That Toyota remains the sole purveyor of all-wheel-drive (AWD) among mainstream minivans is somewhat of a mystery, given the genre’s family orientation and the fact that AWD is popular on crossover SUVs as a perceived safety feature. Sienna offers eight trim levels and AWD is offered on all but the entry-level L model and the sporty SE. Of the models on which it’s offered – the LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Limited, and Limited Premium – it accounts for about 10 percent of sales.
Pricing for the ‘17 Sienna had not been released in time for this report, but expect little if any increase over the 2016 models. Expect AWD to add $1,140-$2,510, depending on model, with the least expensive AWD Sienna, the LE, starting around $35,080 and the most expensive, the XLE Premium, starting around $47,310. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Toyota’s was $900 for the ’16 Sienna.)
Front-wheel-drive Siennas accommodate eight passengers but AWD versions seat seven. In normal driving, the system channels 100 percent of the engine power through the front wheels but can send as much as 50 percent to the rears as needed to maintain traction when sensors detect wheel slippage.
At that, AWD is largely an unnecessary expense for most drivers living beyond the Snow Belt or in wintery areas having regularly plowed roads, where the standard front-drive configuration should suffice. In addition to cost, AWD adds both mechanical complexity (with a higher potential for repair bills down the road) and weight, which contributes to reduced fuel economy. In the Sienna’s case adding AWD trims its EPA mileage rating by two mpg in combined city/highway driving (19 mpg versus 21 mpg).
Sienna excels whether equipped with AWD or in standard, front-wheel-drive configuration. Toyota’s 3.5-liter V6 engine is widely regarded as being among the best in the business, and here it generates 266 horsepower with 245 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission this engine affords ample acceleration that only becomes a bit sluggish when traversing uphill grades with a full complement of passengers aboard.
While attractive enough on the outside, the Sienna’s expansive interior is its prime selling point, with seven- or eight-passenger seating (depending on the configuration). It’s well designed and affords ample head- and legroom in both the second and third rows. Standard features are plentiful, with higher trim levels offering a full array of amenities that include ultra-posh reclining second-row captain’s chairs with built-in footrests, and a “Driver Easy Speak” system that lets parents communicate with their kids without shouting via a microphone in the center console that transmits the driver’s voice (“Don’t make me come back there!”) to a set of rear-cabin speakers.
All versions can easily accommodate 4×8 sheets of building materials with the second- and third-row seatbacks folded flat, and include a 60/40 “Split and Stow” third-row seat that folds flat to accommodate groceries and the like in a single motion.
The only other AWD alternative to the Sienna is the U.S. is the passenger-configured editions of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, which hardly seems “mini” by comparison. It’s offered with AWD in five-passenger “Crew” models and a full-blown passenger version that can seat up to 12. Coming powered by a choice of four-cylinder and V6 diesel engines, and offering little more than essential amenities, the Sprinter seems better suited for church group and livery services than the average American family.