- Published: Saturday, 08 October 2016 01:40
Toyota's Sienta is a small car with a big role to fill — especially for parents who would rather feed their kids than a bank
SINGAPORE — You might be wondering why you’re reading a Toyota Sienta review here only now. The car has been around for ages, after all, and has become all but ubiquitous on Singapore roads.
But it’s only last month that the Sienta was launched here by Borneo Motors, becoming an official Toyota offering in the process.
Two versions are on sale, with a Sienta Standard going for $109,888 with COE and this, the Elegance version for $6,000 more. Both have a 1.5-litre engine with a Continuously Variable Transmission, and differ slightly in equipment levels. More on that later.
For now, to grasp the essence of this car it helps to understand its name — a portmanteau of the Spanish word for seven (“siete”) and “entertainment”. The suggestion is that a Sienta, therefore, is an entertaining seven-seater.
Sure enough there’s a palpable sense of fun to the car. MPVs (Multi Purpose Vehicles) can be boxy and slab-sided, but the Sienta has elegant curves and playful styling features. The windscreen pillars are black, which makes the roof appear to float above the body, and the front bumper reaches toward the headlights to striking effect; the first time I saw one in white, I thought a storm-trooper from Star Wars had just produced a lovechild with an Alphard.
When you clamber aboard the Elegance model, the little TFT screen between the instruments greets you with a “Good morning”, “Hello” or “Good evening”, depending. Apparently if you let it know when you were born, it’ll wish you a happy birthday, too.
The inside of the Sienta is fairly pared down in terms of its styling, but there’s an optional “Fromage” trim — basically the white plastics in our test car — to brighten up the place.
But the Sienta’s plainness inside is down to the fact that it is, on a per-head basis, the cheapest Toyota on the market. It’s actually one of the most affordable seven-seaters around, from any carmaker.
In some places, that shows. The cabin materials are of passable quality, for example, while the steering wheel buttons (for the sound system and the driving info displays) are unlit, so they disappear when it’s dark.
But it’s not nasty inside by any means, with things like strips of dashboard trim in satin chrome effect to class up things, and a long list of equipment in the Elegance pack. That includes things like GPS navigation, bigger wheels (16-inch instead of 15), stability control, auto air-con, LED lamps, electric folding mirrors, keyless entry and engine starting, and power doors for both sides of the car.
That’s plenty for six grand, and is probably why nearly all Sienta customers so far have chosen the Elegance model.
But while the Sienta doesn’t look cheap, it sometimes sounds it. The noise insulation fails to cover up the engine’s boisterous voice.
The suspension feels fairly rudimentary, too, passing road irregularities along into the cabin pretty noticeably.
And it’s no more than serviceable to drive. The turning circle is small enough to make U-turns and parking painless, but excess body roll and the loud engine are enough to put you off any spirited driving.
Yet, it makes far more sense to play to the Sienta’s strengths. One of these is its fuel economy. If you’re light-footed enough or willing to be guided along by the display’s Eco driving prompts, you’ll get better than decent fuel consumption. 6.2L/100km is the claim, but we got about 7L/100km, which is pretty close.
You buy an MPV for space and versatility mostly, and there the Sienta doesn’t fall down. Adults can fit in the back, thanks to the car’s tall roof and squared-off tail, and manipulating the seats is a cinch. Most of it can be done one-handed, and you can transform the Toyota from seven-seater to a cargo hauler with a flat floor in barely a minute.
Even with seven people on board, there’s still a bit of room in the boot for small luggage or a week’s groceries.
The middle row seats are better for two people than three, but at least you get proper three-point seatbelts for everyone back there. Crucially, the version sold by Borneo has an air-con blower in the back. Like the engine, it’s not quiet, but it’s effective.
You can tilt and slide the second row chairs, which lets you divvy up the amount of room accordingly, but overall it’s remarkable how much space the Sienta makes available — the car is actually shorter and a bit narrower than Toyota’s Vios.
Of course, it’s always nice to have space, and a bigger MPV would offer more cabin room than the Sienta, but that has to be balanced with your budget. The Sienta works well as a car for people who do need seven seats but can’t (or won’t) stretch to something pricier. There are family men who would prefer to spend money on feeding mouths than on feeding a bank, after all.
By Singapore standards it’s a cheap car yet it manages to stay cheerful, with enough features to make it feel modern. There’s little flair to be had from the driving experience, but there’s some whimsy to the styling.
Judging from its maker’s track record it should give years of faithful service, too.
If that sounds more like a description of an appliance than a car, that’s because the Sienta feels like it was created to function like one. And if you’re going to buy an appliance to fill an important role in family life, you should get one from a trusted brand.
NEED TO KNOW Toyota Sienta Elegance
Engine 1,496cc, 16V in-line four
Power 105hp at 6,000rpm
Torque 140Nm at 4,200rpm
Gearbox Continuously Variable Transmission
Top Speed 165km/h
0-100km/h 12.8 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.2L/100km
Price $115,888 with COE