2021 Toyota Sienna minivan: Inspired by Bullet Train

Zac Palmer


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Toyota just revealed the 2021 Toyota Sienna and 2021 Toyota Venza, both of which are hybrids. At a virtual press conference for the media, several Toyota designers went into greater detail about the new Sienna’s design. As it stands, minivans don’t sell that well compared to their crossover and SUV rivals. Toyota thinks it has an answer to this problem with the redesigned Sienna.

“It’s combining the best aspects of a minivan with an SUV,” says Bob Carter, Executive VP of Sales for Toyota.

That’s a bit gratuitous from our vantage point. This minivan still looks like a minivan. It’s hunkered down to the ground, long and tall in shape and features a short front. However, the design is noticeably different from the rather blah looking current Sienna. Kevin Hunter, President, Calty Design Research says the front end design was inspired by the Shinkansen Japanese Bullet Train. A Shinkansen Bullet Train is pictured below for your reference. For those unfamiliar, Shinkansen refers to Japanese Bullet Trains in general, not one specific train, but they share many of the same looks.

“We were really inspired on the front design by the Shinkansen, the Bullet Train from Japan,” Hunter says. “And that just looks powerful; it looks speedy and has a lot of presence, and we really wanted to impart some of that into the face of this new Sienna.”

The result hasn’t made the new Sienna look like it should be traveling at 200 mph, but there’s a bit of a resemblance to the trains that we can see. Those headlights wrap around to the sides of the van, and the front shield design looks like it’s breaking the wind, pushing it out to either side. So no, the Sienna doesn’t look like a Bullet Train, but the inspiration is recognizable. Then, there’s the SUV aspect of this Sienna.

“There was a huge effort on our part to move that (minivan) in a new direction,” Hunter says. “It’s a lot bolder, more robust, it’s muscular. It’s got a shoulder. A lot of minivans don’t have a shoulder, they’re more of a fuselage shape. We really tried to put a lot of excitement and passion into the styling direction, especially for the interior.”

One look down the side of the new van is all you need to see the difference. Toyota has given the Sienna muscles. There’s even a small ducktail jutting out from the rear hatch that gives us flashes of the Supra’s tail. The sporty XSE trim has a huge mesh grille and big 20-inch wheels. It’s legitimately intriguing to look at, verging on cool. Now, will it get somebody out of a Highlander and into a Sienna? Maybe not quite. The ground clearance still looks minivan-like, and it will certainly drive much more like a car than an SUV. Still, we applaud Toyota for putting together a distinctive design over some cookie-cutter minivan.

As for the interior, the design represents another big departure from the minivan norm.

“We really tried to innovate on the interior,” Hunter says. “When we talked to our customers, they felt like they were driving a bus, and they wanted something a bit more personal, so we really reconfigured the interior, instrument panel and center console personality in a big way to appeal to that customer.”

Benjamin Jimenez, studio chief designer, Calty Design further explained the rationale and changes.

“We took a pretty unconventional approach to this interior,” Jimenez says. “The current vehicle tends to feel a bit disconnected like you’re driving a utility bus. We really lifted the console and brought a lot of the functionality close to hand, which is an innovative approach that really makes it feel more engaging and a lot more user intuitive. So your function, cupholders, everything is closer.”

The lifting of the center console is done by using a bridge, separating driver from passenger. In previous Siennas, the central space there was generally open and available for whatever you’d want to do with it. Now, that open space can be found under the bridge. We love the look this provides in photos, as the interior does look much more like a car than a minivan or crossover. It goes to reason that the interior may be slightly less functional, but without being able to poke around, we can’t come to any final conclusions yet.

Back seat utility is going to remain top notch in the Sienna, though. The rear seat can slide fore and aft up to 25 inches, and there’s even an ottoman that can be put up to rest your legs on. Toyota says the battery for the hybrid doesn’t intrude on interior utility either, as Toyota found a spot for it under the front seats. That means conversion vans are still a go.

We’re excited to crawl all around this van, but it’ll have to wait. Toyota says the Sienna is expected to be ready for sale sometime late this year.

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