2022 Toyota Sienna XSE Review: Seize Your Cool Dad Summer

The Sienna has a warm place in my heart. When I was in high school, my dad excitedly told me that we were getting a new car. We headed out to the local “dealer row” and I turned toward the Honda dealership, as I’d been priming my dad for months on how much I wanted a Honda Prelude. “Keep going,” he replied. Hmm, okay. Now, what else was down this way… definitely not the BMW dealership… perhaps, the Acura store for an Integra (back when it existed the first time)? “Nope,” he said, “turn here.” Oh, the Toyota dealership. Well, it was the year 2000, so no more Supras, but maybe a Celica? That would surely be a blast in the new screaming 2000 model year GT-S, reverse beeps notwithstanding. “There it is,” he pointed…. **record scratch** a shiny, new, Toyota Sienna. The perfect vehicle for…. helping with deliveries for the family business dry cleaners. I came to love that Sienna, it served the family well for years and many road trips. Comfortable, fairly powerful, decently roomy (Sienna was a hair small for the segment in those days) and way more fuel efficient than my dad’s Lexus LX 450 at that point.

This is exactly what our 2000 Sienna looked like. Photo from Consumer Guide Auto

2022 Sienna XSE, perhaps a little less friendly looking, especially with the massive dark grille up front.

Jumping forward a full college-aged graduate to the 2022 Sienna, many of those beloved traits still ring true. Now hybrid only, the Sienna’s unique selling point in this dwindling segment is its tremendous fuel economy. While Toyota doesn’t offer a plug-in hybrid Sienna with electric driving range, the hybrid can eke out 35-36 miles per gallon, making it one of the most fuel efficient 3-row family haulers on the market, period. A major blessing in today’s market with sky high gas prices. As far as minivans go, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (which is a plug-in hybrid) does offer up 32 miles of electric range, but then only manages 30 miles per gallon of hybrid range. Honda Odyssey and Kia Carnival lack any sort of electrification and those only return you 22 miles per gallon of the dino juice. Also, where the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is only available in front wheel drive (it does offer all-wheel drive with the standard gas engine), the Sienna Hybrid system can be had in either front wheel drive or all-wheel drive. So if hybrid, all-wheel drive, family hauler is your target, then the Sienna is the only van game in town.

Gone are the passthroughs of my youth, in its place are center consoles more akin to an SUV than a traditional van.

So we’ve fully covered the fuel efficiency benefit that the Sienna provides, but as they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The hybrid unit Toyota has thrown into the Sienna (and also the Highlander) is a 4-cylinder unit producing just 245 horsepower. No minivan is a racecar (much to the chagrin of my 16-year old and 39-year old self), but the Sienna is decidedly pokier than any of its gas competitors. Also, the continuously variable type of transmission Toyota pairs with most of its hybrids doesn’t do it any favors during those acceleration runs and highway on ramps or passing maneuvers, where it pegs the engine RPMs way up high with a coarse groan reverberating throughout the cabin until you finally reach your requested speed. Around town it’s less of an issue though.

Front doors offer plenty of storage nooks and bottle holder supports.

On the steering front, the move to the new global Toyota architecture last year made possibly the largest difference in Sienna than for Toyota’s other models. Sienna was riding on a 10 year old design (2011-2020) and that on the tail end of a platform that was even older. All that to say, it felt tired. Where the last generation Sienna felt creaky and loose, even when new, the new Sienna finally feels modern and fresh. Structure is solid, aiding both ride quality and dynamics. Our XSE tester, with its sport-tuned suspension and steering, handled admirably for something 17 feet long and 6.5 feet wide and weighing over 4,500 pounds. The XSE can reasonably back up the aggressive, sportier looks. Although about those looks, we noted a flaking finish on the dark 20″ wheels. Toyota uses a clad wheel on many Sienna trims, which is a fancier, semi-permanent hubcap over a simple aluminum alloy wheel, they’ve used this on a number of Toyota models over the years like Highlander, Tacoma, Tundra, etc. Was unfortunate to see the finish peeling off, something we also saw chatter about in the Sienna owner forums online.

The XSE’s dark finish 20″ wheels would look better if the finish wasn’t decidedly less than robust.

Of note, I experienced a number of odd braking issues with the Sienna. As you come close to a stop, the brake pressure seems to change and the vehicle feels like it is no longer braking, almost surging forward again, requiring another much more deliberate jab at the brake pedal to complete the stop. It happened quite a bit in low speed maneuvers like parking lots, where you may not have as much space to make a quick stop. It can be unsettling. I have driven thousands of miles in countless hybrids over the years and Toyota, as one of the world’s leading hybrid manufacturers, should have hybrid braking down by now. Yes, there’s some hand off of the regenerative braking (where the car is using the electric motors to recapture some of that kinetic energy) to the traditional friction brakes, but who would have more experience at this than Toyota? Again, checking on some Sienna forums the issue seems pretty common (lots of complaints) and there are even some Technical Service Bulletins on it for early 2021 model year builds that show Toyota seems at least somewhat aware of an issue and has tried to mitigate it. Our tester was a 2022 model year vehicle though, so not sure where that leaves the Sienna. Something you may want to pay attention to during your test drives.

Lots of sculpting and creasing going on here.

Inside, the Sienna is now fully sized for the segment, available in 7 and 8 passenger configurations. Ours was a 7 passenger build with 2nd row captain’s chairs with a long amount of fore/aft travel available for potentially massive 2nd row leg room if needed. The XSE doesn’t have the flip out leg rest/ottoman of the Limited and Platinum trims, but the added length was nice to keep little ones from kicking the front seat backs. The seats are also quite comfortable, and can even be heated in the Platinum trim. Sienna also has standard 2nd row, outboard position side impact airbags mounted on the seats. This added safety comes at the price of not being able to remove the 2nd row seats in any configuration. While you can tuck the seats against the 1st row, it does limit length of the cargo area quite a bit. No 4×8 drywall/plywood sheets in the cabin for you! Still not sure how that became the standard measurement metric for minivans and/or why it persists with some marketing materials.

Long sliding 2nd row seats can be pushed waaaay back. Try kicking the seat now!

2nd row seats aren’t removable, but there’s still a good amount of storage space behind them.

Moving up front, the Sienna follows many minivans with the deletion of the center pass through in the cabin where the driver or front passenger might be able to scramble to the rear cabin. In its place is a high and wide bridge of sorts that acts both as the fixed arm rest and center console that ramps its way up to the dash. There’s tall storage beneath the bridge as well as a nice tray along the width of the dash cribbed from the Highlander. A fairly traditional shifter is also on the bridge, and one of the most disappointing touch-points within the cabin, with a plasticky and rattley feel to it. Odd to call this out, but it’s also something that a driver touches at least 2 times every trip, so I feel like there should be some emphasis put into making this feel solid and positive.

Two-tone seats with some accented stitching livened up the cabin of our XSE.

All 2022 Siennas come with a 9″ infotainment system that frankly seems tiny in a cabin this large and wide. Seems like a miss when they have plenty of 12.3″ units available from the Highlander and Venza, at least for the upper trims. CarPlay/Android Auto is also a wired connection through the older USB-A style port, at least easily accessible just next to the wireless charging pad. So I guess the passenger can wirelessly charge while driver’s phone is mirrored or vice versa. Sienna also lacks a digital cluster, something that the tech and design forward Kia Carnival offers. SUV sibling Highlander received a host of tech upgrades for 2023, including Toyota’s newest infotainment system and a digital cluster, but the 2023 Sienna, also just announced, did not note any of those changes.

Tech wise Toyota did offer a digital rear view mirror on the Sienna which is terrific for long 3-row vehicles like this, but doesn’t look like it’s currently available, even on the top trims, thanks parts shortages! A 360 parking camera is available, but only on the top Platinum trim, wish they would offer that almost across the board on something this long and large, as it’s a huge help when parking these behemoths (pro tip, it’s usually easier to back into most parking spots than trying to pull in head first). But you do get front and rear parking sensors on XLE and up Siennas with automatic braking. Also, all but the base Sienna LE come with handsfree kick to open and kick to close sliding doors which are ultra convenient. Pacifica offers kick to open, but oddly doesn’t allow for kick to close. Same goes for a 4-zone climate control system, again on all but the LE, which seems a bit excessive over a 3-zone system. No in-cabin camera to help keep an eye on little ones, which is something that Pacifica, Odyssey and Carnival all offer. Pacifica and Carnival also offer some form of multi-row panoramic sunroof, absent from Sienna.

Basic backup camera in the Sienna XSE is pretty grainy, also the backup lines do not adjust with steering.

Sienna DOES come with Toyota’s substantive suite of advanced safety tech, Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. That nets you the pre-collision system, a full-speed dynamic cruise control system that can work in stop and go traffic, lane departure alert with active steering assist and the lane centering lane trace assist, automatic high beams and road sign assist. Be sure to watch our upcoming driving tech overview.

Tiny, but color screen in the XSE cluster. With Lane Trace Assist on, side lines turn blue, while adaptive cruise notes there’s a vehicle ahead and maximum 3-segment follow gap.

The new Sienna is selling extremely well, sales volumes are up significantly and we’re seeing reports of long waitlists at dealers and no shortage of dealers trying to mark up the car due to the high demand. So is the Sienna a certified home run? I’d say it’s a solid triple. If you’re lining up for lots of family road trips this summer, the Sienna would be a hero on the fuel economy front. I think the Pacifica and Carnival offer a bit more in terms of convenience and feature content overall. And I found the Pacifica Hybrid, with its V6 based unit smoother and more powerful overall, with the added benefit of being purely electric capable for the majority of our day-to-day driving needs. But the Sienna is worthy of consideration once again and has just enough key points to make it a winner for many families.

Can you see the similar haunches between the Sienna and the Supra?? Squint more.

Published in Reviews

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