Car review: Toyota is bringing the minivan back with the 2021 Sienna

Several major automakers, notably General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen and Hyundai, have stopped making minivans. That could only mean American drivers no longer want minivans, and the few companies still building them must be “mailing it in.” Right? Wrong.

The new-for-2022 Kia Carnival we test-drove a few weeks ago was an impressive vehicle, but the 2021 Toyota Sienna was just about perfect. It had one flaw, which we'll get to. But aside from its rather daunting price tag in Platinum all-wheel-drive trim — $53,770, compared with $34,460 for a Sienna LE with front-wheel drive -- it had nearly every feature anyone could want, and drove like a dream.

Redesigned for 2021, the Sienna encompasses some bold strides into the new model year, starting with its engine. Previously powered by a 296-horsepower V-6, all Siennas now come with 4-cylinder gasoline-electric hybrid systems producing 245 horsepower, combined. Some drivers might miss the extra horsepower, but the Sienna steps out briskly when asked - and delivers 35 mpg city, 36 highway, 18/24 with the 2020 Sienna we test-drove last year. It also has an EV mode allowing all-electric driving for short distances.

Driving the big minivan was a treat despite its considerable length, width and bulk. Remember when the early minivans were said to “drive like a car”? That's entirely true of the Sienna. It looks, and functions, a lot bigger than it drives.

Equally impressive was the minivan's smooth, quiet performance. Our top-of-the-line test car exhibited the personality of a luxury car.

The Sienna seats seven or eight, depending on the configuration of the second-row seating. Our seven-passenger Sienna had two captain's chairs, which could not be removed. They fold up against the front seats when the minivan is set up for cargo-carrying work.

This reflects the one area where the 2021 Sienna isn't up to the standards of the 2020 model and many competitors. The 2020 Sienna had half the cargo capacity of the 2021 model - 150 cubic feet, compared with 101. Blame the second-row seat configuration and the space required for the hybrid batteries. The Honda Odyssey holds about 158 cubic feet of cargo; the Carnival, 145; the Chrysler Pacifica, 140.5. If cargo capacity makes or breaks the deal, the Sienna falls well short of its competitors.

Still, the Sienna is loaded with good qualities. It has been rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, thrashes the competition in fuel economy, and truly drives and rides wonderfully. It also provides Toyota reliability and access to the Japanese automaker's huge dealer network.

2021 Toyota Sienna PLT AWD

Price: $53,770

Engine: 2.5-liter inline Four with electric assist, combined 245 horsepower

Transmission: electronic continuously variable

Drive: all-wheel

Weight: 4,725 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 18-in. alloy

Tires: 235/60R18 all-season

Seating capacity: 7

Luggage capacity: 33.5 cu. ft. with all seats upright

Maximum cargo capacity: 101 cu. ft.

Maximum towing capacity: 3,500 lb.

Fuel capacity: 18 gal.

Fuel economy: 35 mpg city, 36 highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

The last minivans standing are the Sienna, Carnival, Odyssey and Pacifica. Some may fear minivans are a dying breed, but these four automakers are doing their best to revive public interest. Both minivans we've driven this year - the Carnival and the Sienna - are worth a look, especially for young families requiring car seats, room for backpacks and toys, and safe vehicles that inspire confidence on the road.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.