Minivans are the prime people movers of our time, and Toyota has been cranking out solid Siennas to fill that niche for years.
Now comes the revamped 2011 version, and much of what has made this a prime choice remains.
This is still a big box: The tested LE model, with a four-cylinder engine, rides on a 119.3-inch wheelbase, about an inch longer than the Honda Odyssey and 2 inches shorter than the Chrysler/Dodge minivans. Overall, the Sienna is 200.2 inches long, about 2 inches shorter than both the Honda and Chrysler vans.
There’s a giant cargo well behind the third row seat that will hold a lot of suitcases and bags, especially if you pile them up. This one also has seating for three in the second and third rows, so you can haul eight people on a trip.
The test van was loaded with extras that pushed this Sienna to nearly $32,000, near luxury-level prices that you can avoid by sticking to the basics. To go with the base model, which only seats seven, you can lower your cost to $24,260. That’s $1,000 more than the Dodge Grand Caravan in base SE trim, but about $2,000 less than the base LX Chrysler Town & Country or Honda Odyssey LX.
Aside from the seating for eight, one of the Toyota’s advantages in LE trim is its better fuel economy. The base 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 19 mpg city and 24 highway. That edges both the Dodge/Chrysler and Honda on city mileage. I can vouch for its strong highway mileage, managing 26 and 24.3 mpg in highway driving between Milwaukee and Indianapolis. Sienna’s 20-gallon gas tank also gives you a 400-plus mile cruising range.
Acceleration is a little weak, though. You’ll notice Sienna’s six-speed automatic transmission hunting for gears at times, and downshifting and growling a bit as you hit the gas to get on the highway. If you have to ease up on the freeway for a slower moving vehicle, you’ll need to crunch the gas pedal to rev the van back up to cruising speed.
Toyota’s 2.7-liter four-cylinder is rated at 187 horsepower, while the Dodge’s 3.3-liter V6 only has 175 horsepower. Both pale next to the Honda’s 3.5-liter V6 that creates 244 horsepower. Note that Dodge’s next level up minivan, dubbed Hero, offers a 197-horsepower 3.8-liter V6, the same as the base Chrysler van.
With Sienna’s long wheelbase, the ride is quite comfortable. But give some credit to the van’s 17-inch tires. Those are an inch larger than the standard tires on comparable Honda and Dodge/Chrysler models.
Sienna handles well, too. It’s tall and you feel side winds, but maneuvering it in town is fine. Braking is good from four-wheel discs, the front pair being vented.
Perhaps more important to a large family traveling in a van is its interior, and the Toyota is roomy and comfortable. We had six adults in our test van and easily could have squeezed in a couple of kids.
I also like how the third-row seats fold down into that giant rear floor bin. That creates a monster cargo area. Folding that split rear seat down is easy, but to pull the seat back up, I had to crawl in the cargo bin and pull up on the seats because I couldn’t get enough leverage standing outside the van.
Firm, comfortable seats
Seating is comfortable. The Sienna’s cloth seats are firm but offer great side support. The driver’s is powered, along with a power lumbar support (part of a $2,735 package).
The dark metallic blue Sienna featured a gray dash with black top. I thought the dash face’s plastic was cheap-looking for a van that checked in at $31,649.
The good news is that the option package added power-sliding side doors, the power driver’s seat and lumbar, an electro-chromatic rearview mirror with a backup camera and rear window sun shades, although one did not work. It also includes HomeLink, a multi-information display screen, thermometer, stereo upgrade with six speakers, MP3 and satellite radio, a USB port with iPod connectivity and phone capability with Bluetooth.
The test van added a dual-screen, rear-seat entertainment system for $1,999, and a few other options.
I wasn’t wild about the climate controls, which feature three round knobs spread way across the dash and the shift lever that sticks out of the dash’s console. It gets in the way as you reach for some controls.
Not to be a whiner, but I’d expect a power rear hatch to be part of the LE option package. I’d prefer that over the power side doors.
Overall, the Sienna is a pleasant drive and, with seating for eight, will be welcome among large families. Most competitive minivans have similar features and gas mileage, so test drive any van for comfort and engine power to make sure they suit your needs before shopping for the best price.