ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The 2021 Toyota Sienna isn’t what you’d think of as fun or sporty. It’s a minivan. Also, it’s a hybrid. Sure, hybrid isn’t as correlated with slow as it used to be, but Toyota plus hybrid together conjures images of Priuses driving several miles per hour below the speed limit. Yet Toyota begs to differ with the XSE trim level of the new Sienna minivan. Like the outgoing generation’s Sienna SE, this unique new trim stands apart from the rest of the lineup with its own styling cues — sporty-looking ones, of course — as well as exclusive suspension and steering enhancements.
The XSE sits in the middle of the Sienna trim lineup, with a starting price of $43,175, including $1,175 in destination charges. Its appearance differs from the other grades — both above and below. Up front, it sports a gloss black mesh grille that looks more aggressive than the horizontal slats on other Siennas. That’s flanked by a pair of additional air intakes that give the front bumper its own shape. The front-wheel-drive version boasts dark, 20-inch wheels, while the XSE AWD gets bright 18-inch wheels shared with the Platinum AWD. The XSE also gets black mirror covers, black rocker panels, black rear bumper mesh (atop a body-color lower accent) and a black antenna.
Inside, the XSE shares the SofTex synthetic upholstery as the XLE trim, an upgrade from the fabric seats of the LE, but not the leather of the Limited or Platinum. The XSE is only available in the seven-seat configuration, but it doesn’t lose any of the functionality of the other trims. It still retains the brilliantly useful Super Long Slide seats we enjoyed so much in a Platinum trim level we tested for our Sienna First Drive review.
Apart from the exterior looks, the XSE’s sport-tuned suspension is largely what sets it apart from the other Sienna trims. Every 2021 Sienna is already much better to drive than the vague and floaty generation prior, benefitting from Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform and increased body rigidity. The XSE’s suspension adds upon that with stiffer coils and increased damping, as well as thicker stabilizer bars front and rear. Toyota has also tuned the steering especially for the XSE.
All in, the XSE does even more than other Siennas to disguise the fact that it’s a minivan, even if by definition, there’s nothing really sporty about it to begin with. But, hey, what dad hasn’t, after dropping the kids off at school, taken the opportunity to at least try to flog their family hauler a little like a sports car, regardless of how ridiculous it might seem? While we noted the composure of the Platinum trim we’ve now tested twice, the XSE does even more to handle like a smaller vehicle. The stiffer suspension transmits a bit more of the smaller bumps, vibrations and noises into the cabin, but doesn’t ratchet things up to a punishing ride. At least not in our XSE AWD with its 18-inch wheels – the FWD version with its 20-inch wheels and less sidewall is likely to be different.
Since we didn’t drive the Platinum and XSE back to back, it was hard to determine how much the steering tuning affected the experience, but in combination with the suspension, the XSE offers noticeable difference in the corners. I didn’t feel nearly as much body roll as I’d expect in a sharp corner, and the body settled down over the suspension when steering returned to neutral. Transitions from left to right and back couldn’t really upset this mighty box, either. Granted, I wasn’t rolling around with the added weight of numerous passengers and their luggage, but I could almost convince myself I was driving a much less frumpy vehicle than a minivan.
But, still, the pokey hybrid powertrain doesn’t really complement the sporty intentions of the XSE trim. It’s still the same 245-horsepower hybrid powertrain with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and electric motors that are meant more for efficiency than acceleration. It takes patience to get up to anything close to entertaining speeds, but the Sienna XSE can maintain those modest speeds with more composure than the rest of the segment. Actually, that could probably be said of other Sienna trims as well, but it’s far more certain in the “sportier” XSE.
And we’re ok with the formula. I don’t need my minivan to blow the doors off, well, anything, and I appreciate the fact that it feels pretty good to drive. The XSE is, to me, less about what you actually notice in the driving, but what you don’t — chiefly mass and any unruly behavior that results from having too much of it. You don’t really have to think about how that winding road will toss your passengers around, or that you should slow down more than you normally would for that next corner. The XSE takes it all in stride … for a minivan.
We like the way it looks and the way it handles. We like the hybrid powertrain despite its lackluster acceleration. The extra sportiness of the XSE wouldn’t keep us from going up in trims if we really wanted something like leather seating or the digital rearview mirror (extremely helpful if you opt for the rear-seat entertainment screen that blocks the reflection). Unlike the previous-generation SE that fundamentally changed the Sienna driving experience for the better, the new 2021 Sienna is so improved, that the sportier trim level just isn’t that different. That ultimately works out to a net positive and we’re still pleased the XSE exists. The discerning buyer will appreciate the added confidence and, of course, the differentiated looks. It’s a small consolation for those of us who might be reticent to give up our tuned, sporty sedan for the space and practicality of a minivan. But, who’s to say you couldn’t tune your Sienna? If that’s your intention, the XSE is the obvious sport-tuned suspension choice, and can we please have a ride? We know you’ve got the space.