Cool, new Toyota Sienta compact MPV is good for small passengers

The Toyota Sienta has a funky design and comes with ceiling-mounted rear air-con vents, a keyless system and LED headlights.
The Toyota Sienta has a funky design and comes with ceiling-mounted rear air-con vents, a keyless system and LED headlights.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
The Toyota Sienta has a funky design and comes with ceiling-mounted rear air-con vents, a keyless system and LED headlights.
The Toyota Sienta has a funky design and comes with ceiling-mounted rear air-con vents, a keyless system and LED headlights.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Toyota's new compact MPV is a good buy if you have small children, are not a picky driver and like cool designs

The new Toyota Sienta has lots going for it. A funky, futuristic design. A seating plan for seven on a footprint smaller than that of a Vios. Twin motorised sliding rear doors.

It also has ceiling-mounted rear air-con vents, a keyless system, LED headlights and a road tax-friendly 1.5-litre engine.

But it also falls short of what people have come to expect of a Toyota MPV in two crucial areas: comfort and refinement.

Even though there are seven seatbelts onboard, the Sienta is at best a six-seater. This is because the person sitting in the middle of the second row will have to straddle two seats.

The space is not meant to accommodate a passenger, which is why the Japan-made parallel import version is a six-seater.

  • SPECS / TOYOTA SIENTA

  • Price: From $108,888 with COE

    Engine: 1,496cc 16-valve inline-4

    Transmission: Continuously variable with manual select

    Power: 105bhp at 6,000rpm

    Torque: 140Nm at 4,200rpm

    0-100kmh: 12.8 seconds

    Top speed: 165kmh

    Fuel consumption: 6.2 litres/100km

    Agent: Borneo Motors

The Sienta from Borneo Motors is assembled in Indonesia and targeted at South-east Asians, who presumably want to cram as many people on board a car as possible.

The saving grace of this seven-seater layout is that the middle occupant gets a three-point seatbelt too - just like authorised agent Borneo Motor's Wish.

But the Wish can accommodate seven adults comfortably. In the Sienta, five of the occupants should ideally be small children.

This would be fine, if you are a young family looking for a multi-seater. But not so fine if you intend to keep the multi-seater for 10 years. Because the kids will not stay small for very long.

Once they are in their teens, the Sienta will prove to be uncomfortable. There is plenty of headroom, but hip and legroom are in limited supply.

The third-row seats are rather flimsy too. So flimsy that when they are unoccupied, they contribute to cabin rattle.

The other thing that contributes to cabin rattle is the car's rather harsh ride quality.

But if you are a young family, you are unlikely to notice on account of the lively verbal discourse that young families are known for. The din might even distract the driver from the uninspiring way the Sienta drives.

First of all, the engine - paired with a continuously variable transmission - often strains to get the car up to a gallop. Near 4,000rpm, which is where you will have to get to for any semblance of acceleration, the car sounds like it is whining.

Chassis control is not what you would expect of a passenger car. You feel the rear axle responding half a second after you have sent steering inputs to the front axle.

As with all things, you adapt to the Sienta's queer behaviour and shortcomings quickly. Not that you accept them - just that they do not irritate you as much.

When you have reached that level of calm, you begin to discover other things about the car. Such as the plasticky interior. Toyota tries to mask this by moulding leather-like "stitchings" onto the hard synthetic panels, but to no avail.

For a family car, there is not a lot of storage space onboard either.

All said, you could still say the Sienta is a functional compact MPV which would make perfect sense, if it were around $80,000.

Alas, it is above $100,000. Sure, that comes with five years unlimited mileage warranty and free servicing for three years or 60,000km. And you get the assurance of Toyota reliability.

Still, you would do far better if you were to pick the Wish.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2016, with the headline 'Sienta clauses'. Print Edition | Subscribe