifica. Instead, they slide forward and flatten themselves against the front seats, chewing into what would otherwise be extra room.

2021 Toyota SiennaChristian Wardlaw


Every 2021 Toyota Sienna has a 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system offering:

  • Smartphone pairing and integration
  • Satellite radio
  • Safety-related connected services
  • Wi-Fi connection
  • Compatibility with a popular home digital assistant technology

Upgrades include:

  • Remote connectivity and services
  • A dynamic navigation system with three years of complimentary service
  • 12-speaker premium sound system

Thanks to its speedy response to inputs, physical knobs, buttons, simple interface, and impressive voice recognition technology, the infotainment system is a joy to use. The exception is when it's sunny outside and you're driving toward the source of light. In our test vehicle, the Moonstone-color seat inserts threw enough glare to wash out most of the display as we drove east toward the morning sun.

With all its control settings centered, the Sienna's optional premium sound system delivers too much boom from the bass. You'll want to adjust accordingly. The single-screen rear-seat entertainment system mounted to the ceiling uses a 1,080p high-definition display, yet still manages to appear old-school. The available digital rearview mirror is decidedly modern.

2021 Toyota SiennaChristian Wardlaw

Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (TSS 2.0) is standard in every 2021 Sienna, equipping the minivan with a comprehensive list of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS).

The new Toyota Sienna comes with Level 2 hands-on highway driving assistance, including:

  • Adaptive cruise control (equipped with stop-and-go capability and lane-centering assistance)
  • Collision avoidance technology
  • Blind-spot warning system
  • Rear cross-traffic warnings

A rear-seat reminder system is also standard, designed to prevent you from forgetting a child, pet, or other essential items as you leave the vehicle.

In most driving situations the ADAS is subtle and effective. However, when slower traffic clears from your lane or you change lanes to pass other vehicles, the adaptive cruise control takes too long to accelerate the Sienna.

The minivan still earns the “Top Safety Pick+” rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for its 2021 version. Not only that, but the Sienna perfects its scorecard with the highest possible ratings in each evaluation the IIHS performs.

The ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are not quite as rosy. Here, the Sienna earns an overall rating of five stars, but there is cause for pause in frontal-impact testing, as it gets a mediocre three-star rating for driver protection and a four-star rating for front passenger protection.

2021 Toyota SiennaChristian Wardlaw


The Sienna's hybrid powertrain is based on a 2.5L four-cylinder engine and uses a proven nickel-metal hydride battery design, two front electric-assist motors, and an electronic continuously variable transmission. Specify AWD, and Toyota adds an electric motor at the rear axle to power the back wheels.

Collectively, these components generate 245 hp, which doesn’t live up to competitors’ supply. However, the electric motors deliver an instant punch of torque when accelerating from a stop, which helps make up for the difference.

The Sienna XSE also averaged 32.1 mpg on our mountainous test loop. While that's short of the official EPA estimate of 36 mpg, we drove the van normally in the city, on the highway, and with enthusiasm in the mountains. We weren't hypermiling the Sienna or creeping along in rush-hour traffic in EV mode, and it still returned impressive fuel economy.

In addition to EV mode, the Sienna offers Eco, Normal, and Sport driving modes. They produce changes in behavior commensurate with the name of the mode. Note that drivers must actively engage EV mode, which works at speeds under 25 mph and only when the Sienna's battery pack has enough juice to power the minivan solely on electricity.

Built on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), the new Sienna boasts a lower center of gravity further reduced by the weight of the battery pack and electric motors. In combination with the XSE trim level's sport-tuned suspension, steering, and a set of 20-inch wheels wrapped in 235/50 tires, our test model proved unexpectedly rewarding to drive. However, the ride quality can feel overly firm in the city, conveying every nuance of the pavement which may turn-off some drivers.

2021 Toyota SiennaChristian Wardlaw

There are a couple of downsides to the standard hybrid powertrain. The first is the droning sound of the eCVT when the Sienna accelerates. The moment you ease up on the accelerator pedal, it dissipates, but when climbing a mountain grade, the racket is a constant companion. The second is the feel of the regenerative braking system. It captures otherwise lost kinetic energy as you use the brakes but also results in a pedal that can be hard to modulate. This in turn makes smooth and clean stops challenging to execute.

The idea of owning a minivan that returns such favorable fuel economy is undeniably appealing, and the Sienna's performance in this regard forgives its shortcomings. Just keep in mind that we tested the van with only a driver aboard. Add passengers, cargo, or a trailer weighing up to 3,500 lbs, and it likely won't prove as efficient.

2021 Toyota SiennaChristian Wardlaw


When you shop for a new minivan, you'll find five available models:

  • Chrysler presents the Pacifica and the Voyager (a lower-priced version of the Pacifica)
  • Honda offers the Odyssey
  • Kia sells the Carnival
  • Toyota fields the Sienna

Only the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is comparable to the Sienna’s efficiency.

The Chrysler is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle offering more than 30 miles of pure electric driving range. But when the battery reaches its minimum state of charge, the Pacifica operates like a traditional gas-electric hybrid and offers just 30 mpg in combined driving, less than the Sienna. While the Chrysler is more expensive, after you factor in the federal income tax credit and any state or local incentives, the Pacifica Hybrid could present a palatable value proposition.

Otherwise, aside from Toyota's own Highlander Hybrid, the 2021 Sienna three-row minivan sweeps the board when it comes to economical driving. Better yet, with XSE trim, the Sienna is frequently enjoyable to drive.

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