2011 Toyota Sienna Minivan: Luxury Family Shuttle Lives
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
To those of you who thought the minivan -- a family shuttle that carries kids, hockey equipment, youthful soccer teams and diaper pails around the block or around the country -- was dead, recent figures tell a different story.
According to current statistics, minivan sales, which peaked in 2000 at 1.4 million and to 434,000 last year, have climbed to more than 600,000 vehicles sold in 2010.
Among those box-shaped passenger vans enjoying the niche’s renaissance is the new 2011 Toyota Sienna minivan that sold 9920 units in September, 2010 compared to 6442 a year earlier -- an increase of 54 percent. And projections for 2011 are as optimistic as the soccer moms and hockey moms who often drive them.
The utility-oriented family van is a living room on wheels, and the Sienna LE version combines luxury with function and convenience, priced aggressively and packaged in upscale versions that appeal to those who want more than efficacy in their family movers.
Toyota, which arguably put out the first minivan – the Toyota Van hit the market in 1984, several months before Chrysler coined the term “minivan” -- replaced its small Previa with equally small Sienna in 1997 and redesigned the vehicle in 2004 making it larger to compete with its heftier competitors. This third-generation Sienna, manufactured in Princeton, Indiana, is currently the only minivan in its class to offer all-wheel-drive.
Offered in five trim levels, the new SE offers fresh bodywork, 19-inch wheels and a sportier ride. On another note, Toyota is the first automaker to offer a factory-installed auto-access seat for disabled people. The one-touch rotating, power ascending/descending lift-up seat can lower to within 19 inches of the ground.
Available in 7- and 8-passenger configurations, my test Sienna LE was in 7-passenger mode and measured 200.2 inches long, 78.2 inches wide and 68.9 inches high on a 119.3-inch wheelbase, with 6.5 inches of ground clearance. Weighing in at 4310 lbs., Sienna has a towing capacity of 3500 lbs.
Outside, there is a certain sportiness to the otherwise buslike bread box personality we associate with slab-sided minivans. The front grille and stance offer contemporary fluidity. Hidden tracks for the sliding doors, a hidden rear wiper and exterior detailing offer enough curvature to provide a look of motion. The demeanor still says minivan, but it says it in a contoured, new-school way, accented by color-keyed heated power outside mirrors, color-keyed bumpers, door handles and body side moldings, privacy glass, integrated color-keyed rear spoiler with center high-mount stop lamp and concealed intermittent rear window wiper.
Under the sculpted hood the all-wheel-drive LE powered up with an optional 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 266 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque. Toyota also offers a 187-hp/186 lbs-ft of torque, 2.7-liter four-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic that returns 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, but could be underpowered for this application.
The 3.5-liter is EPA rated 18/24 mpg with a 20-gallon tank, and a week of mixed-use tests produced an average of 19.7mpg for my test ride. Sienna’s TDI ignition and EFI fuel system provides the efficiency.
The V-6 showed good acceleration on the track, sprinting from zero to 60mph in a surprising 8 seconds flat, while navigating a quarter-mile in 16 seconds. Pick-up at speed on the highway is generous despite some wheel over-rev, and while the ride is firm, the electric power steering responds heavily and cornering displays apparent but easily controllable body roll, a bit of top-wobble and some understeer. Independent McPherson struts up front with stabilizer bar, and a torsion beam rear suspension with a stabilizer bar, plus four-wheel anti-lock brake system with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution demonstrate a comfortable, secure experience for driver and those onboard.
The 7-passenger lounge-seating interior measures a family-room spacious 41 inches of front headroom (39.1 with a moonroof), 39.7 inches in the middle and 38.3 inches in the rear. Legroom is a comfortable 40.5 up front, 37.6 in row two and 36.3 in row three, while shoulder room comes in at 65.0, 64.6 and 61.1. Cargo volume is 87.1 cubic feet behind row two and 39.1 cubic feet behind the third row.
My Salsa Pearl Red house-in-motion was coupled with a light gray fabric inside and contained a push button start, rear-seat entertainment (option) with a 16.4-inch LCD screen which operates in two view modes: a single 16:9-ratio widescreen or two separate 4:3-ratio split screens with separate wireless headphones. Also in the cabin are remote keyless entry with lock, two-stage unlock, and panic function; fabric-trimmed 6-way driver’s captain’s chair with seat back pocket; removable fabric-trimmed second row captain’s chairs with tip up and long slide features 4-way front passenger captain’s chair with seat back pocket; tri-zone manual CFC-free air conditioning with air filter and rear control panel; tilt/telescopic steering wheel, analog speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, LCD odometer, and trip meters; overhead console with map lights, door light setting, dome light control, conversation mirror, and sunglass holder; 10 cup holders and retractable assist grips at all outboard seating positions.
Safety items include electronic brake assist; electronic stability and traction control systems, active frontal anti-whiplash head restraints; full-length curtain airbags overhead; side, head, passenger and depowered airbags and individual tire pressure monitoring system.
The Sienna LE’s base price is set at $31,330. Options included: Towing prep option ($220); Paint protection film ($395); Roof rack cross bars ($185); Wheel locks ($67); Mudguards ($99); First aid kit ($29); Emergency assistance kit ($70) and Delivery, processing and handling charges of $810 for a drive-off of $33,205 plus tax and license, but incentives abound, so check your local dealer.
A luxury house on wheels for $33,205 is an aggressive buy in any market.
> Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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