GULF SHORES, Ala. — This is the efficient choice. Fill it and forget it. It’s very logical and left brain. When considering your options in the now-crowded minivan segment, the 2023 Toyota Sienna’s fuel economy is unimpeachable.
I put it to the test during a 2,000-plus-mile journey with the family to the pristine beach town of Gulf Shores, Ala., leaving the early spring chill of Michigan in favor of surf and sun. I averaged 31.87 miles per gallon (combined) for the journey in our long-term 2023 Toyota Sienna Platinum AWD. That’s a bit below the EPA ratings of 35 mpg in the city, 36 mpg highway and 35 mpg combined, but still respectable for real-world driving. Others at Autoblog have done better, including this lofty 39.4-mpg stint. I was stopped in heavy traffic or moving very slowly for long periods, which also contributed to the solid, if not spectacular performance.
My best stint was 33 mpg over a 326-mile leg, which I recorded on the evening before my drive home. I think that’s validating, as it was a mix of in-town driving during the vacation, some short highway stints for day trips, and the tail end of the journey from Michigan to Gulf Shores.
My favorite part was the distance between fill-ups. With an 18-gallon fuel tank, you could theoretically drive 648 miles, but that seems to be theoretical. Upon leaving the gas station, the onboard trip guidance would usually indicate I had about 520 miles of range. In real life, that means I filled up once before leaving Gulf Shores, once in Tennessee just over the state line and once somewhere in between Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio. That’s not bad.
The Sienna returns these figures with a traditional hybrid system. There are three electric motors working with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and eCVT transmission. The total system output is 245 horsepower. It’s nothing flashy, but it does the job.
The Sienna also offers all-wheel drive. The Chrysler Pacifica is the only other minivan to do so, which is surprising given the intended customers are practical, safety conscious parents who need to drive in all conditions. It seems like any automaker that makes a minivan should offer all-wheel drive. The weather was largely good on my trip, but when tornadoes ripped through the South sending heavy storms up and down the middle section of the country, I was more than happy to have AWD underfoot as I navigated the nighttime drive through Kentucky.
Speaking of the Pacifica, it’s really Chrysler vs. Toyota for the minivan crown. The Pacifica Hybrid — a segment exclusive plug-in — returns 82 mpg-e when charged. When the batteries run down, it’s 30 mpg combined, which is far better than anything else in the class outside of the Sienna. I made a similar trip to Florida in our long-term Pacifica Hybrid four years ago, and I routinely achieved 30 mpg after the electric charge was exhausted.
You could argue the Honda Odyssey’s interior is a bit nicer in some trims, and the Kia Carnival is perhaps the most stylish minivan you can buy. But when it comes down to fuel economy, it boils down to the Sienna or the Pacifica, and then the choice is yours: plug or no plug.
That debate aside, the Sienna was an excellent road trip vehicle, with plenty of room, comfortable dynamics and a decent infotainment setup. The cupholders are copious and the center console is huge. I used it as a tray table to array Chicken McNuggets with ranch dressing dippers. The adaptive cruise control modulated speeds well in heavy traffic, though I felt the lane maintenance feature hewed too closely to the left marker for my tastes. My main on-road complaint is the four-cylinder is rather loud and outside noise permeates the cabin easily.
I didn’t overachieve with my fuel economy, but I’m not complaining. In its first major road trip, our long-term Sienna delivered a solid performance and did everything required. That’s why you get a minivan, especially a hybrid.