Waimea, Hawaii -- The 2015 Toyota Sienna is perfect for the midweek farmers market at Paniolo Heritage Center at Pukalani Stables. Locally raised beef, honey, and produce (there’s no escaping kale) are offered here every Wednesday. We could stock up, except that Toyota is overfeeding us at a coastal resort, so we drive away with just some handmade soap for gifts while listening to the afternoon surf report on Native FM 93.9.
At least we merit points for attempting to use the 2015 Toyota Sienna as its owners might. Only a small percentage of buyers -- Toyota says 3.5 percent of the overall market -- prefer minivans. But on the mainland, whenever we arrive at the type of superstore that’s conspicuously missing on the northern part of the Big Island, we see a swarm of minivans. Toyota sells more than 120,000 Siennas per year and wants to strengthen its position in the segment. Chief engineer Andy Lund’s team asked him, “What can we do to make it a little bit better?”
To that end, the third-generation Sienna, now in the middle of its product cycle, benefits from some judicious facial surgery and a tightened fanny. And like many seekers who come to Hawaii, it has experienced an inner awakening: The textures of the dashboard and upholstery are more vivid. On the outside, this minivan projects well-being. And more than can be said for some self-involved seekers, the Sienna’s new features and finishes make it easier to live with.
The 2015 Toyota Sienna is offered in L, LE, SE, SXE, and Limited trim levels, with base prices ranging from $29,485 to $42,535 (includes shipping and handling, which may vary in some areas). Aside from the new exterior trim and accents, as well as its inviting and well-crafted interiors, the Sienna also has an improved driving experience. As with other face-lifted 2015 Toyotas, there are benefits from some basic work in the body shop (the factory is in Princeton, Indiana). After assessing “which robots have some time we can add,” Lund and company programmed 140 more spot welds into the build process. With the stiffer body, retuned shock absorbers, and more than 20 percent added sound insulation, the driving proves quite satisfactory. Worth a mention is the SE’s power steering, which is nicely dialed in as well.
We will not harp on the fact that there’s nothing new under the hood, because what’s under the hood -- a 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 making 266 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic -- is pretty good. No one expects a 4,500-pound minivan to put a Lamborghini one lap down, but the Sienna will get out of its own way -- and sound halfway enthusiastic while doing so. We joined the elite group of drivers who have put the console-mounted gear selector into manual mode and controlled the transmission ourselves. On downhill grades, we kept it in third and fourth, and the brakes said, “Mahalo!”
A smooth driveline, comfortable ride, and well-appointed interior are the 2015 Toyota Sienna’s chief attributes. About 15 percent of Siennas are sold with all-wheel drive. Four child seat anchors are included, and an Auto Access Seat for a second-row passenger with disabilities can be ordered. Driver Easy Speak, offered with top trim levels, lets the harried parent use the audio system to tell the third-row rapscallion to stop hitting his sister. Oh, and it’s also a van that carries up to 150 cubic feet of cargo, which might be of interest to the vendors at the farmers market -- most useful to them in case the next batch of plumeria-scented soap turns out larger than expected.
2015 Toyota Sienna Specifications
Engine:3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6/266 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 245 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
Layout:Four-door, 7- or 8-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD minivan
EPA Mileage:18/25/21 mpg (FWD), 16/23/19 mpg (AWD), (city/highway/combined)
L x W x H:200.2 x 78.1 x 68.9 in
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