By Frank S. Washington
PONTE VEDRA, Fla. – Minivans are a tough sell. They might be the lone vehicle in the market that consumers buy because they have to, not because they want one. And usually, it takes a second child to force the purchase.
With the advent of crossover vehicles, minivan sales have been on the decline for years. They’ve dropped by almost two-thirds since 2000. A number of manufacturers, including Ford and General Motors, have left the segment. Still, it is sizable with sales hovering around 500,000 annually.
Toyota retuned its Sienna minivan for 2015 and the third generation of the van had a little more swagger. They updated the grille, redesigned the headlights and the taillights, and gave it LED daytime running lights.
One of the advantages that the Sienna held was that it was the only minivan that had all-wheel-drive. The feature returns for 2015, but it just wasn’t working correctly on our test vehicle. To be fair, these were pre-production models that we were test driving and there was a whir that sounded like it was coming from the transfer case.
But that is what pre-production vehicles are for, to discover what’s not right, where the problem is, what is causing it, and the fix for the problem.
Still, the Sienna was unimpeded in terms of driving dynamics on the short drive routes here. Powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that made 266 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque, the 2015 Toyota Sienna got around the streets very well. The six-speed automatic transmission was smooth and gear shifts were almost imperceptible.
The interior had been upgraded. There was a soft touch dash and it had a sweeping vertical flow. It was almost concaved. There was some French stitching. Chrome and satin (read silver plastic) trim have been added to the interior and the instrument layout was new.
Minivans are primarily for children. And two features to improve their riding experience and their behavior have been added to the 2015 Toyota Sienna. It now has a dual view Blu Ray rear seat entertainment system to enhance videos, cartoons, movies etc. And to make sure young riders maintain a reasonable decorum, the Sienna is now equipped with what Toyota called Drive Easy Speak. The automaker described it as “Using the microphone from the Sienna’s voice-command multi-media system, Driver Easy Speak conveys your voice through the audio system’s rear speakers.” In other words, it is an intercom system aimed at the kids.
Toyota employed a number of refinements to enhance the Sienna’s ride. There were 142 more spot welds to increase rigidity. The Sienna now has wide angle fog lamps as well as a standard backup camera. And the automaker retuned the shocks and shock absorbers for a better ride. Our test vehicle felt like it was gliding along the streets of this community.
Toyota said the 2015 Sienna starts at $28,600 for the L grade and tops out at $46,150 for the Limited Premium all-wheel-drive (AWD) trim line.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.