2011 Toyota Sienna SEPosted on October 18th, 2011
Eight passenger minivan for active families
By Nina RussinMinivans seem to be the Rodney Dangerfields of the car world, and I can’t quite understand why. While they might not have the acceleration of formula cars or the exhaust notes of a werewolf, minivans are a practical, fuel efficient option for active families.
One-box architecture makes minivans more slippery in the airstream than two-box crossovers and sport-utility vehicles, for better fuel economy. Sliding side doors make it easier to load child seats in the car in tight parking spots. Toyota’s have bullet-proof pinch protectors so kids can’t get in accidents.
When Toyota introduced the most recent iteration of its eight-passenger Sienna, engineers diversified the product offerings to include both luxury and sport models. The Sienna Swagger Wagon, a customized XLE featured at last year’s SEMA show, proved yet again that the terms “hot rod” and “minivan” are by no means mutually exclusive.
The SE is part of a five grade strategy which ranges from the base model to the upscale Limited. Buyers can choose between front and all-wheel drive versions, both powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine. An Eco option optimizes the Sienna’s fuel economy when power demands are low, to further improve gas mileage.
A six-speed automatic transmission provides large overdrive gears to extend fuel economy on the highway. The front-wheel drive Sienna averages 20 miles-per-gallon in combined city and highway driving according to the EPA: pretty good for a 4500 pound car. I averaged just over 20 miles-per-gallon on my 150-mile road trip to Tucson. Towing capacity is 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV minimum standard.
Base price for the front-wheel drive SE is $30,550, not including an $800 delivery charge. Standard features include Toyota’s Star safety system, cruise control, first and second-row captain’s chairs, tri-zone air conditioning and a MP3 compatible audio system.
A premium option package on the test car adds automatic climate control, rear window sunshades, an upgraded audio system, Bluetooth connectivity and steering wheel audio controls ($1545). Carpeted floor mats and a security system add $324 and $299 respectively, bringing the price as tested to $33,518.
Road trip to TucsonAlthough the Toyota Sienna is a large car, it doesn’t feel big to drive. The turning radius is an astounding 36.9 feet. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to perform U-turns in a car with a 119-inch wheelbase.
The engine has ample power for acceleration off the line and into highway traffic. Peak torque is available at 4700 rpm: about three quarter throttle. This not only enhances the Sienna’s acceleration, but towing as well.
The six-speed automatic transmission performs fluidly at all speeds. The only time I noticed any shift shock was during hard acceleration.
Steering response from the electric rack-and-pinion system is quite good, feeling much like a conventional hydraulic setup. The electric motor assist saves weight under the hood and reduces parasitic power loss as compared to hydraulic mechanical systems.
The independent front and torsion beam rear suspension provides a compliant but not overly soft ride. Stabilizer bars on both axles prevent the chassis from rolling in the corners. Nineteen-inch alloy wheels dress up the exterior and provide an ample footprint for high-speed driving.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in a firm, linear fashion.
Visibility to the front and sides is quite good. The sunshades take a little getting used to, but are transparent enough to allow the driver to see outside the car.
Because of its length and height, there are some large blind spots to the rear of the car, and underneath the back glass. They are most noticeable driving in reverse. A rear backup camera which displays a wide angle view to the back of the car makes a big difference in visibility, especially pulling out of vertical parking slots. It also enables parents to see small children who might inadvertently wander behind the car.
Engineers did an excellent job of minimizing noise intrusion into the passenger compartment, which is especially important for a vehicle with three rows of seating. Passengers in back should have no problems conversing with those up front.
Removable center seat enhances access to the back
Third-row seats, while practical, can be difficult to climb in and out of. Kids might easily scamper around the second-row seat, but adults can struggle. Toyota has solved the problem by making the center seat in the second row removable.
Although it looks quite narrow, the seat is actually very comfortable to sit in. When not in use, it can be stashed under the front center console, creating an alternate pathway to the back of the car.
User-friendly interiorThoughtful seating design is just one of the interior features distinguishing the Sienna’s design. Large, functional bins around all of the passengers, an abundance of cup and bottle holders, and comfortable supportive seating make the Sienna a veritable living room on wheels.
Up front, designers located the gate shift lever for the transmission on the instrument panel, leaving more room for storage bins between the driver and front passenger. A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view and a safe distance from the front airbag.
Both the gauge cluster and the digital information display in the center stack are easy to read in bright sunlight and at night. Redundant audio controls on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction.
A power liftgate makes it easier to load up the back. Standard roof rails on the SE enable owners to hook up an overhead roof rack for larger gear.
The Toyota Sienna comes with front, side, driver’s knee, and three-row side curtain airbags, four-channel antilock brakes, stability and traction control.
The 2011 Sienna is on display at Toyota dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A stylish, versatile minivan with a high level of standard safety. The Sienna is exceptionally maneuverable for such a large vehicle.
Model: Sienna SE
Base price: $30,550
As tested: $33,518
Horsepower: 266 Hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 245 lbs.-ft. @ 4700 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Fuel economy: 18/24 mpg city/highway
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