Loyal followers of Carlist.my, as well as those who regularly keep track of current happenings in the local automotive landscape would have noticed that the 2016 ASEAN Car of the Year (ACOTY) awards was just concluded in mid-December 2016, and that this vehicle you’re looking at now – the Toyota Sienta, was one of the winners.
It beat three other models in the market to emerge as the Budget MPV of the Year, where the panel of judges, comprising 30 motoring journalists from 18 publications were simply looking for the worthiest MPV for under RM100,000.
Now, let us remind you that ACOTY is arguably one of the most transparent automotive awards in Malaysia, in the midst of many “esteemed” automotive awards that require guests and participants to book tables which sometimes includes a couple of awards as well.
So, with no profit whatsoever involved, the judges, including the writer himself, simply evaluated the nominees based on their experience with the vehicles. So, simply put, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this is as honest as it gets.
That said, easily more than half of the judges felt that the Sienta was better than its peers due to a few factors.
Engine: 1.5-litre, 2NR-FE Dual VVT-I, petrol
Max power: 107 PS
Max torque: 140 Nm
Fuel efficiency (observed): 9.7L/100km
Safety: 3 airbags, ABS, ESC, ISOFIX, EBD, BA, ESS, VSC, Traction Control, Hill-Start Assist
Launched in August last year, the Sienta slots in just above the Toyota Avanza and below the new Innova.
Produced and fully-imported (CBU) from Toyota's Karawang Barat manufacturing plant in Indonesia, the Sienta is offered in two variants here (1.5G – RM92,900 and 1.5V – RM99,900), with our focus being the high-spec model.
Under the hood, powering the Sienta is the 1.5-litre 2NR-FE Dual VVT-i engine that is mated to a CVT-type automatic transmission driving the front wheels, producing 107PS and 140Nm.
It's also the similar powertrain that is used in the new Toyota Vios. Besides the engine, the Sienta also shares the Vios's platform, but with significant changes. The similarities between the two only go as far as the engine bay and bulkhead, as beyond the dashboard area, the rear-half of the Sienta is bespoke.
It is also worth mentioning that the Sienta has received 5-star ASEAN NCAP rating recently. Being Toyota’s fourth MPV model tested by ASEAN NCAP after Avanza, Innova and Calya (sold only in Indonesia), the seven-seater MPV performed very well in the Adult Occupant Protection (AOP) with 15.26 points.
Derived from the Spanish word ‘Siete’ which means ‘seven’, the Sienta is not only a seven-seater MPV, but a good looking one as well. In fact, its design is arguably its biggest strength against competition.
While most of its rivals are boxy and slab-sided, the Sienta has elegant curves and many stylish features that set it apart from the rest of the lot, such as the black windscreen pillars, the front bumper which appears to be connected to the headlights, the striking design of the headlights, as well as the wheel design. Even the orange colour which the Sienta comes in gets heads turning towards it.
Given that most of its competitors are almost 10 years old, the Sienta is miles ahead of the game in terms of design. But then again, some of our friends said that it looks rather unusual, but we find it to be fresh. Yes, ‘freshness’ was something that the MPV market in Malaysia badly needed.
Look at the rest of the lot; what an “exciting” range of offerings we have - the Alza, Grand Livina, and the Exora – people movers that have been around for so long that they have made us sick and tired of MPVs to a certain extent.
So, you can’t really blame the ACOTY panel of judges for showering the fresh, bright, and youthful Sienta with points can you?
As impressive as things were on the outside, the Sienta’s cabin wasn’t all great. On the upside, there is the long list of equipment which includes our favourite feature - the powered sliding rear passenger doors, which add so much to convenience.
Unlike most budget MPVs where you need space as you have to swing the door open, these sliding doors require only little room. Plus, they can be opened and closed at a push of a button located near the ignition button. Now, when was the last time you saw such feature being offered in a vehicle that costed less than RM100,000?
Yes, the Honda Freed had it once upon a time but since the MPV's price tag didn't make any sense, its doors became just as irrelevant.
Smart keyless entry, Auto climate control, digital video recorder, 2-DIN DVD player with a 6.8-inch touchscreen, radio, MP3, AUX, USB, Bluetooth and Voice Recognition, the Optitron instrument cluster with colour TFT trip computer, Leather-wrapped steering with audio controls, and reverse camera.
Complementing all the bells and whistles was the versatility the Sienta offered. Adults could actually fit in the third row, thanks to the car’s tall roof and squared-off tail, and when the sixth and seventh seats were not required, hiding them was a very easy task.
The second row could be tilted and slid too; enabling occupants to make their way into the third row, and fitting large objects in the rear a bit easier as there was a tad bit more space. The cherry on the cake was of course the rear air-cond vents and the third-row cubby-holes that further added to convenience.
What we loved most about the Sienta is that the seat adjustments could be done with just one hand, thanks to the ‘one-touch-fold-and-tumble’ feature. In fact, we could transform the Toyota from a seven-seater to a cargo hauler with a flat floor within a minute.
As convenient and practical as it was in the Sienta, a couple of things like the poor noise insulation and the abundance of hard plastic became more apparent as we spent some time in the MPV.
So, despite having a decently setup chassis and suspensions by Asian MPV standards, the amount of road and engine noise coming into the cabin was more than enough to put us off any spirited driving.
Although the CVT was partially to be blamed for the rubber-band effect and the screaming engine, better noise insulation would’ve made things much better. But besides that, it was a very easy and practical vehicle to drive and to be in.
Powered by a 1.5-litre engine paired to a CVT producing 107PS and 140Nm of peak torque, the Sienta drives typically like how you would expect a compact MPV would.
There was adequate power while driving it around the city, and with the tight turning radius, making U-turns and making our way through lorongs and shopping mall car parks could be done without breaking a sweat.
There was still body roll while cornering, but the ride was pretty composed. Plus, the suspensions did a respectable job in tolerating bumps, lumps and everything in between. However, as we mentioned earlier, the engine noise could be heard every time we accelerated, VERY clearly.
The sitting position on the other hand, was upright, similar to a Perodua Myvi in case you’re wondering. So, thanks to the tall seat height, getting in and out of the Sienta was not a problem at all, making it an ideal vehicle for senior citizens, children, women and what not.
Comfort wise, the seats offered good support to passengers of all ages, shapes and sizes, both in front and in the second row. As for the last row, things were slightly bumpier, but it wasn’t that bad.
How economical is it?
Firstly, the Sienta costs about RM100,000, which is definitely in the more affordable part of things. And then, since it is powered by a 1.5-litre engine, road tax and insurance will also fall in the affordable range.
Last but not the least, we observed a fuel consumption reading of 9.7 L/100km after completing close to 350 kilometers, which is a very decent figure for a vehicle that would spend most of its life in the busy city roads.
For the past decade or so, the sub RM100,000 MPV segment has been similar to a desert – dry and lifeless. And like an oasis came the Sienta, clad in bright, exciting colours, fitted with class leading features like powered sliding doors, seats that fold and tumble at a touch of a lever, and a stylish cabin, putting a smile on the faces of those who have been thinking of getting an affordable seven-seater. It wins big in terms of safety as well, as it recently earned 5-star ASEAN NCAP ratings.
Although the Sienta isn’t the most comfortable or the most dynamic MPV to drive around, it is definitely one of the best looking and most equipped. Plus, looking at the big ‘T’s track record, reliability can also be counted as one of its strengths.
That being said, there is no surprise that the Sienta is winning hearts everywhere it goes. However, we don't know for how long it will remain the favourite as newer and promising competitors like the Honda BR-V and the Proton Ertiga have already made their entry into the segment.
So, let us sit back, relax and see how things unravel in the near future.