2017 Toyota Sienna Limited review: You can teach an old minivan new tricks

2017 Toyota Sienna Limited

2017 Toyota Sienna Ltd.

Minivan fans may already know that the aging Toyota Sienna is due for a major update, but they may not know there are still compelling reasons to buy a 2017 model.

Normally, outgoing vehicles do not offer significant upgrades, but Toyota has outfitted the 2017 Toyota Sienna with two of them —- a stronger and smoother V-6 engine and a new 8-speed automatic transmission.

Toyota Sienna front seats

Toyota Sienna front seats

For the record, there was nothing notably wrong with the outgoing engine or its 6-speed automatic shifter. But it’s hard to believe there will be any complaints about a new V-6 powerplant that generates 296 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque, increases of 30 and 18 over 2016.

This is especially true because the extra power and new transmission not only improve performance, they slightly improve fuel mileage. The front-wheel-drive 2017 Toyota Sienna Limited is EPA-rated at 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway/22 mpg combined.

That compares with 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway/21 mpg combined for the 2016 model. In my real-world experience on mostly urban and suburban roads, I did better, averaging between 21 and 26 mpg.

Obviously all those fuel-economy figures would drop somewhat if I were hauling a load of antsy young soccer players and their gear to their next match.

I have to admit that I may not be in the mainstream when it comes to minivans. But, a week with a 2017 Toyota Sienna merely reinforced my conclusion that the minivan, rather than a true sport-utility vehicle or even a similar car-based crossover, remains the ideal vehicle for families with young children.

Let me make some observations on why I think minivans in general, and the Toyota Sienna in particular, are the better choices.

Toyota Sienna instruments

Toyota Sienna instruments

The minivan is generally priced less than a comparable crossover or sport-utility vehicle.

The minivan has somewhat sharper handling, although it will never be confused with a sporty vehicle, even in the Toyota Sienna’s SE trim.

The minivan get better fuel mileage.

The minivan has sliding rear doors. They make it easier than conventional doors for putting youngsters in car seats and they definitely are a blessing when it comes to parking in tight mall spaces.

The minivan, with its car-like step-in height, is easier to get in and and out of than many of its more successful competitors, particularly the sport-utility vehicles with off-road capabilities.

The Toyota Sienna is the only minivan that has available all-wheel drive. This would be a real selling point for families living in snow country.