Toyota Sienta Checks All Right Spots for Family Motoring

By Lee Pang Seng

TOYOTA has moved clearly from a conservative stance to a bolder one in body styling for its newer range of passenger vehicles. An example is the latest Camry that has taken on racy, angular lines in front that one would not have expected of this Toyota executive sedan, say ten years ago.

It is the new models Toyota is introducing that reflects this styling change better and the one in our market now is the Sienta MPV (multipurpose vehicle). Its rakish front flanked by large sweeping headlamps and a distinct nose panel sheds the conservative tones of the Avanza. Not surprisingly, this more vibrant and contemporary look has gelled with the younger set, who apparently comprises a sizeable share of its buyers.

We had the Sienta 1.5V over a long weekend and it certainly grew on us as we discovered its range of goodies to make family motoring a pleasant and enjoyable one. We even took it for an Ikea outing and used its interior flexibility to bring home a long item that we bought. As we have a Perodua Alza in our garage, the initial comparison was obvious.

Apart from the youthful looks for both models, the Sienta is more upmarket with its electrically opened rear doors. This is where we shift our attention to the Honda Freed as it is the direct rival. With the Sienta, the rear doors could be opened two ways; via the key fob with a dedicated button for each door or simply by pulling the handle on each door once to open or close it.

The 1.5G only has this power door on the left side, which makes sense as it is for the rear passengers to get in or out safely. The power doors come with obstruction sensors that work much the same way as that for windows; it will stop its momentum when encountering an obstruction such as a hand or leg, making its operation safe.

While the Sienta is a keyless entry MPV, much like most passenger vehicles today, you have to use the key fob to open and lock it remotely. There is no button on the driver’s door to enjoy that added convenience. But the pushbutton start is there on the dashboard for you start and stop the engine (with your foot stepping on the brake pedal of course).

The Sienta has LED (light emitting diode) daytime running lights as standard as these are mounted on the bumpers like foglights. In addition, this Toyota MPV comes standard with the auto light mode that has the LED headlamps activated in dim conditions, such as driving under a flyover or during thunderstorms.

You can’t switch it off if you do not want to alarm or provoke the driver in the car in front; instead you could select the low light mode that activates the LED surrounds of the headlamps and rear light cluster. Actually, that looks good too and might get others to think that you have daytime running lights front and rear! The only annoyance is remembering to switch it back to auto mode as the light-on beeper would come on to tell you the headlamps are activated when you switch the engine off.

Stepping inside, the brown fabric interior matches the Orange Metallic body colour nicely on the Sienta we drove (it comes with five other body colours as well). In accommodation, the Sienta could hold its own as a seven-seater MPV. Getting to the third row is a simple matter of collapsing the 50:50 split second row seat; this seat could be collapsed two ways – the seatrest only to accommodate long items like we did during our Ikea outing or be fully collapsed with the one-touch tumble feature to facilitate easy entry to the third row.

Likewise, the 50:50 split third row is easy to fold away too. Just pull the tab on the seat shoulder and the seatrest would fold flat to provide additional luggage space. The same tab could be used to adjust seatrest lean angle with limited stops. With the seatrests up, space is sufficient for two pieces of medium-size luggage. An optional roofrack would be useful for big families going on long weekend holidays. The interior space is definitely roomy enough to accommodate seven adults in reasonably good comfort.

There are two glovebox compartments to add to the convenience of stowing minor items. In front, there are cupholders on the dashboard that doubles nicely for keys, toll cards and even coins for the parking meters. The doors come with additional pockets for locating drink bottles and the third row folks have side cupholders as well.

The 6.8-inch touchscreen is easy to use for the various functions and the digital video recorder mounted on the roof is another practical item. Everyone on board could also travel in cool comfort with a rear air-conditioner blower as standard fitting. The upper glovebox also serves as a cooler and that’s great for keeping drinks cool on a hot day.

For power, the Sienta comes with a newly developed fuel efficient dual VVT-i (variable valve timing intelligent) engine. The 1496cc engine delivers 79kW (107PS) at 6000rpm and 140Nm at 4200rpm. Channelling engine output to the front wheels is the seven-speed Sport Sequential Shiftmatic CVT (continuously variable transmission).

We initially found the 1350kg 1.5V Sienta a little sluggish on initial acceleration but it wasn’t so bad after we go used to it. But make no mistake about the Sienta; it would build speed quickly on the highway and with the speeds it could do, you could be in store for high demerit points if you are not careful. We had to ease off a few times when the speedo needle hovered around 150km/h.

Like a typical CVT, the gears shifted seamlessly up and down and the top gearing is towards fuel economy as the engine is hardly stressed when cruising at 110km/h, turning over at a low 2300rpm. A slight prompt on the accelerator would effect a downshift to raise engine revs for a quick build-up of speed.

This CVT was not as noisy as older models, especially on kickdowns, which reflected the development that had gone into this transmission system. If you want to manually engage the gears, you merely slot the gearshift to the right and select the gears sequentially. This would be useful for winding stretches.

The Sienta is independently sprung with MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam rear. Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control, along with Hill Start Assist, are standard electronic dynamic assistance systems in both models. While we found the Sienta’s poise reasonably good through the corners we take regularly, we noted that the body wallowed a bit more than expected through fast sweepers.

Given that the Sienta is an MPV for family motoring, its dynamic performance remains up to par to fulfil its automotive design. The suspension is well tuned to soak up the harshness of impacts on less than desirable road surfaces to provide everyone on board a comfortable ride. It is well insulated and the body profile aerodynamically efficient to make highway drives a quiet affair.

The electric power steering is light work at crawl speeds but feels weighted at highway speeds. With a turning circle of 11.4 metres, we could manoeuvre the Sienta comfortably in tight places (as we would have with our Alza). Helping that is the good vision all round as well as the reverse camera that is standard to the 1.5V.

We enjoy the pushbutton start and rear power doors, and that is where the Sienta has the edge over our Perodua MPV. For that, there is a premium price to pay although it is still an attractive package against its rivals. The Sienta 1.5V we drove is priced at RM99,900 on the road with insurance and the lower-spec 1.5G fetches RM92,900. We are surprised not to see more Sientas on the road now but we believe as more discover its attractive qualities as a mid-size MPV (as we had), its number would swell steadily.

What we felt a bit odd was the tendency of the EPS to stiffen up especially when driving through sweepers. It was as if the steering system was being intentionally stiffened to compensate for something, although we are not sure for what. This did not happen all the time but it was initially unsettling as it felt like a non-electric system losing the hydraulic steering assistance. It was kind of weird but other than the stiffening feeling - it would lighten up after a while – nothing dramatic came out of it.

The Ioniq HEV Plus also comes with a pretty full range of electronic warnings and activation systems, such as lane change warning (Lane Keeping Assist System), Blind Spot Detection and Autonomous Emergency Braking System. The first two provided audible notes when we changed lanes or the system detected someone or something close by.

The third activated the brakes if we followed a car too close in front and was not braking. We felt this working a few times while driving in traffic crawls, especially when it braked harder than we would prefer. One of its function is to brake hard when a collision is imminent so that the impact is minimal.

The Ioniq took to the bumpy stretches reasonably well with a trace of hardness from road impacts. As it runs on 17-inch alloys with 225/45 R17 Michelin Primacy 3 tyres that might have a bit to do with this. Generally, we could live with the slightly harder ride as the harshness was mostly ironed out to make this Hyundai Hybird comfortable for all on board.

Being the higher-spec Ioniq HEV Plus, there was the luxury of leather upholstery, eight-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat, rain sensor, Electro-Chromic rearview mirror, seven-inch high definition central cluster, among others. The common standard items with the Ioniq HEV are the driver auto up-down window, seven airbag system, auto light control, rearview camera with front and rear parking assist, tyre pressure monitoring system, auto cruise control, electric folding mirror, to name some.

The rear seats are split 60:40 to extend rear luggage space. Hyundai lists this luggage space as 750 litres although we aren’t sure how that is defined. We believed that would probably take into account the space available when the rear seats are folded down. It looked more like 400-500 litres with the rear seats up. A retractable top cover for the luggage area comes as standard.

The Hyundai Ioniq is a great choice for those who want to enjoy hybrid power without having to dig too deep into the pocket. Its youthful looks and a good level of trim and equipment, even for the lower-spec model, add to the pleasure of owning this fuel miserly hybrid from South Korea.

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