The Toyota Sienna has always been an inconspicuous van. They're out there, there's a lot of them and they're huge, but they blend in with darn near everything. Perhaps Toyota noticed that a little while ago and slapped on the slightly garish grille/not a grille plastic thing in the front bumper, but it still doesn't really stand out. On the other hand, our long-term Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, which is a great deal newer than the Sienna, has slick styling that gets noticed. Toyota hasn't properly redesigned the Sienna since the 2011 model year, and it shows on every front. Despite its many shortcomings, there are still some valid arguments for going with the dinosaur.
Ride and handlingOf all the reasons to choose a Sienna over the much newer competition, available all-wheel drive has to be the main one. My tester was so equipped, and I got a chance to test it out in both snow and ice. Obviously, the first thing I did in powder was see if the rear end would break loose. I can confirm that with traction control off, the Sienna will slide around a little bit. You won't be doing any sick drifts, but it's undoubtedly more fun than our Pacifica.
The Chrysler is fitted with Nokian Hakkapelitta winter tires. As you might guess, this means that braking and grip around corners is better than the Sienna in snow. If the Sienna were to ditch its slippery all-seasons for a proper set of winters, it would be running circles around the Pacifica. Still, I drove our Pacifica through a lake effect blizzard in Buffalo and it never blinked from lack of traction with multiple inches of snow on the ground. Some folks are going to want the assurance of all-wheel drive, and the Sienna will offer it, but don't make it your only option. All-wheel drive might help you get going, but winter tires are there to save the day when sledding gets tough.
What impressed most about the Sienna was its ride quality and composure. This van earned its road warrior status on my drive to the Chicago Auto Show from Detroit. The long highway trek was handled without issue by the big minivan chassis. Bumps and road imperfections were soaked up well. Noise wasn't much of an issue either, something minivans can struggle with given the massive amount of space in the cabin ripe for vibrations and rattles. However, an uncomfortable seat led to some soreness after over four hours in the saddle. No matter how I adjusted the lumbar, it didn't seem to take to my 5'10" slim frame.
For comparison, I'm never sore after stacking up hour after hour of driving in the Pacifica. The Chrysler has a stiffer ride than Toyota's cushionlike setup, too. That translates into slightly better handling from the Pacifica, but few minivan buyers are going to care that one will outperform the other on a handling course. Because the Sienna's ride comfort in general reigns supreme over the Pacifica's, it has a slight edge on this one. It's a small win for Toyota's old chassis, especially since the Pacifica is nearly as good in pure comfort.
Interior and TechnologyIf your priority for your minivan purchase is a fantastic interior, then there's a clear winner between the pair. Look at both interiors side-by-side — one looks like it's from a modern car; the other looks like it's stuck in 2005. Toyota hasn't given this interior a proper overhaul for years, and it shows.
The infotainment system is a low-definition mess of colors and unattractive graphics. It works, but discourages any use beyond the bare minimum of changing the radio station. The navigation system is maze of menus and submenus you really don't want to get into. (I did. It wasn't fun). This mess of an infotainment with navigation even added $1,410 to the price. Toyota needs to get with the times if the screen is going to be there – hopefully the 2021 Sienna will.
Chrysler uses its impressive Uconnect system with attractive blue graphics to match the Hybrid character of the van. The system responds to your inputs instantly and fluidly. It also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on tap (something missing from the Toyota), so you can run everything through your phone if you so desire. Toyota continues to lag behind in adopting these features, as it's just now dipping its toes in with the full truck lineup.
Beyond the tech you interact with in the dash, the layout of the interiors themselves shows how far behind Toyota is. There's a gaggle of buttons related to the climate control that confuses and intimidates in the center stack. For whatever reason the heated seat controls are hidden as little scroll wheels tilted down and away from the front seat passengers. There are three levels of heat, but the scroll wheel was more like an on/off switch, offering nearly no differentiation between the settings. Hard buttons for every control can be a great solution if it's done right, but this layout doesn't lend itself to form or function.
Where the Toyota interior does impress is back seat room from the sliding rear seats. You can slide the two captain's chairs back so far that it becomes more like a limousine than anything. Seriously, if you value second row room, this minivan is superior to nearly any other vehicle on the market. The Pacifica Hybrid's battery means you lose the genius stow-and-go second row in the normal Pacifica; like the Sienna, you'll need to remove the seats to get to max cargo capacity.