Swan-song Sienna: coming redesign leaves 2020 Toyota minivan in limbo – and it could lose its AWD monopoly, too

2020 Toyota Sienna

What changes will make the 2020 Toyota Sienna different?

No changes are likely for model-year 2020, as Toyota closes out the current design generation of its eight-seat minivan. A fully redesigned Sienna is on track for release as a 2021 model.

The outgoing Sienna generation bowed for model-year 2011, with its last notable update for model-year 2018 when Toyota tweaked the exterior design and updated the engine and transmission; for 2019, it made a full suite of safety feature standard on every model. It’s long been the only minivan available with all-wheel drive (AWD) – but that may soon change, as explained below.

Still, even as minivan demand inched up 4.6 percent for 2018, Sienna sales slid 21 percent, to their lowest total since 2010. The Toyota was handily outsold by the Honda Odyssey, Dodge Grand Caravan, and Chrysler Pacifica. Things have been worse across the board through early 2019, with Sienna sales off 36 percent while the class has fallen 23 percent.

Note that driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on road tests of the 2019 Toyota Sienna. In areas where the ’20 might be different, we will reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy the 2019?

Neither – wait for the upcoming 2021. Here’s why. First, the ’20 Sienna is almost certain to be a carbon copy the 2019, but it might cost slightly more. Second, waiting for the redesign insures you’ll get a minivan with Toyota’s latest styling and technology, and probably better fuel economy, too.

Lastly, if you’re hoping to take advantage of deep discounts on the outgoing 2020 Sienna as dealers clear inventories ahead of the redesigned ’21, prepare to be disappointed. Toyota apparently does not plan to offer steep incentives on Sienna as it closes out this generation, preferring to maximize profit on what sales it can muster. As the automaker’s North American CEO Jim Lentz told industry publication Automotive News, “When it gets late in its life cycle, you’ve got to decide – typically, we will prop up a vehicle late in its life cycle with incentives. But you’ve got to look at the segment that you’re in. And in some cases, that doesn’t make good business sense to do, and I think that’s what’s happening with Sienna.”

Sienna’s carryover 2020 lineup should consist of L, LE, SE, XLE, and Limited trim levels, each with standard front-wheel drive. Traction-assisting AWD should remain optional on all but the L. Expect the SE, XLE, and Limited to also again offer upgraded Premium variants, priced as separate models. Further, the front-drive LE and XLE should continue to offer Toyota’s “Auto Access Seat.” This feature automatically rotates and extends the second-row passenger seat to assist entry and exit for those with disabilities.

Will the styling be different?

No. While Toyota mildly tweaked Sienna’s exterior styling for 2018, this van still has the same overall look it did when it was last redesigned for 2011. By contrast, the Odyssey, Pacifica, even the Kia Sedona, which sells at a fraction the rate of its rivals, have received ground-up redesigns within the last five years. All have cleaner, more modern lines than the blocky Toyota. Sienna’s sharpest model is the SE, which has lower body addenda, a unique grille, clear taillights, and gunmetal-finish wheels.

Even if the interior is similarly dated for appearance and materials quality, practicality is a strong point. The control layout is simple, and all functions are within easy reach of the driver and front passenger. For 2019, Toyota added support for Apple CarPlay. Google Android Auto is not available, though the company has promised support at a future date. The touchscreen infotainment system uses Toyota’s responsive and intuitive Entune 3.0. We wish the screen were larger as it’s only 7 inches.

Space for people and things will also remain very good for 2020. The driving position should again feel a bit more upright than in an Odyssey or Pacifica and that might take some acclimation. Otherwise, driver and passengers will again enjoy stretch-out room on very comfortable seats.

Seven-passenger seating, with two removable second-row captain’s chairs, should remain standard on the L, the LE AWD, the XLE AWD, and all Limited models. Expect seating for eight, via a second-row bench split 40/20/40, to again be standard on the front-drive LE, SE, and XLE models. The bench’s center second is removable and stows onboard to form a pass-through to the third row.

Sienna’s third row is adult friendly, especially since the second-row seats have generous fore/aft travel. All Premium grades will again have a rear Blu-ray entertainment system with a 16.4-inch-wide fold-down ceiling screen; they system can display two input sources simultaneously, a boon for keeping rear passengers entertained on long road trips.

Even with all seats occupied, there’s a generous 39.1 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the third row. That expands to 87.1 cubic feet with the third row folded. It lays flush with the cargo floor, and front-drive Limited grades include power operation, helpful because the manual mechanism is cumbersome. The second row tips forward, opening 117.8 cubic feet. Remove the bench or captain’s chairs, and there’s 150 cubic feet. Still, no minivan’s cargo versatility matches that of Chrysler’s Stow ‘N Go setup, in which the second-row captain’s chairs fold into floor wells, wells that double as auxiliary covered storage compartments when the seats are in use.

Any mechanical changes?

No. Every 2020 Sienna will continue with a 3.5-litr V-6 that should gain rate 296 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque; it’ll again pair with an 8-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain moves the 4,430-4,750-pound minivan with more than adequate gusto. Special praise is due the transmission for its slick operation and timely downshifts when more power is needed for high-speed passing and merging.

Availability of AWD has been a Sienna selling point since the first generation debuted in 2004. It provides a noticeable benefit in low-traction situations and a feature we would recommend where inclement weather is a way of life. AWD models use run-flat tires and don’t come with a spare. Kudos to Toyota for calibrating the suspension so that the harder run-flat rubber does not take a significant toll on ride quality.

Sienna’s AWD exclusivity in the minivan class, however, may end soon. Industry sources indicate Chrysler will add AWD to the Pacifica for model-year 2020. If that happens, we see even less reason to consider Sienna until the redesigned 2021 model.

Further tempering out enthusiasm were some uncharacteristic quality gaffes on a recent review sample. During our weeklong evaluation of a 2019 Sienna SE with AWD, one of the power-sliding rear side doors malfunctioned and would not fully close with the vehicle parked on moderately steep driveway. Restarting the engine resolved this issue. Also, the power rear liftgate would only open via the remote keyfob or button on the overhead console – the release above the rear license plate refused to work properly.

Will fuel economy improve?

No. With Sienna likely being a carryover for 2020, its EPA ratings should follow suit. So expect the 2020 Sienna to rate 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 18/24/20 with AWD. Our 2019 SE AWD averaged 20 mpg in mostly suburban driving. All models would use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.

Will there be new features?

No. With the next-generation Sienna on the horizon, it would be very unusual to see any significant feature updates for the 2020 model.

L grades should again be basic and not widely available for retail sale. Still, it would come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense-P (TSS-P). This suite of driver-assistance features include forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, automatic high-beam headlight control, and adaptive radar cruise control that can maintain a set following distance from traffic ahead.

Most dealers stock the LE as the entry-level model. In addition to the L’s three-zone automatic climate control, the LE has dual power sliding rear side doors, stain-resistant cloth upholstery, power driver’s seat, and second- and third-row sunshades.

The SE gains unique exterior styling, LED daytime running lights, fog lights, a power rear liftgate, acoustically laminated windshield, leather upholstery for the first two seating rows (the third row has leatherette), and heated front seats. SE Premium grades add a power sunroof, blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic detection, keyless access with pushbutton ignition, imbedded GPS navigation, rear Blu-ray entertainment system, and Toyota’s “Driver Easy Speak” that utilizes a microphone in the overhead console to broadcast the driver’s voice to third-row passengers via the Sienna’s audio speakers.

The XLE builds upon the non-Premium SE. It has leather seating surfaces for the first two rows, heated front seats, and power rear quarter windows. Its Premium variant includes everything its SE counterpart does along with rear-obstacle detection.

The non-Premium Limited has upgraded leather upholstery, power front-passenger seat, heated steering wheel, JBL-brand audio system, and a sliding center console. Limited Premium grades mirror XLE Premium but also add rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Will 2020 prices be different?

Don’t be shocked if Toyota holds the line on Sienna pricing for 2020. That’s certainly better than an increase, although as noted, don’t be surprised if it also holds off on deep factory discounts typically associated with the sell-off of the last of a design generation.

For reference we list model-year ’19 base prices, including the manufacturer’s $1,095 destination fee.

The 2019 L started at $32,310. Base price for the LE was $35,230 with front-wheel drive, $37,770 with AWD, and $41,155 with the Auto Access Seat.

SE grades started at $38,560 with front drive and $40,065 with AWD, SE Premium versions at $44,655 and $46,160, respectively

The XLE was priced from $38,560 with front drive, $40,990 with AWD, and $44,695 with the Auto Access Seat. Base price for the XLE Premium was $42,250 with front drive and $44,680 with AWD.

Range-topping Limited grades started at $45,305 with front drive and $46,665 with AWD, Limited Premiums at $48,825 and $50,185, respectively.

Count on 2019 options to carry over as well. Key packages should again include the $955 LE Preferred Package, which adds blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic detection, and keyless access/pushbutton ignition. A power sunroof would be $850 on the SE. The $3,815 SE Preferred Package nets the same items in the LE Preferred Package plus rear-obstacle detection, and JBL audio with imbedded navigation.

The XLE Navigation Package ($1,410) adds imbedded navigation and rear-obstacle detection. These features are also included along with the Premium’s Blu-ray entertainment system as part of the $3,790 Entertainment Package.

When does it come out?

Expect a 2020 Toyota Sienna release date in summer 2019.

Best competitors

Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]