I don’t know why I still call this little car the Tercel. I worked for a Toyota dealer way back in ‘87 and the Tercel was one of the most popular cars we sold at the time. That was already the third-generation…

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
The 2017 Yaris Hatchback looks pretty sporty in SE trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I don’t know why I still call this little car the Tercel. I worked for a Toyota dealer way back in ‘87 and the Tercel was one of the most popular cars we sold at the time.

That was already the third-generation Tercel, which was replaced by the Echo in 1999. This oddly styled yet undeniably practical subcompact was one of my first-ever manufacturer-supplied weeklong test cars (thank you F. David Stone) when I entered the professional journalist fray in 2000, and one I’d still love to get my hands on in five-speed manual Hatchback RS guise. I first drove that little number at a press launch in Niagara, Ontario during the fall of 2003, but it was another such launch program in autumn of 2005 that saw a redesigned version of the same car debut, and with it the odd yet catchy Yaris name.

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
The machine-finished 16-inch alloy wheels with black painted pockets and rooftop spoiler are part of the SE upgrade. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Interestingly, the Echo was actually a rebadged Yaris, but most of us don’t pay attention to European nameplates here in North America. I didn’t even realize both cars were also shared with the Vitz, Platz and Vios in Asian markets, four-door sedans of which are my regular rides while taxiing around my second home of greater Manila (there are millions of these things throughout the Philippines).

I had already experienced just how much fun the Yaris was to drive with that aforementioned Echo Hatch RS, but it was during the second launch event that I first autocrossed one. The car has only improved over time, although I must say this latest version isn’t as capable of sneaking past the constabulary is it once was.

At least this top-line Yaris SE looks a lot subtler in Magnetic Grey Metallic than Absolutely Red, or even more jaw-dropping Ruby Flare Pearl with Black Sand pillars and rooftop, the latter two hues making the car’s massive black maw pull eyeballs as if one of Gazoo Racing’s WRC rally cars was nonchalantly passing by (ok, that race-only car has a lot more white in its livery, but you get my point).

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
Toyota improves the SE’s interior with soft-touch surfaces and sportier trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I only wish Toyota had shaved $1,000 off my tester’s bottom line by forgoing the rather pedestrian four-speed automatic, the much more engaging standard five-speed manual a lot more in keeping with the Yaris SE’s hot hatch styling.

Yes, the Yaris is one of the only cars still sold in North America with a four-speed autobox, most of its peers having gravitated over to a continuously variable transmission or a much more fun to drive dual-clutch sequential gearbox. The Yaris’ automatic doesn’t even include a sequential manual mode, but rather a gated shifter that lets you manually select all of its lower gears—I suppose that’s better than nothing. I love that Toyota raises the excitement bar by calling it a four-speed “Super ECT with Overdrive,” as if its SLAM overdrive-equipped Class 0.5 jerry-rigged Isu-Sim SSP05 hyperdrive-enhanced Girodyne SRB42 sublight engines can whisk the little YT-1300 to 1,050 km/h in atmosphere or 3,000 G in space.

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
Not a bad looking little economy car, don’t you think? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Before you start thinking that I’m ripping too hard on this cheap little hatch (it’s less than $20k as tested), appreciate that its four-speed auto drives better than many newer CVTs, but I’ve already said too much as this is seat-of-the-pants info for my upcoming road test review—stay tuned.

I’ll mention a thing or two about the Yaris’ sole 106-horsepower 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine with 103 lb-ft of torque in the review as well (which is actually two horsepower and two pound-feet less formidable than the Echo hatch noted earlier), along with the usual comments regarding drivability, overall comfort, interior quality, refinement and equipment usability, but I might as well cover its base and optional features now.

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
This leather-clad gated shifter hides a four-speed automatic, but don’t worry performance fans as a five-speed manual comes standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

For just $18,510 plus freight and fees, the 2017 Yaris Hatchback SE hits the road running with machine-finished 16-inch alloy wheels on 195/50 all-seasons, signature LED driving lights within the halogen projector headlamp clusters, fog lights, a unique black mesh grille (the base car’s is horizontally ribbed), blackened front trim (normally chrome), a body-colour rear rooftop spoiler, powered locks with remote access, powered windows, a contrast stitched leather-wrapped tilt (non-telescopic) multifunctional sport steering wheel, a leather-clad shift knob, a soft-touch synthetic instrument panel, soft door inserts, power-adjustable heated side mirrors, a trip computer, cruise control, air conditioning, a 6.1-inch colour infotainment touchscreen incorporating a backup camera, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with aux and USB ports, Bluetooth, front sport seats with contrast-stitched ribbed premium cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split folding rear bench seat that expands on the already sizeable 433-litre (15.3 cubic foot) cargo area, and most impressive of all (especially because it’s even standard with the $15,475 base Yaris), Toyota’s Safety Sense C combo that boasts auto high beams (seriously!), a pre-collision system, and lane departure alert.

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
These ribbed and contrast stitched grey cloth sport seats are part of the SE upgrade. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, the Yaris also comes standard with the usual active and passive safety gear like ABS-enhanced four-wheel disc brakes (the SE is upgraded over the usual rear drums) with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction and stability control, all the usual airbags including one for the driver’s knees, etcetera.

People normally buy into this class because they’re not required to spend much initially or ongoing, with even this sportier Yaris capable of a claimed 7.8 L/100km city, 6.5 highway and 7.2 combined fuel economy rating. The Yaris is renowned for its reliability, just like the Echo, Tercel, and Starlet before.

2017 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback
The rear seats aren’t as fancy, but plenty serviceable. Come back to find out if they’re comfortable and roomy too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

My tester was pretty well loaded, although a person could spend extra for paint, the aforementioned two-tone colours costing an extra $540. The cargo liner in back was an add-on too, this from the accessories catalogue at a mere $90 and change. Ask nicely and your dealer might even throw in all-season floor mats, these only setting them back $165, while a cargo net is just over $130. You can get a block heater for just under $210, and the usual paint protection, hood deflector, and body side mouldings too, but the coolest dealer-added accessories include the $465 Bongiovi Acoustics DPS radio upgrade that really improves audio quality, and the (rather pricey) $1,123 navigation system that adds detailed mapping and real-time routing to the stock display, plus SMS text message/email read and reply, “one shot” voice commands, “Playmore Like This” and Gracenotes apps, plus more.

The Yaris is about to be updated with an even more aggressive look for 2018, so if you like what you see you may want to grab a 2017 while you can. I’ll be back soon with my full review and a considerably larger, much more detailed photo gallery, so until then enjoy the small batch of photos supplied…

Toyota announced the new safety features in the Lexus LS in Japan this week calling it “the safest car in the world.” Toyota says “(the LS) aims to provide world-leading safety performance through…

Lexus Displays its Advanced Active Safety Technologies for the All-new “LS”

Toyota announced the new safety features in the Lexus LS in Japan this week calling it “the safest car in the world.” Toyota says “(the LS) aims to provide world-leading safety performance through the combination of two advanced Lexus safety systems.” The LS is a pre-emptive step for Toyota in its mission to end traffic casualties.

The two safety systems that have been integrated into the new LS are the “Lexus Safety System +” which is based on the Integrated Safety Management Concept. The idea being that instead of using individual safety technologies and systems independently they are instead integrated for a higher level of driver support. The second safety feature that has been incorporated into the new Lexus LS is the “Lexus Safety System + A”. This system is designed with “advanced pre-collision support and sophisticated driving assistance.”

The Lexus Safety System + A includes features such as driver emergency stop assist, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control, front cross traffic alert, and a two stage adaptive high-beam system. The addition of active steering assist, pedestrian alert and nighttime pedestrian & bicycle response is entirely new to the LS. The addition of the latter three technologies to the Lexus LS helps prevent collisions that cannot be avoided through automatic braking solely.

Pedestrian alert and active steering assist are Pre-Collision Systems (PCS) that are a world-first technology that works in four stages. In the first stage the car will recognize a pedestrian and assess the risk and direction in which they are moving. During the second stage, as the car gets closer to the pedestrian an alarm will sound and an animation will appear on the large colour high definition display. The third stage is that automatic brakes will be applied to try and stop the car from striking the individual. The final stage only happens if the car recognizes that a crash is imminent without further input from the driver. The LS will then automatically steer around the pedestrian preventing a crash.

Another innovative safety feature on the new Lexus LS is the driver emergency stop assist, which gets engaged when the driver takes their hands off the wheel for an extended period of time. The LS gets “worried” that something has happened to the driver and it engages the hazard warning lights, honks its horn and slowly decelerates until coming to a stop at which point it unlocks the doors and calls emergency services.

Toyotas Chief Engineer for Safety Technology Kiyotaka Ise reiterated in the presentation “there still remain wide differences in how OEMs define automated driving. The word automated driving should be handled carefully to avoid the hype that it means that drivers don’t have to do anything”. So despite all of the safety technology which by many accounts already classifies it as autonomous, Ise said that Toyota “does not wish to call this LS an automated driving vehicle, rather, we would like to define it as a vehicle equipped with advanced driver assist technologies that can pave the way toward autonomous driving.”

According to Toyota the technology in the Lexus LS will be incorporated into all Toyota vehicles starting in 2018. The new Lexus LS is expected to go on sale in Canada later this fall.

Tokyo – Automotive Linux Summit – Wednesday May 31, 2017 – Toyota Motor Corp announced that the new 2018 Toyota Camry will be sold in the United States with an infotainment system called…

Toyota Announces a Linux Based Infotainment System for the 2018 Toyota Camry

Tokyo – Automotive Linux Summit – Wednesday May 31, 2017 – Toyota Motor Corp announced that the new 2018 Toyota Camry will be sold in the United States with an infotainment system called the Entune 3.0 that runs on Automotive Grade Linux.

Automotive Grade Linux, also known as AGL, is an open source software platform based on Linux, specifically designed for automobiles. Ten global car manufacturers including Mazda, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Honda and Mitsubishi already use it. The purpose of the initiative is to work with other car companies to try and speed up innovation for vehicle applications. Automakers will have the ability to fully customize the applications without having to rely on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

When a manufacturer develops a new car it requires around 100 million lines of computer code. Approximately 70 percent of it is generic. This means the remaining 30 percent is customized to the specific model. The amount of coding required is one reason why vehicle development takes so long. It doesn’t stop there however, the code needs to be constantly updated and refined to ensure proper operation. The largest vice for current and past infotainment systems in vehicles is how quickly they become outdated. According to a press release by Toyota VP Keiji Yamamoto the AGL platform gives, “greater connectivity and new functionalities at a pace that is more consistent with consumer technology.”

By working with open source software such as AGL, changes can be made more rapidly and don’t require a manufacturer to write 100 million lines of new code every single time an adjustment needs to be made.

Working with companies like Ford, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Suzuki will help Toyota minimize costs and development time. Toyota says the partnership can also help create an industry standard that can operate all internal devices such as music, media and navigation. The collaboration with AGL may also allow future integration of technologies such as autonomous driving functions and integrated car services.

Toyota is reducing its dependency on third party companies like Apple and Alphabet (Google/Android Auto) to have greater control of their products. Another reason for Toyota and other car manufacturers to change is to gain control of all the user data. AGL will store all user data that would otherwise be recorded by Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Competitive and innovative infotainment systems are more important now than ever before, and moving to AGL is a bold step for Toyota. If the open source collaboration succeeds, don’t be surprised if other car companies like Audi and Volvo jump ship from Apple and Alphabet.

Well Scion was certainly an interesting project. It was more successful for longer in the U.S., particularly California where it was initiated and headquartered in 2003. Compared to Ford Motor’s Merkur…

2017 Toyota 86

2017 Toyota 86
The new Toyota 86′ revised lower fascia makes quite a significant change to the car’s frontal appearance. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Well Scion was certainly an interesting project. It was more successful for longer in the U.S., particularly California where it was initiated and headquartered in 2003. Compared to Ford Motor’s Merkur (1985–1989) brand and GM’s Geo (1989–1997)—the General did better with Saturn (1985–2010), a fourteen-year run is pretty good as far as marketing projects go, the cars it sold only rebranded versions of global Toyota models.

It therefore made perfect sense to give the outgoing FR-S a version of its global GT86/FT-86 moniker, the “86” portion of the name paying homage to the now classic rear-drive Corolla GTS/AE86 that’s still tearing up racetracks around the world. This said I’d rather have seen Toyota combine old and new by coining FR-86, being that they don’t have the rights to use the GT86 name here (exclusive to Europe and New Zealand), and FT-86 (only available in Jamaica and Nicaragua) makes little more sense, but I wasn’t on that marketing panel so I can only wonder what went down within Toyota’s inner circle. As it is, 86 is the name given to the car in Asia, Australia and South America, and we being part of the Americas, get the simpler nameplate.

2017 Toyota 86
Always a sleek profile, a new front fender vent and new wheels are the most noticeable updates. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Enough about renaming misnomers, most FR-S/86 fans won’t care all that much for what it’s called, and those purists who do have long been replacing Scion logos with Toyota crests along with chromed FR-S lettering for stylized GT86 badges. They’re already doing the same here in North America, so Toyota continues to inadvertently help online aftermarket vendors trying to make a little extra coin servicing this ultra-niche market.

What matters more is the 2017 model’s mid-cycle refresh, a subtle but effective update of a model that had become slightly stale despite still being one of the prettier sports cars on the market. The big differences to styling come up front, its headlights now incorporating de rigueur full LED elements with LED turn signals, and its lower fascia integrating a more organically stylized centre intake with a black mesh insert, plus new triangular-shaped black straked corner “vents” to each side, which are really bezels for fog lamps available from the accessories catalogue or Special Edition upgrade.

2017 Toyota 86
New LED taillights and no model insignia are the only clues to the update from the rear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Toyota has ironically removed the circular 86 badge from each of the FR-S’ rather complex front fender engine vents and replaced them with a sleeker more minimal design, while at the back it’s all about new LED taillights. Lastly, new standard 17-inch alloys round out the package.

Toyota has upgraded the new 86’ interior over the outgoing FR-S with more soft synthetic surfaces across the dash top and instrument panel, plus fancy ultra-psuede door uppers, as well as attractive new fabric upholstery featuring black side bolsters with white contrast stitching and grey inserts. There are plenty of satin-silver accents throughout the cabin too, while the old Pioneer-sourced 6.1-inch infotainment touchscreen gets new Toyota-branded graphics and integrates a backup camera, USB integration, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, plus more.

2017 Toyota 86
Toyota has improved the new cabin for a more refined experience. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Call it a 2+2, but the rearmost seats are designed more for two 0.5-sized adults or kids, which is par for the course in the compact coupe class. Rather than look at the glass half full, it’s best to appreciate the additional passenger and cargo possibilities offered by the 86’ rear quarters over convertible competitors like Mazda’s MX-5 or Fiat’s 124 Spider, which are solely two-place prospects. I once had a friend show me how he was able to store four racing wheels on slicks with the rear seats of his FR-S folded, which simultaneously told me as much as I needed to know about the car’s practical aspects and performance prowess. The 86, incidentally, gets the same 196-litre trunk as the FR-S, plus its non-split folding rear seatback.

At the heart of that performance-focused ideal, which is really the 86’ raison d’être, the updated model gets a mildly revised version of the FR-S’ Subaru-sourced 2.0-litre horizontally opposed “boxer” four-cylinder. A tweak here and mod there has allowed for a minor bump from 200 horsepower to 205 and 151 lb-ft of torque to 156, but only six-speed manual-equipped cars get the upgrade. Those fitted with the paddle-actuated six-speed automatic featuring rev-matched downshifting via Toyota’s “Dynamic Rev Management” system, as was the case with my Hot Lava painted tester, carry forward with the unmodified engine. Being that I already drove (and reviewed) a new 2017 Subaru BRZ with the manual and therefore experienced the same performance boost, I’ll relate my comments as well as the benefits (if any) of the autobox.

2017 Toyota 86
Higher quality materials and nicer design details improve the look and feel inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Either way both 86 models receive a reworked suspension with retuned damping, whereas the manual gets a revised rear differential for a quicker launch from standstill up to speed. Getting off the line in mind, both manual and automatic equipped trims incorporate hill start assist.

Now that we’re talking features, Toyota continues to follow Scion’s lead by keeping the new model’s trims to a minimum, simply offering the 86 6M (for six-speed manual) and 86 6A (for… sigh… I don’t really need to explain this, do I?), while as noted an 86 Special Edition is also on the menu.

2017 Toyota 86
The standard sport seats get an upholstery upgrade. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Standard features not yet mentioned include a limited slip differential, 215/45R17 tires, auto on/off LED headlamps, heated power-adjustable side mirrors, remote keyless entry, a tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped multifunction three-spoke sport steering wheel, a leather-clad shift knob and handbrake handle, aluminum sport pedals, a trip computer/multi-info display, cruise control, variable intermittent wipers, air conditioning, eight-speaker AM/FM audio with aux and USB inputs plus an Automatic Sound Levelizer (ASL), Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, a six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, power windows with auto up/down all-round, dual vanity mirrors, all the usual active and passive safety equipment, and more.

On top of this the $32,555 Special Edition, which solely comes with the manual gearbox, adds fog lamps, a rear spoiler featuring black-painted accents, black side mirror housings, proximity-sensing keyless access, pushbutton ignition, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information display with vehicle performance data, dual-zone auto climate control, leather upholstery, heatable front seats, and an alarm. That’s certainly the one I’d want to live with every day, but that’s not the one I was given to test.

2017 Toyota 86
Space is limited in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Also important, like the FR-S and Scion in general, the new Toyota gets plenty of accessories to spice up the look and add to the experience overall, including the usual block heater, exterior protection film wraps, hood and side window deflectors, rear spoiler, and cargo liner, plus the less expected Bongiovi Acoustics DPS sound system upgrade; the Extension Box premium display audio system with navigation, Push-to-Talk voice recognition, various apps such as Aha, Harman on iTunes, and Google Play, etcetera; gorgeous 18-inch TRD lightweight alloys; TRD sport exhaust; TRD 1 1/8th-inch lowering spring kit; TRD performance air intake; TRD performance front and rear brake pads; and stiffer gloss red powder coated TRD sway bars.

As is understandable due to new standard features, the 86 adds $2,090 to last year’s base FR-S price tag, the new tally still below $30k at $29,580 plus freight and fees. One thing to consider is the aforementioned BRZ, however, which was previously pricier but can now be had for just $27,995. The two cars were developed side-by-side and use many of the same components, especially at the core, so keep both the Subie in mind when shopping, and for that matter throw in a visit to your local Nissan dealer for a look at the repositioned 370Z that starts at just $29,998 with its 332 horsepower V6 included.

2017 Toyota 86
Cargo volume is typically small, but the rear seatback folds to expand its usefulness. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Of course, the Z’s big 3.7-litre V6 won’t provide anywhere near the 86’ superb fuel economy, its five-cycle estimate being 11.3 L/100km in the city and 8.3 on the highway for the manual, or 9.9 city and 7.3 highway for the auto, both aided by D4-S direct and port fuel injection.

As for me, despite the autobox, I’m going to enjoy every minute behind the wheel of this new 86, which since arriving on the sports car scene as the FR-S has been one of the more entertaining cars available for the reasonable sum asked. Come back to read my assessment of that automatic transmission, the retuned suspension, its many improvements inside, a little look at how it’s being received by you, the people that matter (sales data), etcetera. As always, I won’t hold back my true thoughts and feelings.

I remember when this third-generation 2011 Sienna was brand new, and in sporty SE trim it was the coolest minivan to ever hit the road. I was on the press launch and specifically chose to focus on the…

2017 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD

2017 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD
The Sienna still looks good after all these years, but it’s still time for an update. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I remember when this third-generation 2011 Sienna was brand new, and in sporty SE trim it was the coolest minivan to ever hit the road.

I was on the press launch and specifically chose to focus on the SE after driving the majority of trims during the national launch program in early 2010, and soon after I tested a four-cylinder LE model at home (that engine since discontinued in the Sienna), another four-cylinder the following year in 2012 trim while visiting my daughter at her university in Sackville, New Brunswick (a comfortable and economical trip from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Moncton, where I stayed), and after that a well-equipped 2012 XLE model at home, a 2013 LE V6 likewise, a 2014 XLE Limited, the mid-cycle updated 2015 in LE AWD guise, and finally an XLE AWD version of the same vintage, so it feels good to get back in the Sienna saddle once again, this time in an XLE AWD with the Limited package (we’ll just call it the Limited AWD).

2017 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD
The Sienna’s rear styling hasn’t changed much in seven years. Good for Toyota it was initially an advanced design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

You may have noticed something about that list, of all the trims tested and reviewed I’ve only ever covered the top-line Limited model once before. Strange as that may be, it’s good to enjoy this van with all of its many splendoured features, especially now that it’s no longer the newest minivan parked on Canada’s suburban cul-de-sac.

Seven years is a long time for any vehicle to remain fundamentally unchanged, even one that was as good as the Sienna when introduced. Certainly its extensive 2015 update helped breathe new life into the old gal, but compared to the new Chrysler Pacifica, introduced for 2017 to replace the aging Town and Country, the almost as impressive Kia Sedona that was updated for 2015, and the now available all-new 2018 Honda Odyssey, the Sienna is starting to show its age. Ok, it’s not aging as noticeably as the Dodge Grand Caravan (the launch of which I attended in the fall of 2007), but that model sells so cheaply and is so conveniently equipped with second-row seats that fold completely into the floor that it hardly matters how old it is.

2017 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD
Toyota enhanced the interior in 2015, which made a big difference in refinement and electronic interfaces. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Before delving into this top-line Limited AWD model, the 2017 Sienna comes standard with a 3.5-litre V6, and can be had in either front-wheel or optional all-wheel drivetrains. In fact the Sienna is the only minivan offered with AWD, making it a favourite for cold Canadian winters.

The engine, which made a healthy 266 horsepower and 245 lb-ft of torque last year, gets bumped to 296 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque for 2017 thanks to a new D4-S direct-injection and port injection combination, not to mention a new lean-burn Atkinson cycle design that aids fuel efficiency. What’s more, Toyota added two gears to the standard automatic for a total of eight, which improves both performance and fuel economy.

The numbers you’re likely looking for are 12.5 L/100km city and 8.9 highway for the FWD model, or 13.4 L/100km city and 9.6 highway for the as-tested AWD version, making it the minivan segment’s most efficient non-hybrid competitor (the plug-in Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid gets a difficult to compare rating of 2.6 Le/100km combined city/highway), and I should also add it’s most powerful.

2017 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD
Toyota seats don’t get too many complaints about comfort, these covered in high-end leather. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Where the modifications under the hood modernize the powertrain, the changes for 2015 gave the Sienna a more upscale cabin with much better materials quality, especially in top-tier trims, with an additional focus on enhancing its infotainment systems to surpass the best in the class for the time. Now, three years later, its newer rivals are starting to outclass the Sienna in most every respect, powertrain aside.

Still, at just $33,690 plus freight and fees in base no-name trim, the Sienna sits directly in the middle of the minivan pricing hierarchy (the Sedona and Grand Caravan still sell for less), which, along with its great reputation for reliability and high resale value (along with Toyota’s overall reputation), gives it a major selling advantage.

Even that base model comes stocked with a higher level of standard features than most rivals, including heated power-adjustable side mirrors, tri-zone auto climate control, high-resolution colour touchscreen infotainment, a backup camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, multiple USB ports, Siri Eyes-Free, second-row captain’s chairs, and no shortage of active and passive safety equipment.

2017 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD
Second-row captain’s chairs limit seating to seven, although an available bench (depending on trim) can add one more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The base model can manage seven occupants, although you can optimize the second-rung LE or the sportier SE with a second-row bench seat if you need room for eight, while that LE model gets 17-inch alloy wheels, a larger infotainment display, satellite radio, eight-way powered heatable front seats, power sliding side doors, and more.

Toyota will have to loan me an SE in order to get me to spend too much time going over its details (that’s a snub their way in hopes of snagging an SE tester, because it’s been way too long since they’ve put one on the fleet and it’s still amongst my favourite minivans), but suffice to say it features sporty 19-inch alloys, a specially tuned sport suspension (that’s a bit firmer), recalibrated (read sharper) steering, a really attractive aero body kit, a unique primary gauge package, and plenty more.

Of note, like the base model the $40,505 SE can only be had with FWD, AWD reserved for the LE and XLE alone. This is where it gets confusing, as Toyota refers to the Limited FWD model without any mention of XLE trim, but the top-line model I’m driving is actually an XLE with a Limited package, with Limited not officially included in the name. It seems to be a lot of nothing, but needs mentioning if you plan to build it on Toyota’s website.

2017 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD
There’s no SUV better suited to third-row comfort than a minivan, the Sienna no exception. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The EXL AWD without the Limited package, priced at $44,400, includes sound a unique silver painted grille, LED daytime running lamps, fog lamps, chrome door handles, deadening acoustic glass for the windshield, powered flip-out rear side windows, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 4.2-inch colour multi-information display, chrome interior door handles, woodgrain inlays on the dash, doors and centre console, voice activation, SMS- and email-to-speech, navigation with detailed mapping, leather upholstery, a powered moonroof, a powered rear liftgate, rear parking sensors, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and an anti-theft system.

The $7,315 Limited package, which pushes the Sienna’s price up to $51,715 before freight and fees, adds HID headlamps with auto high beams, heatable, power-folding, auto-dimming side mirrors with integrated turn signals, puddle lamps, and reverse tilt, a heatable steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, driver’s seat memory, a larger 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, a wide-angle backup camera, a 10-speaker JBL Synthesis audio system, a large 16.4-inch widescreen Blu-Ray rear entertainment system, household-style 120-volt power outlets, upgraded premium leather upholstery, and a dual powered panoramic moonroof.

2017 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD
As roomy and convenient for cargo as minivans get? Come back and find out more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

While this sounds like a ton of gear, the Sienna is missing some high-tech safety equipment like autonomous front braking, dynamic cruise control, lane keep assist, etcetera that would allow for a better IIHS rating. As it is only the Pacifica achieves Top Safety Pick Plus status, whereas the Sedona gets a Top Safety Pick rating.

It sounds like I’m knocking what is an excellent van made even better for 2017, but that’s far from how I felt while at the wheel. To get my full review including a critique on the new engine and transmission, the user-friendliness of other upgrades, just how well the suspension compares to newer designs, how convenient the Sienna is to live with next to other minivans, and much more, check out these pages regularly…