REVIEW: 2017 Toyota Sienna Limited Premium AWD – The Best All-Weather Minivan

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The 2017 Toyota Sienna Limited Premium AWD is the top-trim minivan from Toyota, and the Sienna is the only minivan in America with all-wheel drive. If you have the budget and want the best all-weather minivan made, this is it.

What is it? 

Minivans can be bare-bones cheap transportation for families that need up to eight seats, or they can be luxury chariots with amazing storage and passenger space. The 2017 Toyota Sienna Limited Premium AWD we tested this week is the latter.

Outfitted with two comfy captains’ chairs in the second row, the Sienna becomes a seven-passenger or four passenger van, depending upon if you use the third row. The trim we tested had it all, but most importantly, it had all-wheel drive, which for more and more families in regions that get snow and ice is a defacto starting point now.

Twenty-five years, ago I piled into a Chrysler minivan with my buddies and headed from U-Mass to Daytona for Spring Break. We drove straight through, only stopping for biology breaks, Slim Jims, Mountain Dew and Screaming Yellow Zonkers.

The minivan had only been invented a handful of years earlier, but the appeal was apparent to our crew of six mechanical engineers-to-be. Although smaller then, and crude by today’s standards, the original minivan’s promise of car-like comfort, and work-van like utility has been fulfilled and then some. Vans like this Limited Premium trim go way beyond what the vehicle needs to do and covers all of the luxury functions large cars used to.

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Pricing and trims

Toyota makes a Sienna Trim that starts at about $31K. At that price, it is by far the best people mover for the dollar in the Toyota family. Chrysler’s new Pacifica, the Kia Sedona, and the Honda Odyssey are the main competitors for the Sienna, and each is an excellent vehicle with its own market niche.

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Our Sienna Limited Premium had many luxury options, and most importantly, the AWD system that seems like an obvious thing to offer on any large family vehicle in America.

Our tester had an MSRP of $48,250. That may seem pricey, but large crossovers from many manufacturers start at this price point, so we feel the price is not out of line. That said, for value shoppers, the XLE is the place to start for less cash.

Safety

The 2017 Toyota Sienna Limited Premium lacks one big feature; There is no forward collision prevention with auto-braking. This is a real head-scratcher. Toyota has taken the lead in this technology and has begun to make it standard on vehicles like the much less expensive Corolla and RAV4.

Related: Is AWD a safety feature? Yes, it is!

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The rear cross-traffic alert and excellent backup camera with sensors were a big help moving the Sienna around in parking lots and it never felt unwieldy like the full-size SUVs all do.

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The Sienna cannot earn the Top Safety Pick designation for 2017 since it has an “Acceptable” front crash test result.

Performance

Our Sienna Limited Premium AWD had the new version of Toyota’s V6 with 296 horsepower. It sure didn’t feel like it, though. The van was competent in traffic and safe in merging and passing, but the engine worked overtime to keep things speedy. Yes, it is a heavy vehicle with the added drag of AWD, but having driven Highlanders with this engine, we thought it would have felt spunkier.

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The Sienna Limited Premium AWD is smooth and quiet except when driven assertively. Forget sports-car-like driving. That is not an option with the Sienna, nor should it be. Minivans are family-movers and we need to respect that mission. Start to push the Sienna around and it subtly pushes back with understeer. Perhaps the perfect formula for a vehicle that may occasionally be driven by a child home from college on holiday break.

What the Sienna Limited Premium AWD can do to impress an owner is put up surprising fuel economy numbers in suburban and highway driving.  On two separate fill-ups in mixed driving, but zero “city” driving, we averaged 25 MPG. The EPA, which has now gone overboard with its conservative estimates pegs this van at just 20 MPG combined. Our mileage was always higher than that, even around town.

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The Toyota eight-speed transmission is out of the way, literally and figuratively. The selector is up on the dash, and the eight speeds are delivered smoothly.

Ride and handling

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The Sienna’s handling is good enough, and body roll is held in check. By comparison, a Toyota Highlander SUV hunkers down and handles like a big car when the turns get tight. The Sienna did not offer that experience, but neither has any van this writer has tested in the past couple of years. The Highlander seems to “wake-up” when driven hard. The Sienna goes to sleep and that may not be a bad thing. Toyota offers two big AWD people haulers, each with its own personality.

The Sienna Limited Premium comes with run-flat capable tires. The van was a bit stiffer over broken roads than we would have guessed, and we think this is the reason. Normally we take issue with family vehicles that ditch the spare, but we understand why Toyota has opted to in the Sienna. Space is just too much of a priority for most buyers.

The Bridgestone Turanza RFT tires our tester had are very affordable to replace, unlike most run-flats. Tire Rack has them at just over $200, no different in price from “normal” touring tires this size. Even more impressive were the winter Bridgestone Blizzak run-flat tires we saw while checking prices, which were less than $200 each. Add a set of those to this van, and it is as capable on-road in the winter as anything with its passenger count.

Seating

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Our Sienna’s heated and power-adjustable front seats were not as comfortable as they looked. The seats seem too short to support one’s thighs on long trips. The feeling is also of sitting atop the seat, rather than down in the seat. This is very subjective, so try them yourself. We did like the armrests each has inboard of the seat. They are adjustable and can be placed out of the way if one doesn’t like the feel.

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The second-row rear seats are very similar to the fronts. They are surrounded by wide-open space, and there are lots of neat options for convenience. For example, in addition to being removable, one can store a rear seat in the side of the back area. Middle seats also move forward and back. If you have four adult friends to take someplace, everyone will find this vehicle comfortable, and getting into the back is as easy as it gets due in part to the huge sliding rear doors.

Our Limited Premium came with a rear-seat entertainment system with an airplane-style drop-down center roof-mounted screen. This seems like an indulgence given that kids want to just stare into phones now, but for long trips with small kids, why not throw on Frozen or Star Wars‘ most recent episode and let them chill?

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The third-row seats are easy to hide in the floor, manually operated (so fast) and have more comfort than any rug-rat back there really deserves. Third-row seats are either up, which offers a recessed trunk, or folded into the floor. The third-row seats can also be deployed as a single seat for one passenger, a seat for two, or all three up.

With every van now offering so much interior space, a competitive comparison makes less sense than in smaller vehicles, but the total legroom of the Sienna is about 10 inches less than the Honda Odyssey.

Cargo

Compared to anything else on the road, modern minivans have just a ridiculous amount of cargo space. So much space is back there with the third-row stowed it almost hard to get at stuff. Toyota has a simple and ingenious solution to that. There is a cubby in the left fender that perfectly swallows and hugs two gallon jugs of milk or windshield washer fluid.

There are also tie-downs and accessories galore to make the Sienna real-world friendly. The Sienna has 150 cubic feet of total cargo area, about 1.5 cubic feet more than the Odyssey.

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Infotainment and controls

Toyota’s touch-screen infotainment system is simple to operate and offered all the apps and navigation functions like traffic that one expects in a vehicle pushing $50K. What it lacks it the annoying mouse that the luxury brands force on us.

Toyota also adds Driver Easy Speak that allows a parent to chat with rear-most passengers in a normal speaking voice. Smart things like this are what separate the wheat from the chaff these days since every vehicle is so good.

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Overall

The 2017 Toyota Sienna Limited Premium AWD is a top-notch family hauler that simply has what no other van does in America – AWD. It has no faults that would turn a buyer off, and is close to the best of the best in every category it isn’t the outright leader in. Setting aside driving excitement, it is a worthy all-weather alternative to any large crossover unless one plans to go off-road, and who does that in huge $50K vehicles?

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The Sienna is a minivan. In the context of what is possible with a minivan, Toyota has done a great job with its Limited Premium AWD, and it’s a likely choice for buyers in climates with even a little snow.

2017 Toyota Sienna Limited Premium AWD

Base price: $30,690

Price as tested $48,250, including $940 destination charge:  

Options: None

Likes:

  • Surprising Fuel Economy
  • Space and Ease of Use
  • Excellent Infotainment System

Dislikes:

  • Power Seems a Bit Less Than Expected
  • Lack of Forward Collision Prevention

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John Goreham

John Goreham