For a carmaker known for playing it safe and succeeding wildly by doing so, a mindset change (called upon by its president Akio Toyoda) was always going to be akin to a giant ocean cruise liner charting a new course. We do get the feeling that Toyota is changing tack but to many, it is perhaps happening too slowly.
Better late than never
It’s a shame that Toyota took this long to get the Sienta – a compact MPV largely sold in Japan and selected Asian countries – prepped for ASEAN production, for this spunky compact seven-seater probably has more character than all its past MPV efforts put together. Some may describe the Sienta’s styling as ‘quirky’ but let’s reserve that for the upcoming C-HR crossover.
With its swoopy window lines, funky detailing and clever use of dark moulding trim as a design element, the Sienta certainly looks unique. It’s like one of those made-for-Japan-only appliances with thoughtful little touches because the designers were given room to express themselves, and the engineers the leeway to develop a better product.
Case in point being those wing mirrors, instead of the more cost-effective option of locating them on the A-pillars, the ones on the Sienta are situated on the doors, purportedly to improve view out and aerodynamics. Otherwise, the Sienta is a clear break from the regular menu being served at these parts of the world, and that’s refreshing.
Does it redefine anything?
Even with a decidedly modest footprint; 175mm shorter than a Vios sedan and a whopping 221mm or nine inches shorter than a Honda BR-V, the Sienta will accommodate seven occupants and some luggage. If that doesn’t redefine what’s expected from something so compact, nothing much will. And then there’s the ingenious packaging set within a genuinely stylish cabin.
The Avanza or Innova are probably better bets if the third row is required to accommodate adults all the time, but as an occasional seven-seater, the Sienta is more than up to the task as long as the second row isn’t manned by members of the Cleveland Cavaliers. But whether it’s seven- or five-up, the overhead air-con vents will chill the cabin with powerful gusts of cooled air, and when not needed, the third-row benches will magically duck under the second row for shopping trips to that Swedish furniture maker.
There isn’t much in the way of driving excitement with only 107hp and 140Nm (from a 1.5-litre four-cylinder) channeled to the front wheels via a CVT ‘box (with seven virtual ratios), the performance is adequate for what the Sienta is, and unless you happen to derive aural joy from elevated levels of mechanical din, the Sienta is best when not rushed during school runs, even if the firmer than expected suspension damping does offer a surprisingly composed stance in corners, in the context of an MPV that is.
Should you buy one?
In a practical sense, there’s nothing a Sienta can do that an Avanza can’t. But we’d like to think that the owning a vehicle, even if it’s something as pragmatic as an MPV, should also please the owner on a subjective level. The ease of manoeuvrability in urban confines, the interesting shapes and vibrant colours within the cabin, large electric-powered sliding doors that can be summoned from afar (so useful on a rainy day), and of course the trendy exterior styling do collectively set the Sienta well apart from the rest.
So yes, the Sienta warrants serious consideration, might even be a shoe-in if you do not want to deal with the size of an MPV within tight city confines but want seven seats. And if Toyota is to heed Toyoda’s call for more emotional appeal in its offerings, it would need more products like the Sienta too.