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A review of the Toyota Sienna turns into a love-letter of praise. Now if I can only get my hands on one of these.

By Glenn Oyoung

Sat, Dec 17, 2022 05:38 PM PST

Images by Glenn Oyoung if not stated otherwise.

Prelude

In my 20s, when I was younger and (more) naïve (note: this is legitimately how all of my articles are starting lately, what does that mean?) I had a boss who became like a big brother to me, Chris. I looked up to him because he was a great boss and a cool guy with an MBA, a great sense of humor, and a great car – all things I aspired to have someday.

One day, Chris came to work in a pale blue and beige Toyota Sienna. I asked him where his car - a sweet Lexus GS - was. He replied he had sold it. My absolute disgust was palpable in my short reply, “Whyyyyyy would you do that, Chris?” His response had something to do with kids and growing up and how the automatic doors are really sweet. I can’t recall word for word because the disgust in my 20-something ears impaired my ability to process sounds. However, I remember that I pronounced, “I will NEVER, EVER drive a minivan, Chris,” while clutching the keys to my rad ’98 Prelude (Type SH!).

You know where this is going. Karma is not only an EV company; it’s a total b*****. In a tale as old as time, said punk 20-something grows up, has a family, and decides that a slammed wagon is not the most practical car to shuttle the family around. The minivan market has since exploded with automatic sliding doors to be found in every OEM’s catalog – except something called the supply chain shortage has made buying a minivan like trying to buy a special edition Ferrari. Against this seller’s market backdrop, which one do you suppose I became obsessed with? Why, THE TOYOTA SIENNA, OF COURSE. Well played, Loki God of Mischief, well played.

front left of a dark blue 2022 Toyota Sienna
2022 Sienna XLE AWD – Cargo capacity for days

2022 Sienna XLE AWD

How did this obsession begin? With lower back pain. Specifically, herniated discs made driving my beloved METRON – a slammed 2007 Audi A4 Avant – quite uncomfortable during any ride longer than the short trip to my local dry cleaner. My front brain had been telling me for months that I should invest in a minivan. The kids are getting older, we have to lug more stuff around, and have you seen how useful those automatic sliding doors are in parking lots? (Come to think of it, this is what Chris was telling me when he got rid of that sweet Lexus GS.)

dark blue 2022 Toyota Sienna seen from behind
2022 Toyota Sienna

Once my practical side asserted itself, a proper review was in order. So I called the wonderful people at Toyota Western Region PR, and voila – a fully loaded Blueprint Sienna XLE appeared on my driveway. Immediately my kids went absolutely bonkers, along with me. The kids took one look at the limousine-like legroom in the second row and the HD Entertainment monitor, and it was like they had won the Powerball.

I kept circling the exterior like Gollum admiring the Ring: "Yes, my preciousss…. Sienna XLE 8 Passenger configuration with Rear Seat Entertainment System, 1500W inverter with two 120V AC outlets, and XLE Plus Package…Glenn must have...". Obviously, my wife knew where this was headed as she arrived home to this scene. A minivan would eventually be procured, my assurances that this was a mere test drive notwithstanding.

Interior

Let’s start with the star of the Sienna experience: it is a modern living room on wheels. The SofTex-trimmed seats are plush enough to put a Lazy Boy chair to shame. In the 7-passenger configuration (which is how the Woodland Edition comes) the 2nd-row captain’s chairs can slide back 25 inches thanks to the available Super Long-Slide feature, which is where the living room comes in. Most minivan drivers will rarely use that 3rd row, so any kid lucky enough to watch Lego Movie 2 in a Sienna with this feature probably has as much legroom as the President being shuttled around in the Beast.

interior of the Toyota Sienna
Woodland Edition’s contrast stitched interior (photo credit Toyota)

What is all this legroom worth if you can’t be hydrated and entertained? Fear not. Toyota’s product planners know us well and have sprinkled no less than 16 cupholders, 6 USB charge ports, and two AC outlets throughout this mobile paragon of practicality. Your phone will never die, and your kids will never be uncomfortable, thirsty, or disconnected from the Netflix algo. #vanlife is good.

The Sienna spoils the parents too. Piloting the Sienna from the 8-way adjustable heated and cooled front seat with lumbar support for the aforementioned herniated disc is *chef’s kiss*. Add in the state-of-the-art digital gauges, 9-inch Premium Audio touchscreen, and end table-like center console, and you have to fight the urge to say "Make it so, Number One" to your co-pilot every five minutes.

Are your hands full of groceries, sporting goods, or the kids themselves? Fear not - the Sienna has available hands-free powered sliding doors and rear liftgate. Give the van a light kick at designated points, and you’re in like Flynn (I am literally catching myself aging as I write this review.)

sensor symbol for the hands-free opening of the sliding doors of the Toyota Sienna
Kick here to open the sliding doors.

Technology

The living room on wheels theme carries over to the entertainment department, as you might expect. Our XLE AWD tester was equipped with the optional Rear Seat Entertainment system featuring an 11.6-inch display, HDMI input, and remote with two wireless headsets. Naturally, the kids looked at the whopping display and started celebrating their good fortune.

Alas, no vehicle is perfect. The system is the Achille’s heel of the Sienna. For $1415, Toyota should make it easier to cast from your mobile device (e.g., Apple AirPlay, Google Chromecast) given that, according to Nielsen, 82% of households with broadband subscribe to at least one streaming service – and methinks it’s even higher for families with little ones. I was on a mission to get the screen casting to work, mainly since we had an upcoming 2.5-hourr trip to Solvang on the docket.

I spent a good half hour researching YouTube, and downloading apps like Miracast, only to decide that in my limited time with the Sienna, I’d be better off plugging in a laptop and a JetPack hotspot and then using the HDMI port to project whatever the kids wanted to see. A little more cumbersome than needed, but it got the job done. Thanks to the 1500W inverter with two 120V AC outlets – one powering the laptop, one powering the JetPack - our kids got all the TV they wanted on a road trip up to Solvang and back. Enough to where they actually said no more TV and looked outside the panoramic windows to see the passing landscape. Proud papa moment!

the infotainment screen in the 2022 Toyota Sienna
The infotainment screen in the 2022 Toyota Sienna

Up front in the pilot’s cabin, I thoroughly enjoyed playing my iTunes playlists using CarPlay coupled with the 12 JBL speaker system, including subwoofer and amp. The available SiriusXM kept the 80’s hits coming all trip long, and Bon Jovi never sounded better than in the Sienna cruising down the California coast, the trunk full of souvenirs, and our bellies full of Danish pastries.

Performance

The Sienna is not the kind of vehicle you equip to capture 0-60 times. Its 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, paired with two electric motors up front, generate a combined net horsepower of 245 horsepower. Its V6-powered predecessors were quicker by almost a whole second, which makes sense given the ~50 horsepower difference, the added weight of the hybrid drivetrain, and all these heavy family-friendly features.

But the performance stat most minivan owners are looking for is mpg – and this is where the Sienna, in any trim, excels. Thanks to the hybrid powertrain propelling every trim, the Sienna is EPA-rated at a whopping 36 mpg city/highway/combined. What’s the rush when your wallet is flush with all the cash you’re saving on gas?

two Toyota Siennas parked at the monthly car event Carcadia
Siennas holding court at Carcadia. Left: SoCal Trailbud’s Johnny Lum showing off his Platinum to Carcadia’s Ito Kohki. Right: 2022 Sienna XLE.

I put the Sienna through a whole myriad of driving situations – everyday driving (drop-off line at school, grocery run), freeway driving around the San Gabriel Valley, and the aforementioned road trip to Solvang. I never found the Sienna wanting for acceleration, and it felt surefooted in handling, including the winding mountain roads outside of Santa Barbara.

The Sienna is not just the perfect family hauler but a crowd-pleaser with co-workers too. The XLE came in time for me to play Uber driver to my co-workers during a two-day offsite in downtown LA. Rather than hailing an Uber each morning, our team and their laptop bags and luggage piled into the Sienna for a trip from LA Live to the Arts District for our meetings. Our small marketing army – some of whom are over six feet tall - made full use of the automatic doors and three-row seating. My impromptu focus group of working professionals – half without kids – universally agreed that the Sienna was the perfect mobile team-builder.

Suffice it to say; the Sienna was a hit all the way around. How could you possibly top it?

2022 Sienna XLE AWD Woodland Edition

Enter the Holy Grail of Minivans: The Toyota Sienna XLE AWD Woodland Edition. Take all of the goodness of the XLE, make it all-wheel-drive (only costs 1mpg), give it .6” more ground clearance, throw on some roof rails, and paint it Cement Gray. Voila! You have the rarest and most sought-after minivan in modern times.

the 2022 Toyota Sienna Woodland Edition
The Sienna XLE AWD Woodland Edition: The Holy Grail of Minivans  (photo credit Toyota)

All Woodland Editions feature another trick up their proverbial sleeves: the aforementioned Super Long-Slide second-row captains’ chairs. Whoever invented this at Toyota should be given the Employee of the Decade award because it is a total game changer. Your kids will begin demanding Maybach-level legroom.

Ringing in at about $5k more than the XLE, is the Woodland Edition worth it? I would say yes. That .6” additional ride height may not sound like a lot, but that can be the difference between scraping your front lip (the worst!) and not. The closest we got to camping was an overnight at a distinctly suburban "campground" with our Girl Scout troop, so I’m not qualified to tell you how it performs on a trail. However, I’m a fan of the blacked-out badging and roof rails and the contrast stitching on the interior.

rear of the Toyota Sienna Woodland Edition
Cement Gray with blacked out badging – Yes.  (photo credit Toyota)

As with the new Sequoia, Toyota is definitely loading up on trims on the premium (cough, cough: profitable) spectrum. The 2023 model year did away with the Woodland Edition, replacing it with the 25th Anniversary Edition, based on the sporty XSE trim. I had the chance to see the range-topping, $50K Platinum Edition in person at Carcadia, and it would be between that and the Woodland for me, if I could get my hands on a Sienna. The Platinum features bi-LED projector headlights, a birds-eye view camera system, and heated everything.

If you see one, buy one.

As I wrap up my love letter to the Sienna, I’d say this is the van to get – if you can get your hands on one. It was abundantly clear that getting a new Sienna would be an endeavor. The folks at Longo told me that their wait list was so oversubscribed relative to factory capacity that it was closed to avoid disappointing customers. The two Siennas I saw on the used lot were marked up significantly over the MSRP, in keeping with market conditions.

image of the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey parked nose-to-nose
Sienna vs. Odyssey. Winner: Sienna

Ultimately, I decided to go with a lightly-used 2022 Honda Odyssey Elite. It’s quicker, handles better, and comes with an easier-to-use rear entertainment system. I still can’t figure out how to stream (come on, guys!), but the built-in DVD player is money, even if the tech is old. I like the in-cabin mic system, which allows kids and parents to communicate without shouting. But 36 mpg vs. 22 mpg is a huge selling point, as are all the other tech and convenience features of the fourth-generation Sienna over the fifth-generation Odyssey. I just couldn't find a darn Sienna!

As the market cools, I’ll be on the lookout for a Sienna. So if you see one, snatch it up – or let me know so I can make my minivan dreams come true!

About The Author

Glenn Oyoung's profile picture

Glenn Oyoung

Glenn Oyoung is a marketer based in Los Angeles. Glenn’s lifelong passion for cars is rooted in playing with Hot Wheels, and has continued into 1:1 scale. He’s the former marketing director of American Racing, author of ‘vehicular alphabet books’ “C is for Car” and "P is for Petersen" in collaboration with the Petersen Automotive Museum. His passion for cars extends to his role as the founder of the monthly car meet Carcadia at Route 66, the most diverse car meet in the San Gabriel Valley.

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