Regular readers of my reviews know that I believe minivans are the best vehicles for families. Although many consider them "uncool," minivans have much more usable interior room and are much easier to access than SUVs, which are more popuar.
The difference is important for families with young children, who must struggle with federally-required child safety seats. The large sliding doors on minivans make it much easier to get both the kids and the seats themselves in and out — especially in crowded parking lots where side room is frequently limited.
The sliding doors also make it easier to reach the third row of seats, which are increasingly available in both minivans and SUVs. And minvans offer the same kind of higher ride height as SUVs, improving visibility.
In my mind, for most families, the only drawback of minivans is the lack of available of all-wheel-drive, which can be ordered on all SUVs and is good to have in the rainy (and sometimes snowy) Pacific Northwest. In fact, AWD is only offered on one minivan, the Toyota Sienna, the subject of this week's review.
Fortunately, the 2018 Toyota Sienna is also one of the best minivans on the market, with or without AWD. It drives smoothly even over rough pavement and has plenty of power, thanks to its standard 3.5-liter V6 and well-matched 8-speed transmission.
Equally important for families, the Sienna is incredibly roomy. The third row of seats fold flatly into the floor with just a few quick motions, creating an enormous amount of cargo space, especially with the second row slid forward on their lengthy tracks.
Another nice feature — the windows in the side doors slide most of the way down, providing a lot of ventilation for those who don't want to run the air conditioner (although it is very efficient).
The new Sienna is not significantly changed from last year's model. Its exterior and interior styling is clean and simple. The large corporate grill is the only flashy outside feature, while functionality prevails over fashion on the inside.
Even the base Sienna comes with a lot of comfort, convenience, infotainment and safety features. Our XLE model included a Navigation Package that featured an upgraded stereo and unique Driver Speak Easy system that allows those in the front to talk to those in the back over the rear speakers — just the thing to amplify the threat of stopping if the passengers get unruly.
Some have proclaimed the plug-in Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid the most advanced minivan these days because it can go up to 33 miles on electricity alone on a full battery charge. But it does not offer AWD, leaving consumers to decide which is the most important feature.
2018 Toyota Sienna XLE
Base price: $30,850
Price as tested: $42,055
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (296 hp, 263 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode
EPA estimated mileage: 19/27
Overall length: 200.2 inches
Base curb weight: 4,605 pounds
Final assembly: Princeton, Indiana
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