New Sienna is Toyota’s link to exciting future

December 8, 2021 by
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Toyota Sienna lights up the late autumn sunset in Duluth with style, hybrid and AWD for 2022.

By John Gilbert
It has been challenging but fun, to try to keep up with the flurry of SUVs on the market, and to discuss and debate the benefits of minivans compared to SUVs. My findings are that often minivans are the best family haulers because of their economy and versatility, and the wonderful competitiveness of the top of the line entries. The new Kia Carnival, just out as an advance 2022 model, might rank at the top, challenging the very impressive Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, and Toyota Sienna.

But the more you expect things to stay the same in the automotive world, the more they seem to change. With that in mind, I got to spend a week in Duluth, Minnesota, with the 2022 Toyota Sienna, which comes in one flavor — spectacular.

Every aspect of every vehicle is open to challenging competition these days, and the Sienna has been a solid contributor to Toyota’s worldwide wealth despite going 10 years before its makeover, which came for the 2021 model year. It was a major change, with a new platform, body, powertrain and features.

The refined 2022 checks allo the boxes for family-hauler wannabes. For example, you want all-wheel drive? Check. The new Sienna XSE that I drove had electronic-all-wheel drive. You want a hybrid? Check. The new 2022 Sienna XSE is the top of the line, but all Siennas come with your choice of powertrains — as long as your choice is a very efficient hybrid.

Even the rear of the Sienna has stylish .contours surrounding its room for 7 occupants and storage space.

This particular hybrid consists of a 2.5-liter, dual-overhead-cam, direct injected  4-cylinder and with two electric motors, combining to direct 245 horsepower to all four wheels.

Toyota is pretty synonymous with hybrids, of course, and this one works through a continuously variable automatic that works smoothly and efficiently at all times and facing whatever driving challenges you might find. For me, it was scaling the steep avenues of Duluth, and the Sienna zipped up with ease, while still delivering just over 36.2 miles per gallon. The EPA estimate says 35 city, 36 highway, so we were a smidge over that.

The look of the new Sienna steps up in class, particularly to be as flashy test vehicle, which came in a stunning red exterior color called “Ruby Flare Pearl,” which is pretty expressive as names go. I found it looked especially good when parked with a colorful sunset lighting the sky in the background.

Rich fabrics and leather line the high-tech interior of the 2022 Sienna XSE.

Toyota fans have been wondering what the company has up its sleeve, to meet competition on the way to electric vehicles. All I knew was the promise that Toyota would be announcing some new directions toward EVs soon, just before the word leaked out this first week of December, 2021, by way of Automotive News, sourced from, of all places, Beijing. Yes, apparently Toyota is planning to work with an aggressive Chinese battery-maker named BYD to create and launch a small electric vehicle in China that could revolutionize the EV business.

Toyota stubbornly stuck with nickel-metal-hydride battery packs for its Prius, while the world pulled an end run and chose lithium-ion, and then lithium-ion polymer because the batteries were lighter, charged faster, retained power longer and delivered more power. Toyota finally gave in and started using lithium-ion battery packs, even in the Prius. Toyota’s eagerness to work with China’s BYD is its new concept, described as lithium-ion-phosphate Blade batteries. Even as Toyota is striving to develop its own batteries, BYD has started using solid-state lithium-ion cells for longer range and more efficient energy storage in what is called its Blade battery, creating thinner and lighter batteries than lithium-ion, and they have the advantage of not using cobalt or nickel, which are costlier, yet are less prone to overheating and have a longer shelf-life.

Reportedly, Toyota investigated a joint venture with BYD several years ago but did not go through with it. One of the issues is that Toyota has such rigid standards for testing and perfecting new designs, while BYD seems to charge ahead and turn its experiments into real-world vehicles. This time, the innovation has lured Toyota to the possibility of a joint venture to give Toyota the same technical advantages that Tesla already has attained; Tesla uses BYD-style batteries in its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles sold in China.

While that may be the most exciting news out of Toyota since the establishment of its Prius, the new Sienna indicates current Toyota vehicles are at a high level on their own.

The interior of the 2022 Sienna XSE includes comfortable and supportive bucket seats in front and in the second row, where occupants have their own wireless headphones and connectivity, with 11.6-inch screens.

Leather bucket seats and under-console storage are added features.

Control center on console and info screen are thorough.

The second row buckets are not removable, but stow low onto the floor, and they also slide more than 2 feet fore and aft, creating easy access and more room in the third row. The better to enjoy the upgraded audio system, which consists of 12 JBL speakers plus an amplifier and subwoofer.

Driving the Sienna is more car-like than truck-like, or even minivan-like. The XSE package adds to the full complement of safety features by also installing a sport handling suspension. The lane-departure alerts are now bolstered by lane-tracing capability to keep you following the best trajectory around curves.

My personal style while driving any hybrid is to think ahead and slow down before needing to stop, to reclaim regenerative braking power that feeds the battery pack. The Sienna also has a driving mode switch that allows you to choose a sport setting and also more economical or normal settings, and you also can click a switch that gives you dedicated electric power or focuses on the regenerative energy-capture.

All of these features, of course, come at a cost. The Sienna starts at a base price of $42,860, but remember you’re getting all-wheel drive and the hybrid powertrain, and loading it up with the XSE luxury touches such as leather seats and upgraded interior, all of which boost the sticker to $47,942.

With electronic all-wheel-drive, the 2022 Sienna XSE can venture wherever roadways might go.

Also, remember that competition is fierce, and the Carnival, Odyssey and Pacifica are worthy choices for customers. But no minivan — or SUV family-hauler buyer — should overlook a test drive in the new Sienna. Our test-drive beat the early December snowfall that hit Duluth, but knowing the S
ienna can be had with AWD, I want another chance!

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