The Sienna shows its age, but still focuses on what matters most
The nearly 300-hp 2018 Sienna provides a tire-spinning surprise if you give it too much gas from a stop, but the Toyota otherwise delivers what you’d expect from a minivan entering its eighth model year without a major redesign. When the Highlander isn’t big enough for your family and the Sequoia is way more money than you realized, the Sienna is ready to serve your needs. If you’re more interested in a loaded 2018 Sienna Limited than the sportier SE, does the Toyota still have what it takes to compete with updated rivals?
Step inside, and you’ll see that Toyota aces the most important test for any minivan: cabin space. There’s a ton of space in all three rows, and considering I’m about 6 feet 4 inches tall, it’s no small feat for any three-row vehicle to get a passing grade in the “sit behind myself behind myself” test. The backs of the second row seats are soft, which help make the third-row seats more comfortable when your knees touch the seat backs, and the side windows are of a decent size (which helps prevent third-row passengers from feeling too closed in).
At some point, however, you’ll stop playing with the Limited trim’s second-row captain’s chairs with reclinable footrests and actually drive the 200.6-inch family hauler. What you’ll appreciate with the 2018 Sienna Limited—but not on, say, the sporty SE—is its great ride quality. Sure, it’s a little too bouncy over freeway expansion joints, but the minivan is smooth enough everywhere else that it’s a worthy trade-off. There’s no real advantage to the slow-ratio steering, which requires too much effort to control at lower speeds. Toyota says the Sienna’s electric power steering system provides extra torque at low speeds to make it easier to turn the wheel, but we would like to see the steering updated to facilitate lower-speed maneuvers. Once you leave the parking lot, the Sienna has just as much body roll as you’d expect from a non-SE minivan, a feeling enhanced by seats that aren’t quite as comfortable as those second-row captain’s chairs.
Toyota still offers the only all-wheel-drive option in its segment, but when you pair the powerful 296-hp 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V-6 with front-wheel drive, as most buyers will, the squeal of the tires will wake the neighbors if you give it too much throttle. (More than one editor was caught off guard by this.) In fact, associate road test editor Erick Ayapana had to finesse the throttle to achieve an as-tested 0–60-mph time of 7.1 seconds. That time puts the Toyota minivan midpack against the Honda Odyssey Elite (6.9 seconds), Chrysler Pacifica (6.7 seconds for the Touring model and 7.5–7.7 seconds for Limited), and the Kia Sedona (7.8 seconds for our long-termer). As with the 2017 model, the 2018 Sienna pairs its updated V-6 to an eight-speed automatic transmission that does its job well, though we did experience a couple instances where the transmission shifted a bit more relaxedly than what we expected with a moderately forceful application of throttle.
For a minivan, the 2018 Sienna Limited performed better than testing director Kim Reynolds expected on our figure-eight course, which measures driving characteristics such as acceleration, braking, cornering, and the transitions between them. Reynolds appreciated the Sienna’s good balance on the skidpad, and like Ayapana, he complimented the car’s brakes. The 2018 Sienna turned in a figure-eight performance of 27.7 seconds at 0.60 g (average), which beats the Odysseys and Sedonas we’ve tested but falls just short of the non-hybrid Chrysler Pacificas we’ve tested. Thanks maybe to an extra 30 hp and a new transmission, the 2018 Sienna even outperforms a 2015 Sienna SE on the figure-eight course and by nearly a half second to 60 mph.
The Sienna’s safety technology has seen a serious upgrade since then. The 2018 model includes a full package of advanced safety tech as standard on every Sienna—that tech includes an automatic braking system, lane departure mitigation, and adaptive cruise control. Unfortunately, the latter system doesn’t work below about 25 mph (40 km/h), which means it can’t help with stop-and-go commuting as the best systems do. The 2018 Sienna’s performance in safety tests is more important than that luxury, though, and the Toyota’s safety ratings are … satisfactory. The 2018 model gets a Good rating (the highest possible) in four crashworthiness tests but only an Acceptable rating in the small-overlap front test on the driver’s side. Along with an Acceptable rating in the headlights evaluation, the Sienna didn’t qualify for a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ rating; the Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, and Chrysler Pacifica are rated 2018 Top Safety Picks. The IIHS also rates ease of use with LATCH child-seat anchors and gave the Sienna an Acceptable rating—that’s even with the Sedona and better than the Pacifica but not as good as the Odyssey.
Like those three competitors, the Sienna avoided a collision in the IIHS’ 12- and 25-mph (19- and 40-km/h) automatic brake tests. Where the Toyota excels beyond those cars is that every Sienna includes automatic emergency braking tech standard—it’s not standard on the base models of the minivans from Honda, Chrysler, and Kia. And that’s where everyone’s subjective idea of value comes into play—before considering regional incentives, the Sienna can’t compete on base price with the Kia and Chrysler. If it’s a stretch for you to consider a vehicle beyond $32,000 USD, try the Sedona or Pacifica. The 2018 Sienna’s sweet spot in terms of trim might be the eight-passenger XLE. A $37,985 USD 2018 Sienna XLE loses the seven-passenger interior layout, which is more desirable for easy third-row access, but it avoids the rougher ride of the SE model and has a number of useful features (such as power-sliding side doors and hands-free keyless access with push-button start) not all found on the L or LE trims.
Our Sienna Limited tester stickered at $45,060 USD, adding a wonderful second moonroof that brings light to the second and third rows, laminated front-row side glass (new for 2018), attractive multispoke 18-inch wheels, power-folding third-row seats that disappear into the deep cargo area if you hold a button in the tailgate for a few seconds, and the neat foldout footrests for second-row passengers. Although I appreciated those footrests and the soft perforated leather, a few drawbacks perhaps related to the Sienna’s age start to become a bit less acceptable at the $45,000 USD price point. At that price, for example, the power liftgate should function when you push up gently on the liftgate, and not just when you’re using your key fob or pressing a button from inside the car. Also, the helpful Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity features aren’t available, and the Sienna’s 7.0-inch touchscreen isn’t as large as the largest screens available in any of its competitors. That’s not a huge deal, and neither is the fact that the Sienna doesn’t offer a tire pressure monitoring display that shows the PSI for each tire. No vehicle will offers every option you want at the price you’re willing to pay, but if I were interested in a $45,000–$50,000 USD minivan, I’d probably stick with a competitor to get hands-free sliding side doors (Chrysler), the awesomeness of having an integrated vacuum (Chrysler and Honda), a surround-view camera system (Kia and Chrysler), or ventilated front seats (Kia, Chrysler, and Honda). As an LE or XLE, however, the picture is a bit brighter.
The 2018 Toyota Sienna rides well over that huge pothole you didn’t see and has the interior space no similarly priced Highlander ever will. Throw in the standard-on-every-trim automatic emergency braking technology—a feature you’ll want to have but hope to never use—and the Sienna is worth greater consideration. The Toyota’s safety ratings aren’t quite as good as the Odyssey, and I personally think the Pacifica is more attractive, but the Sienna still earns its place in the Toyota lineup as a spacious alternative to less practical crossovers.
|2018 Toyota Sienna Limited|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$45,060|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 7-pass, 4-door van|
|ENGINE||3.5L/296-hp/263-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,682 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||200.6 x 78.1 x 70.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.1 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.4 sec @ 91.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||123 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.78 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.7 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||19/27/22 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||177/125 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.88 lb/mile|