The Toyota Sienna remains one of the most complete minivan offerings on the market. The new Nightshade trim is for 80s dads.
I’ve written about the Toyota Sienna a few times over the last few years and every time I find myself scratching my head. In simple terms, I ask myself why is it that there aren’t minivans in every driveway. Minivans are the greatest forms of “automobile” ever created. Sadly, they’re also the most uncool.
Enter Toyota and their desire to change this. With a few exceptions from FCA, Toyota’s had its eye on the non-typical, as well as the typical, minivan buyer with the “Swagger Wagon.” They’ve done videos, a few modified Siennas for SEMA including a stretched limo and a Nascar-inspired one and up until about three years ago, I thought they were interesting, but nothing more.
As a parent, I’ve got it tough… I have to test-drive new cars every week (hear me out…) and I make a point of living with all of them, with a few exceptions. Obviously, if I’m to review a Porsche 718 Boxster or a Toyota 86, I drop the kid seats in my Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen. Otherwise, be it a Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye, a Mazda3 or a Ford F-150, both seats are installed anew in all these cars, every week. Believe me you that when I get a minivan with power-sliding side doors, huge side doors, I almost get giddy.
Knight Industries Two Thousand Nightshade Edition
I recently spent an excellent week with a $42,945 2020 Toyota Sienna SE Nightshade Edition and quite honestly, I’d have one if it wasn’t for one single issue: the Nightshade cannot be had with SE AWD, only the FWD. Sad. Sad, mostly because the combination exists in the US…
What is the Nightshade Edition? It’s an $860 package (total $43,805) that blacks everything out, from the tailamps to the outside mirrors. It also ads a rear spoiler and rear cross-traffic alert. While my tester was midnight black and had me talking to my wrist and to the car as though I was the Hoff as Michael Knight, I’d opt for salsa red for a little more visual jazz.
Not the newest van on the block
The 2020 Toyota Sienna, which starts at $35,545 for the CE, is far from new but this takes nothing away from what is essentially the coolest (yes there is such a thing) minivan money can buy. The Chrysler Pacifica is 100% practical, as all minivans are, but is not the most attractive. The PHEV alternative is unique but costly. The Honda Odyssey is the more modern alternative but no longer holds the crown as the most dynamic. The Kia Sedona is very value-packed but trails behind in fuel economy.
We then come full circle back to the Sienna. With the exception of a decidedly absent heated steering wheel and an odd key-like plastic-covered item that must be inserted in a slot on the steering column, the Sienna still deserves to be considered.
But the Sienna SE is still cool!
In fact, the 2020 Toyota Sienna SE is by far the most attitude-packed minivan out there. The skirts, the taillights, the wheels and deep front bumper need only the van to be lowered closer to the ground to be considered a “tuned” vehicle. I actually modded the Nightshade with a magnetic strip on the bonnet, à la KITT front scanner – see the video to understand what I’m saying.
Despite the absence of a Turbo Boost button, the Sienna remains quick thanks to its 296-horsepower 3.5-litre V6. With the standard 8-speed automatic transmission, not only does the Sienna move, it can do so with minimal fuel. On a family road trip, loaded with stroller, bags, luggage, and more bags, I averaged 10L/100km which is exceptional.
And not minivan-boring to drive
The Sienna SE also holds another element which, at first, I thought was pointless. The included sport-tuned suspension doesn’t mean you can take your minivan to a weekend track-event, although I’d love to see a Sienna weaving through cones… The slightly “stiffer” dampers and springs do keep the Toyota van nearly on the level even when driven hard (not Supra hard, obviously) and most importantly, the ride is never uncomfortable.
On the topic of comfort, the cabin is a great place to spend many hours on the way to any and all destinations. My tester was an 8-seater however I removed the clever center jump-seat in the second row to keep some distance between the kids and to allow room to navigate on board. Storage is more than generous and all seats, including the third row, are restful for their respective positions.
Shoot, now I want to track a Sienna SE… With the right rubber and brake pads, this could be fun. Toyota’s TRD built a Sienna R-Tuned in 2016 for the One Lap event and fitted it with a DGR coil-over suspension kit… Toyota? How about it?
Minivans are not uncool. Everyone has an SUV, which makes minivan almost special and unique. And, the greatest lie we ever told ourselves, as parents especially, is that SUVs can replace minivans. That’s a big nope.
Lastly, the Nightshade Edition will let you live out your fantasy of owning a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am except that the Toyota Sienna is quicker, handles better, is roomier, better on fuel and more reliable.