Sons of Prius: Toyota Sienna minivan and Venza SUV go hybrid-only

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The Toyota Prius is now the proud father of a minivan and SUV.

Toyota unveiled Monday the hybrid-powered 2021 Sienna minivan and mid-size Venza crossover, the first vehicles outside the iconic Prius compact to be powered by hybrid-electric drivetrains only.

Toyota’s new products come as the industry is rapidly moving to electrify its vehicle lineup to satisfy strict government emission mandates around the world. Cadillac, for example, promises that 100% of its lineup will be battery-powered by 2030, while Honda says 80% of its global product will be electrified by then.

2021 Toyota Sienna

“With the addition of the Sienna and Venza we are taking two giant steps closer to two very important goals: electrification across 100% of our lineup, and hybrid model comprising 25% of our sales – all by 2025," said Toyota North America auto operations chief Bob Carter. 

The Sienna and Venza were introduced via a virtual news conference with Carter unveiling the minivan from Toyota’s North American headquarters in Plano, Texas. Vice President for Toyota North America Jack Hollis took the wraps off the Venza from his home in Dallas. Both vehicles are based on Toyota’s TNGK global platform with the Sienna assembled in Princeton, Kentucky, and the Venza in Japan.

The presentation featured a cameo from the Prius ( which means “to go before”) which Carter hailed as “that funny-looking car (that) arrived in America and forever changed this industry.” Embraced by green activists and Hollywood celebrities 20 years ago, the Prius was the first battery-powered car to sell more than 100,000 units in the U.S. —though those numbers have crashed in the SUV era.

2021 Toyota Venza

The hybrid mantle has been taken up by Toyota’s best-selling compact RAV4; its affordable, $30,000 hybrid version now outselling Prius. The RAV4 has been joined by similar hybrids including the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V.

The Sienna and Venza, however, are major hybrid leaps in family segments that have traditionally offered standard gas-powered V-6 engines. The new Toyotas will use a similar hybrid system to the RAV4 with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine assisted by two electric motors. 

The only other electrified minivan is the Chrysler Pacifica which has a plug-in option the Sienna won't offer. With a premium price tag of about $40,000, the 30 mpg Pacifica hybrid can go 32 miles an battery power alone. While the hybrid Sienna’s pricing will be announced closer to its fall launch, it's likely to cost just over $30,000 like the outgoing V-6 model.

Carter promised best-in-class, budget-friendly 33 mpg – well clear of the current Sienna's 22 mpg. The Toyota will also comes loaded with standard, "Toyota Safety Sense 2.0" safety features like adaptive cruise-control and blind-spot assist. Standard electronic goodies include Apple CarPlay and kick-open sliding side doors. All-wheel drive, a vacuum cleaner, second-row ottoman and a refrigerator will also be available.

The Sienna, its front end inspired by the Shinkansen Japanese Bullet Train, takes a page from the Pacifica's book with a sleek "anti-minivan" design. The body style echoes the 2020 Highlander SUV right down to the racy Supra-like rear fenders. The minivan will offer a sporty XSE model with blacked-out trim to look cool when picking up the kiddies from school.

Toyota is resuscitating the Venza after it exited the market in 2015. Slotted between the RAV4 and Highlander, the Venza aims to capture empty-nesters who like the roominess of the Highlander but don't need the third-row seat.

The mid-size SUV wars have heated up in recent years as crossovers have become the dominant mode of transportation. The segment has seen stylish new additions including the Chevy Blazer, Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport and Honda Passport.

The reborn Venza aims to compete with a strong value play including standard all-wheel drive and 40 mpg. The Venza also revamps its styling and offers a "Star Gaze" panoramic roof that can be electronically switched between transparent glass and "frosted" pane that only lets in light.

The Venza comes standard with lots of tech including adaptive cruise and blind-spot assist like the Sienna. Expect to see it in showrooms this summer.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.