2011 Toyota SiennaPosted on December 18th, 2009
Third-generation minivan features new sport grade
By Nina Russin
What was once old is new again. The minivan is, after all, the original active lifestyle vehicle. At its peak in the late 1990s, the minivan segment commanded a million unit sales annually.
Minivans are more aerodynamic, and hence get better gas mileage than sport-utility vehicles; yet they hold as many passengers and carry as much gear. The 2011 Toyota Sienna that rolls out in February is available with all-wheel drive. Three rows of seating hold up to eight passengers. The V6 model’s 3500-pound towing capacity meets our ALV minimum standard.
A new sport grade with a unique exterior, larger wheels and special suspension tuning rivals like-sized crossover vehicles.
Five grades, two engines and a more versatile interior
For the first time, Toyota is offering a four-cylinder engine, available in the base and LE front-wheel drive models. The 2.7-liter block is the same engine available in the Venza crossover vehicle. MSRP for the new base four-cylinder Sienna will be less than the current base V6.
The 3.5-liter V6 in the 2011 Sienna carries over from the current model, retuned for better power and performance. Both four and six-cylinder engines come with a new six-speed automatic transmission that provides a more fluid ride. All-wheel drive is available on the LE, XLE and Limited grades with the V6 engine only.
Toyota expects the LE V6 to be the volume leader. All models come with three-zone climate control, and a tip-and-slide feature in the second row. Second-row seats fold flat and move up to two feet fore and aft, to maximize legroom and ease third-row access. The middle second-row seat is removable: it stows in the rear quarter panel.
A center console is optional, which is surprising for a minivan. Designers believe that the standard two piece glovebox will satisfy most buyers’ storage needs. The bottom glovebox is large enough to hold a purse: the top section has compartments for holding the owner’s manual and other car documents.
An open tray at the base of the center stack provides additional storage, as do smaller cubbyholes around the passenger compartment. All passengers have ample access to cupholders and storage pockets.
Third-row seats tumble into the floor using a single lever on the seatbacks. With the third-row seats folded into the floor, the Sienna meets our bicycle-friendly standards.
Two upscale models, the XLE and Limited, come with a host of comfort and convenience features, including keyless ignition, a two-panel moon roof, Bluetooth interface and second-row lounge seating.
Limited buyers can add dynamic radar cruise control, which maintains a pre-set distance between the Sienna and the car in front. A panorama-view backup camera, available on upscale grades with navigation, provides a wider view to the back than competitive systems.
Test drive in southern California
I had the chance to test drive the new Sienna at a recent media event in Orange County. Toyota had pre-production versions of all five grades on hand. I drove three: the four-cylinder LE, LE V6, and sporty SE.
The four-cylinder engine performs surprisingly well, given the Sienna’s size and curb weight. Peak torque for the 187-horsepower engine comes on at 4100 rpm, giving it good acceleration in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range. The four-cylinder Sienna accelerates hard enough off the line to move out of a toll booth with ease, and has enough power on the high end to pass slower vehicles on the highway.
Fuel economy from the four-cylinder engine is not as good as one might expect. Toyota estimates fuel economy to be 26 miles-per-gallon on the highway: 22 mpg for city and highway driving combined.
Average fuel economy for my thirty-mile test drive was just over 18 miles-per gallon. The V6 engine provided the same, if not better gas mileage.
Engineers did an excellent job with steering feedback on all models. While some electric power steering systems make the driver feel disconnected from the car, the one in the Sienna does not.
Steering response is lighter for the base model that the sporty SE. In both cases, there is ample assist at low speeds, with positive on-center response on the highway.
The seventeen-inch wheels on the base model provide an adequate footprint to keep the car stable. Engineers increased the Sienna’s front and rear track to enhance interior space. The wider track has the additional advantage of better high-speed performance.
Though the all-wheel drive model has better wet weather performance, the front-wheel drive Sienna feels remarkably balanced. This was especially impressive on the sport grade, which I drove on a twisting two-lane road in the Cleveland National Forest.
Lower, leaner, meaner
Sienna chief engineer, Mori, is a sports car enthusiast with a young daughter. The Sienna SE is his version of a family hot rod.
Mori lowered the chassis to make the SE more stable at speed, gave it quicker steering response and a firmer suspension. A mesh grille, ground effects and nineteen-inch wheels add style to the exterior. Inside, textured leather upholstery and unique instrumentation provides sport sedan ambience.
The V6 engine is better matched to the car’s curb weight, providing ample power for accelerating up steep hills and high-speed driving.
Traffic on the two-lane Ortega highway prevented me from getting too jiggy behind the wheel of the SE. But given the opportunity to push the car through a series of corkscrew turns, the Sienna met the challenge with aplomb.
Visibility around the car is excellent. Designers at Toyota’s Calty studio achieved the youthful appearance they were looking for without resorting to thick side and rear pillars.
A standard rear spoiler enhances aerodynamic performance, and conceals the rear wiper. Additional air foils underneath the car improve fuel economy and reduce noise intrusion inside the cabin.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the car in a firm, linear fashion. The SE’s sport-tuned suspension and larger wheels keep the chassis flat in the corners.
New interior features
Before beginning work on the new Sienna, Mori logged close to three thousand miles on a cross-country minivan road trip. But rather than driving the outgoing model, he brought over an Alphard from Japan.
The Alphard is the largest, most luxurious minivan sold in Japan, with comfort and convenience features unfamiliar to American buyers.
Using feedback from people he met during his road trip, Mori incorporated some of the Alphard’s interior features into the third-generation Sienna. An example is the second-row lounge seats on the Limited grade. The lounge seats resemble business class seats on an airplane, with elevated leg and footrests.
The dual-view entertainment system is also new for North America. A single DVD monitor can project two separate movies simultaneously, or a single feature in an extra-wide format.
I was impressed by the amount of head, hip and legroom for all three rows of seating. The middle position in the second row is surprisingly comfortable. Without the optional center console, the middle passenger has plenty of room to stretch out.
Third-row seats are easy to get in and out of, with enough head and legroom for a small adult.
Rear climate controls are located in the headliner behind the B pillar. Four ceiling vents circulate air throughout the back of the cabin.
All models come with seven standard airbags, antilock braking, electronic stability and traction control. All-wheel drive models come with run-flat tires. Limited models get Toyota’s SafetyConnect, which automatically notifies police and EMTs if the airbags deploy.
Automatic high beam headlamps on the Limited grade dim when a car approaches from the opposite direction.
Cars equipped with the optional navigation system can receive real-time traffic updates with satellite radio subscription.
Rolling out in February
Sienna production begins in late January at Toyota’s Princeton, Indiana assembly plant. The first V6 models arrive in dealerships next February, with four-cylinder and SE models following in April. The manufacturer will announce pricing closer to roll-out.
Likes: A versatile minivan with excellent road manners and segment-leading safety features. Cargo space behind the third-row seat is surprisingly spacious.
Dislikes: Levers to operate the tip and slide function on second row seats are stiff. Pushing the seats from the folded configuration back to their original positions requires some muscle.
Base price: N/A
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 266 Hp @ 6200 rpm.*
Torque: 245 Hp @ 4700 rpm.
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 19/26 mpg city/highway
Comments: *Performance specifications are for the V6, front-wheel drive model.
**Thirty-five hundred pound towing capacity is for the V6 model equipped with the optional towing prep package.
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