2021 Toyota Sienna XLE Hybrid AWD: One-of-a-kind family hauler
Toyota is not getting nearly the credit it deserves for offering the largest number of hybrid vehicles — most of which are available with all-wheel-drive, including the completely-designed 2021 Toyota Sienna minivan.
The advantages are especially strong in the environmentally-conscious and wet Pacific Northwest. Because their power alternates between small gas engines and electric motors with batteries that recharge during normal driving, hybrids get significantly better mileage than their gas-only counterparts. And AWD provides additional traction on slick roads and muddy trails, even when the second set of wheels wheels are driven by an extra electric motor instead of a mechanical driveshaft.
Toyota was rightly praised when it introduced the Prius, the first mass produced hybrid, in 1997. It was a huge hit when it went on sale in America in 2000 as people were becoming more aware of the dangers of climate change, or global warming as it was called then.
Now a growing number of environmentalists and elected leaders want people to only be able to buy all-electric vehicles, despite the inconvenience to potential owners who don't have easy access chargers. Until that day comes, if it ever does, hybrids remain the best choice for everyone else who wants to save gas, with AWD being a desirable feature.
Toyota current sells eight hybrid vehicles, five or which either come standards or can be ordered with AWD. They include four cars, three crossover and, now, the only hybrid minivan with standard AWD. Seriously, if you can't find a Toyota hybrid to meet your needs, you need to rethink your priorities.
Having tested almost all Toyota hybrids, I have to say the most remarkable thing about them is how normal they are. The original Prius may have gotten over 50 miles per gallon, but it looked dorky and was slow. But the new Prius looks and drives much like any other subcompact, except it gets better mileage and can equipped with AWD. Same for the compact Corolla Hybrid, midsize Camry Hybrid and larger Avalon Hybrid. Aside from the engine not starting when you turn them on, just about the only time you remember you're driving a hybrid is when you see the high average MPG figure on the dash. The Prius can also be ordered as a plug-in hybrid that will go up to 25 miles on electricity alone before switching over to a conventional hybrid mode.
The same can be said about Toyota's three hybrid crossovers, the compact RAV4, compact Venza and three-row Highlander. The RAV4 can also be ordered as a plug-in hybrid that will go a remarkable 42 miles on electricity alone before switching over to conventional hybrid mode.
Now Toyota has completely redesigned the Sienna. It had been powered by a 3.5-liter gas V6 and was the only minivan that could be ordered with mechanical AWD. But now it is only available as a hybrid powered by a 2.5-liter inline four gas engine and an electric motor driving the front wheels. It can also be ordered with a second electric motor driving the rear wheels, giving it AWD.
As significant as those changes are, they don't stop there. The exterior styling has gone from unexciting to wild, with the additional of a huge front grill and bulging rear fenders. The interior now features the large dash-mounted display appearing in other Toyotas, and a high and wide center console between the two front bucket seats with a conventional shift lever, multiple cup holders, and a variety of control buttons.
The overall effect is to give the 2021 Sienna a much sportier feel than the previous generation, even though total power has dropped from 296 to 243 horsepower. But it doesn't feel any slower on the road, thanks to the 199 instantly-available foot pounds of torque.
As regular readers of this column know, I am a big fan of minivans for families. With their large sliding side doors, they are much easier for children to get in and out of than cars and crossovers, especially children who still require safety seats. They also more cargo space. They do not have the ground clearance of SUVs, but most families are not into serious off-road driving. The AWD-equipped Sienna has been a great option of the wet Pacific Northwest, and is now even better because its average mileage has increased from 23 to 35 miles per gallon.
My test Sienna was a mid-range XLE model equipped with AWD, captains chairs for the second row of seats, a rear seat entertainment package and a XLE Plus Package that included a 9-inch touchscreen, premium JBL audio package, wireless smart phone charging, and much more. It also came with a tow hitch, which Toyota says allows the Sienna to pull up to 3,500 pounds. Even with all that, the price was under $50,000, which is very reasonable.
In fact, the only real competition would be to combine two versions of the 2021 Chysler Pacifica minivan. The base front-wheel-drive version is powered by a 3.6-liter V6. But a plug-in hybrid version is also available that goes 30 miles on a full charge before switching over to a conventional hybrid mode. And mechanical AWD is available, but not on the hybrid model.
So if you want a hybrid minivan with AWD, there's only one choice — the 2021 Toyota Sienna that comes standard with hybrid power, optional AWD, and can be ordered in trim levels from well-equipped to luxurious.
2021 Toyota Sienna XLE Hybrid AWD
Base price: $34,460 (LE)
Price as tested: $48,087
Engine: 2.5-liter 4, one or two electric motors (243 hp, 199 lb-ft)
Transmission: Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission
EPA estimated mileage: 35/36
Overall length: 204 inches
Curb weight: 4,610 to 4,725 pounds
Final assembly: Princeton, Indiana
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