Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is officially killing off the Dodge Caravan, one of the most influential American vehicles of the past three decades. But minivans still have a place in this world, as evidenced by what’s going on over at Toyota, which is preparing to launch the 2021 version of its Sienna family hauler. Among its substantial list of improvements are four-zone climate control, kick-closed switching for its side doors and liftgate, new second-row captain’s chairs and even an onboard vacuum cleaner and refrigerator. What we can effectively gauge from all of this is that the Sienna’s project team has a very well-formed understanding about how families actually use these vehicles, negotiating around them while they’re trying to balance groceries, unruly kids, camping and sporting gear. To that end, the Sienna has picked up an interesting accolade even though it’s not in the showrooms yet.
Altair Engineering of Troy, Michigan, which supplies analytical data and cloud computing to the industry, has presented its Enlighten award to Toyota for its work in making the new Sienna’s third-row seat a lot easier for mere mortals to handle in real-time life. Engineers reduced the earlier seat’s 15-piece metal framework to a single resin casting for its folding back. That means that occupants will now have to expend only 19 pounds of force, instead of the previous 53 pounds, while levering the seat back upright from its folded-down position. The work was done in conjunction with BASF, Toyota’s technical partner on seat design. If you’ve ever struggled with a van or SUV to get the rearmost seat in place while you’re also struggling with packages from Bed Bath & Beyond or Best Buy, you’ll appreciate this as much as we do. The 2021 Sienna will be coming out of Toyota’s assembly plant in Princeton, Indiana.