2016 Toyota Sienna Limited: The Swagger Wagon Takes on Texas

Toyota Sienna
The Toyota Sienna boasted one of the largest fold down screens I've ever seen in a car! Photo Credit: Nasreen Stump

A week in the Toyota Sienna changed my mind about minivans.

For the 2016 DFW Auto Show I was offered the opportunity to drive a Toyota for a week. Despite my lifelong grumblings about how I was “never going to drive a minivan” I found myself a true convert a week later. Here’s why.

When I think ‘minivan,’ my thoughts turn to screaming children, crushed Cheerios, and driving the carpool. However, finding out (surprise!) that we were going to have a fourth child mandated that we at least explore the idea of the minivan. Our household is a multi-generational one, so starting late this summer we may need a car that will fit four kids and three adults at the same time.

We didn’t choose the minivan life, the minivan life chose us.

So when I was asked to drive a Toyota for a week I begrudgingly asked for a minivan. If it’s going to become necessary we might as well take one for a spin right? I went in with few expectations and a busy week ahead that included picking up visiting relatives at the Houston airport, driving around the Texas countryside, a day trip to San Antonio, and a drive to Dallas. The minivan would get a workout. My mindset also got a workout. By the end of the week I was bummed to have to turn my Swagger Wagon back in.

Toyota Sienna

The Toyota Sienna boasted one of the largest fold down screens I’ve ever seen in a car! Credit: Nasreen Stump for AGirlsGuidetoCars

Features that make managing kids easier

One of the things I noticed immediately about the Sienna was the sliding doors. To be honest I’m not sure why this never occurred to me about minivans, but suddenly my stress every time the kids got into or out of the car was lowered because I wasn’t running around lecturing on being careful about banging the doors into other cars. Duh. Of course sliding doors would remove that problem! Three points for the minivan. Plus, I could push a button on the key fob and magically have them open as we walked towards the vehicle. Witchcraft!

A major wow factor on the Toyota Sienna is the giant fold-down TV screen. We currently have a Dodge Durango Citadel and one of it’s major downfalls is that the TV screens are on the back of the two front seats. This means that our three year old and five year old need to sit in the middle row captain’s chairs leaving larger adults in the minuscule back row.

In addition, if I’m on a Bluetooth phone call or try to play the radio in the Citadel the kids start whining about how they can’t hear their movie. These problems do not exist with the Sienna. The screen can easily be seen from the second row and third row seats and wireless head sets let them listen to the movie while I listen to something else.

I relished putting my kids all the way in the third row. We drove the 90 minutes to Houston Hobby to pick up my aunt and cousin with the girls watching a movie happily while I chatted with my sister over Bluetooth. No whining whatsoever!

Toyota Sienna

The in-dash nav directions were a nice touch on the Toyota Sienna. Credit: Nasreen Stump for AGirlsGuidetoCars

One of the other surprising factors with the minivan was comfort. For the last 10+ years I have worked as a territory sales manager covering swathes of multi-state territories. This translates to hours in the car, hundreds of miles, and my need for a car that feels like a home away from home. From inside the driver’s seat I couldn’t even tell I was in a minivan. It felt like I was captaining a luxury SUV. From the steering wheel controls to the navigation directionals that came up on my dash everything was clearly thought through by Toyota’s designers. There was even a flat rubber plate on the bump between the two front seats that fit my giant purse perfectly. As we drove the 2 hours and 45 minutes to San Antonio my aunt spent time telling me about how her minivan was her favorite car ever and I was starting to see why. I mean there’s got to be a reason that the woman is still driving one even though my oldest cousin just graduated from law school and my youngest cousin is a freshman in college, right?

Toyota Sienna: my husband’s take

The minivan didn’t just have to win my heart, it had to win my husband’s as well. As an EMT with a 24 hour on 48 hour off schedule he does a fair share of the shuttling of children and realistically would be driving it more than me as long as I am still driving long distances for work.

When I arrived home the day the Sienna was delivered my husband and 3-year-old were in it exploring. My husband’s first words to me were, ” I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is actually pretty cool”. He kept referring to it as the Osprey Backpack of the minivan world. This is a man who has researched backpacks for hours so I’m thinking that’s high praise. He showed me numerous compartments all over the car, some hidden from view. He took me around the car and showed me every plug and jack. Then we stood and marveled at the size of the trunk- hint, it is huge! Husband approved.

Toyota Sienna: what I would change

The Toyota Sienna was my Mary Poppins car, practically perfect in every way. There were two things however that I would change.

Toyota Sienna

One bummer in the Toyota Sienna was the fact that the there are only 2 car seat anchors in the 3rd row and they are side by side. Credit: Nasreen Stump for AGirlsGuidetoCars

In the third row the child seat anchors were only on one side and the middle. This means that my girls had to sit next to each other in the third row. There were two problems with this. The first was that I occasionally had to referee a “she’s touching me” complaint. The second was that it left very little room for another child. When I can place them on either side my son can normally fit between them.

The other issue had to do with the low fuel warning light. In most cars I am used to it coming on around 40-50 miles left to go. On the Toyota Sienna it didn’t come on until it said I was 21 miles to empty. Now if you’re a responsible adult then maybe this doesn’t seem like a big issue to you but I’m not. I wait until the light goes on to fill up most times and living in rural Texas only getting warned with 21 miles of range could leave me in a bit of trouble. Gas mileage overall averaged 20-22 miles per gallon which I considered fairly good for a minivan.

Overall the Toyota Sienna won my heart and broke down my anti-minivan wall. I have seen the light and for our soon to be family of 6 a minivan is looking like the right direction to go.

What I Loved

  • Sliding doors and remote activation- magical!
  • Huge fold down screen; kids can watch movies form the third row
  • Very comfortable
  • In-dash navigation
  • Bluetooth
  • Sound system ‘splits’ so movie-watchers and phone-talkers can coexist
  • Tons of storage including a ‘well’ behind the third row

What You Need to Know

  • Fuel economy: 16 MPG city/23 MPG highway; we averaged about 22MPG
  • Low fuel warning light could leave you stranded
  • Only two car seat anchors in the third row
  • Uses regular gas
  • Price starts at $41,000; price of the model we tested: about $46,400

Disclosure: The Sienna was provided to me by Toyota for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.


Nasreen Stump is a freelance travel writer and Director of Social at Travelingmom.com. She has rented hundreds of cars... More about Nasreen Stump