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2023 Toyota Sienna XSE minivan review

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The 2023 Toyota Sienna is still the Camry of minivans

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Have you seen this Squishmallow stuff? For the uninitiated, imagine a Beanie Baby crossed with a Tokyo-destroying kaiju, soft and cuddly and displacing as much space as a middle-aged bear. With kids, as Hank Hill would say, it’s not so much the propane as it’s the propane. accessories. The last member of the family, this huge silly pink stuffed ball takes up more space than any other elementary school student I have on board. However, this is not a problem in the country of Sienna.

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Here is the 2023 Toyota Sienna, heir to a lineage that was once proudly heralded as the “Camry of Minivans”. A humble claim, but the Camry of Minivans certainly outlasted the “Cadillac of Minivans,” the Oldsmobile Silhouette driven by Take it easyChile Palmer. This version of Toyota is the slightly sporty (in appearance) XSE model, complete with a 25th anniversary commemorative package.

These days, the Sienna swims in van-infested waters. Kia’s Carnival is more luxurious, Honda’s Odyssey is more dynamically interesting to drive, and Chrysler’s Pacifica offers plug-in capability. They all produce more power than the Sienna’s four-cylinder hybrid powertrain, now in its third year as the only powertrain offering, with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive.

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Among those with leaden feet, the 2.5L four-cylinder hybrid comes in for a beating. Despite a not bad combination of 245 hp on paper, the Sienna’s performance envelope is a little, well, Squishmallow-y. Actual zero to 100 km/h times aren’t terribly slow, but this big cushy box doesn’t like to be rushed.

Once in motion, the Toyota Sienna is not as dynamically amazing as the Odyssey, but it is very stable. As the type of vehicle that will be used for the family trip, simply because it can carry more stuff, it will eat up the highway miles. It is also, of course, just as comfortable. Yes, minivans are the equivalent of jogging pants, complete with that slight air of abandonment from all attempts to be fashionable, but they work.

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One caveat for would-be road warriors is that the Sienna’s big bluff shape appears to be more susceptible to mileage losses at higher speeds. Fuel economy is rated at a combined 6.6 L/100 km, but observed mileage was at least two liters more on a quick highway trip. In town, with more stop and go and a gentle foot on the accelerator, Toyota’s proven hybrid system performed as expected.

Despite the XSE finish, the Sienna holds up better when treated as a motorized sofa. Either way, running poorly will save you five minutes, so it’s best to roll slowly and save fuel.

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For a family with two kids (plus an army of mid-size plush things), the Sienna offers basically invincible practicality. It’s the master of any edge case, whether it’s transporting the field hockey team to various drop off locations, scoring some fully assembled Ikea furniture on the Facebook market, or just tossing the kids’ bikes around without worrying about fitting them into an outdoor rack.

For the most part, so do the Sienna’s rivals, and more convincingly in some cases. For a young family, less likely to want to take the seats out entirely, the fact that you can only push the Sienna’s middle seats forward instead of removing them is probably not an issue. But Honda and Chrysler offer that capability.

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Also, the way the third row folds is a bit confusing. It is ergonomically slim and easy to use. However, with the seats folded in the bin, there are all kinds of cracks and crevices for things to fall out of. Like, all the bits of mud that just fell off your kid’s bike tires.

There’s also just acres of hard plastic here, which wipes well but also shows the scratches caused by abuse. In fact, the Sienna’s entire cabin, while full of useful cubicles, is a little utilitarian. On more entry-level models this is a feature rather than a complaint, but this 25th Anniversary XSE has set the record at $54,615 before shipping and tax. A Limited AWD model is priced in the 60K range.

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Speaking of value, it’s worth taking a quick look at what’s in the 25th anniversary package. Some features are shared with the tech package, but the main ones are an upgraded 12-speaker audio, navigation, LED fog lights, folding leg rests for your (now a little finicky) kids, and a memory for driver’s seat and electric tilt/telescope steering.

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Squishmallow on the 2023 Toyota Sienna XSE
Squishmallow on the 2023 Toyota Sienna XSE Brendan McAleer’s photo

There are other cosmetic considerations – 20” wheels, for example – but the Toyota Sienna is relatively anonymous, regardless of the finish. A little chrome here and there doesn’t matter on the sport pickup. What’s more important is how well the van shrinks the percentage of the field that inevitably gets tracked by the electric sliding doors.

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This is where Sienna’s nameplate establishes itself as a twenty-five year veteran. Toyota knows its customers well, and while some might complain about the lack of a V6 offering here, the hybrid system and its fuel-efficient economy is a higher priority for most families. And while some may want higher-end appointments, especially at this price point, most will appreciate how the interior will take a little time and clean.

Because, unlike my cute, outsized passenger, the Sienna is not a machine built as a fad. Instead, it’s designed to carry them, whether it’s upholstered toys, three-wheel scooters, a unicycle, hula hoops, or who knows what’s next. It provides space for whatever your children want to bring, up to and including other children. Although perhaps there is an upper limit even to the country of Sienna. Squishmallows are one thing, but I’m starting to hear little voices opining a lot about the horses’ appeal. Uh-oh.

Check out the latest model Toyota Sienna.

photo Brendan McAleer

Brendan McAleer

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