2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium first drive review: True to the concept

2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium

2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium

The Toyota Sienna is one of a decreasing number of minivans that has stayed true to the original concept. It seats up to eight in relative comfort, doubles as a stuff hauler, and can fit most garages. And even Mom can drive it.

(That’s a joke, folks, based on the popular designation of the minivan as a “mommobile.” It will be a bit of a running gag over the next several paragraphs. Get over it).

The 2015 Toyota Sienna is Toyota’s third generation of the model, (see our 2011 Toyota Sienna and 2009 Toyota Sienna reviews) and now halfway through to the next, it’s time for the mid-generational makeover.

2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium interior

Seating in the 2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium has contrasting stitching. (click to enlarge)

For the exterior, that means new headlights with LED running lights for the top of the line SE and Limited models, and all trim levels but the SE get new taillights. The base L model and the sportified SE keep the grille they had last year, but the LE, XLE and Limited get a “newly styled” grille. Plus there are three new colors.  In other words, not much change.

The unchanged exterior, however, hides a stiffened body, with 142 new welds.

The inside, however, is where the action is, with upgraded luxury across the board. The top of the dash and upper door panels are covered in a new soft-touch material, though oddly on the Sienna SE we drove, the dashpad had genuine stitching but it was merely for show, not holding two different pieces of fabric together.  To provide what Toyota calls a more “elegant” look, metallic accents have been added around the cabin.

2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium dash

Changes to the 2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium dash included moving the heater/AC controls three inches closer to the driver. (click to enlarge)

Depending on trim level, the Sienna’s interior will come in various qualities of cloth, though with perforated leather in the 2015 Toyota Sienna SE we drove, or the premium leather in the Sienna XLE and Limited trim.

The Sienna picks up new technology for 2015, including a standard backup cam. More than just a convenience, it’s an important safety feature in a vehicle with limited close-in vision, especially one that’s often used around kids. (Sorry, Mom).

New electronic features include a standard driver information screen between the speedometer and tachometer. On the lower trim levels it measures 3.5 inches and provides all the usual trip computer functions. Move up and the screen grows to 4.7 inches and adds audio and phone information, plus supplemental info from the navigation system and, for models with all-wheel drive, torque spilt between front and rear wheels.

2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium third row seat

The third row seats in the 2015 Toyota Sienna are high enough off the floor for comfort. (click to enlarge)

Four EnTune audio systems are available in the 2015 Sienna depending on trim level and package selected, with either a 6.1 or 7.0-inch touchscreen display. A USB port, iPod connection and Bluetooth are standard.  Audio up to JBL with ten speakers is available.

Three-zone climate control is new for the Toyota Sienna in 2015, good news for those in back, and better yet, standard the 2015 Sienna is “Driver Easy Speak.” The new system uses the microphone for hands-free phone and voice control features and pipes the driver’s voice to the rear seats via the van’s standard audio speakers. No more shouting from the front row to the third to be heard.

Toyota worked to  silence the 2015 Sienna, with added floor padding, improved door seals and more, but it still isn’t the quietest vehicle we’re driven, with noticeable road noise coming up and echoing in the large interior space, always a challenge for van designers.

Toyota had dropped the four cylinder engine previously available, making the 3.5-liter V-6 standard equipment. With 266 horsepower, the Sienna performs with plenty of zip. While drag racing isn’t something most minivan drivers won’t be doing, being able to accelerate makes merging into fast traffic a little less terrifying.

2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium

2015 Toyota Sienna SE Premium

A six-speed automatic transmission is standard with the shift lever mounted on the centerstack. The shifter has a zigzag pattern and has a manual shifting mode, though other than for engine braking on a long down hill road, we can’t see why to use it. Otherwise the transmission is smooth and quiet and the best thing to be said about it is that it won’t be noticed.

Speaking of being able to go, the 2015 Toyota Sienna can go in the snow. It is the only minivan currently available with all-wheel drive.

Typical of minivans today, the third row seat tumbles into a well at the rear of vehicle. With the third row raised for seating, the cargo area is extra deep. Tumbled, it makes a flat cargo floor. The mid-row seats can scrunch up against the backs of the front seats, but to utilize the full interior cargo capacity, the second row seats have to be lifted out and left in the garage. Score one for the Chrysler Town & Country’s Stow ‘n Go system, or the new Kia Sedona, whose mid-row seat slides and flattens against the backs of the front seats.

Seats as seats are good, however, with the fronts best, of course, and decreasing comfort towards the rear, though even the third row is high enough off the floor for comfort. The middle seat of the second row, however, is just a pad between two individual seats. It’s literally the worst seat in the house. For 2015, the Sienna adds a fourth LATCH child safety seat connection, with a new one for the third row. Toyota recognizes that some typical family with 2.3 kids is actually four.

The Sienna can be outfitted to tow up to 3500 lbs, which should be enough for the toys needed for most family activities, and Dad will slide behind the wheel for that. And yes, he’d probably opt for the $39,860 Sienna SE if only for the SE-only black honeycomb grille.. That is, of course, if Mom will let him drive it.

Prices and specifications next page.