Let's face it: Toyota's product cycles can be extra long — among the lengthiest in the industry — and as woven into the automaker's culture as the Toyota Production System and the notion of genchi genbutsu (go see for yourself).
Toyota prefers making small changes as a vehicle ages between generations but saving big changes for the next redesign. If nothing else, it's a profit-rich strategy that maximizes returns on almost every investment, so long as customers keep buying. But it has a side effect: When a long-in-the-tooth Toyota gets an overdue makeover, the results can be, well ... jarring.
Case in point: The 2021, fourth-generation Sienna minivan.
The third-generation Sienna's infotainment system, powertrain and interior were mired early in the previous decade — it debuted in 2010 — very similar to the way the Dodge Grand Caravan compares with a luxed-up Chrysler Pacifica. That's not a bad strategy if you've got an alternative product to offer, as segment leader FCA did when it kept the Grand Caravan soldiering on.
Consider fuel efficiency. The 2020 Sienna was one of Toyota's last non-hybridized vehicles, and it showed with a combined fuel-economy rating of just 21 mpg in front-wheel-drive form and 20 mpg with all-wheel drive. With the redesign onto the TNGA-K platform, the 2021 Sienna gets a standard hybrid powertrain and a jump to 36 mpg combined in fwd and 35 mpg combined with awd.
Inside, the outgoing Sienna's cockpit and dashboard looked like a static display hung on a wall. There was a physical separation between the dash and the center console. In the 2021 Sienna, designers built a horizontal "bridge" console that wraps the driver and places storage and technology within easy reach.
With the infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard, as is dynamic navigation, with a crisp and clean interface on a 9-inch touch screen.
Like its exterior styling, the Sienna's driver-assist and safety systems received a generational upgrade, with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 standard, including blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, pre-collision loading and rear cross-traffic alert. There are seven USB ports, a wireless charging pad and so many cupholders — 18 — that the 2021 Sienna probably ought to be available with its own on-board bathroom.
If the redesigned Sienna falls down among peers, it is because the second-row seats don't recess into the floor as FCA's Stow N' Go seats do on most of its minivans. The Sienna makes up for the feature with second-row seats that slide far enough back to extend an available leg rest. Yet the Sienna can fit a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood if the second- and third-row seats are collapsed to their midpoint.
Toyota estimates there are more than 1.9 million Siennas in operation, and the average age of those Siennas is in excess of 10 years. The automaker also estimates that owner loyalty among its minivan customers is 68 percent. For dealers, that's a sizable set of potential customers driving antiquated minivans, thanks to the redesign.