2011 Toyota Sienna

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It’s interesting to note that while all-wheel-drive is spreading to virtually every type of car on the road, it’s becoming a rarity among minivans. As of 2011, only the Toyota Sienna still offers it.

And there’s something else, too.

You can now get a four-cylinder engine in the Sienna – a potentially more economical powerplant than the big V-6s that come standard in the Toyota’s rivals, including the Honda Odyssey and the just-refreshed 2011 Chrysler Town & Country.

It may not end up saving you all that much gas – but there’s no question it can save you  money up front. Speaking of which: The 2011 Sienna’s sticker price is about $3,200 less than the base price of a new Honda Odyssey – and $5,600 less than the new T&C. It’s even about $30 less than the base price of the former value leader, Kia’s Sedona. 

WHAT IT IS

The Sienna is a 7-8 passenger full-size minivan available in either FWD or AWD versions and with either a four-cylinder or V-6 engine. Prices start at $24,560 for the base FWD model with 2.7 liter four-cylinder engine and top out at $39,745 for an AWD-equipped, V-6 powered Mobility/Access version.

WHAT’S NEW

The 2011 Sienna receives a major update for 2011 that includes a newly available economy-minded  four-cylinder engine in the base FWD model, new exterior and interior design, plus new features such as available second row captain’s chairs with fold out footrests and a split-screen monitor with the optional DVD entertainment system. 

WHAT’S GOOD

Up to eight-passenger capacity.

Available AWD.

Available four cylinder engine.

Undercuts both Odyssey and T&C on price, even when comparably equipped.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Four cylinder’s rated (and real -world) mileage not much better than optional V-6’s.

May be more van than you really need.

UNDER THE HOOD

The new Sienna offers two engines – a first. You can get an economy-minded 2.7 liter four-cylinder, or choose the more powerful 3.5 liter V-6.

The 187 hp four-cylinder is the standard engine in the base (seven passenger) FWD Sienna. It’s paired with a six-speed automatic and is rated 19 city/26 highway by the EPA.

The V-6 comes standard in the step-up LE (eight passenger) version of the Sienna and is rated at 265 hp – putting it ahead of the Honda Odyssey’s standard 248 hp 3.5 liter V-6 and behind the new Town & Country’s class-leading 283 hp 3.6 liter V-6.

Neither the T&C nor the Odyssey are available with four-cylinder engines.

The Sienna’s V-6 also comes with a six-speed automatic but you can choose either FWD or (optionally) go with a full-time AWD system – a feature not offered in either the T&C or the Odyssey (or the Kia Sedona). 

EPA mileage stats for the V-6 equipped Sienna with FWD are 18 city, 24 highway and 16 city, 22 highway with the optional AWD system.

Expect a 0-60 time of about 9 seconds with the 2.7 liter engine; the V-6 version is considerably swifter, capable of getting there in about 7.7 seconds.

For reference, that’s about as quick as a Mazda Miata sports car.

ON THE ROAD

Time gives perspective – and appreciation – for the engineering Great Leaps Forward made over the past 25 years. The first-generation minivans of the early-mid 1980s were basically economy cars (K-cars) with a box bolted on top of them. They felt cheap, they looked cheap, they drove cheap. There was nothing to like about them except their practicality. A modern minivan like the Sienna is a completely different animal. It is solid-feeling, powerful, quiet and luxurious – and can even be hustled around the corners, if you feel the need.

The Sienna’s new four-cylinder engine isn’t a Saturn V rocket, but 187 hp from a four-cylinder engine is about 87 hp more than the four cylinders of the early-mid ’80s were making. It’s certainly enough to get the van from “a” to “b” – though it’s easy to see why Toyota doesn’t offer AWD (or eight-passenger seating) with this engine. The extra weight would likely push the 0-60 time into Prius Territory (or worse) while also killing the four’s fuel economy potential. Which, by the way, isn’t much – just 1-2 MPGs better than the V-6 overall – but you do save about $1,100 bucks up front by not buying the V-6 and that’s equivalent to about six months’ worth of free gas at current prices all by itself.

With the V-6, meanwhile,the Sienna is capable of outrunning – or at least, keeping pace with – a Miata or Z4 BMW in a straight line, stoplight-to-stoplight drag race. It’s a great way for the Family Guy to have his revenge. Truth be told, the V-6 is probably more powerful than many (probably most) drivers of minivans will probably ever need. So equipped, the Sienna will easily sail into the land of 100-plus; 80, 90 mph is deceptively effortlessly. You’ll need to keep track of things to avoid Johnny Law because this big beast is so subtly fast.

For some perspective on that: The V-6 Sienna is as quick – and just about as fast on the top end – as a 1983 Mustang GT with a “high output” 5 liter V-8 was back in the day.

That’s how far – and fast – we’ve come in 25-something years.

And check this out: Even the base four-cylinder/FWD Sienna comes standard with 17 inch alloy wheels and if you want, you can order a Sport package (on V-6 versions) that ups the rolling stock to 19 inches. This minivan offers a more aggressive wheel-tire package than a mid-’80s Corvette!

Another thing to mention: The Sienna is big!

200.2 inches long, 78.1 inches wide. It rides on a 119.3 inch wheelbase – two inches longer than a Lincoln Town Car’s.

The Sienna’s two chief competitors are similarly plus-sized (the 2011 Chrysler T&C is actually two inches longer overall and rides on a Rolls-Royce-like 121.2 inch wheelbase).

Despite its size, the new Sienna is very manageable to drive and doesn’t feel as big as it really is – probably because most of the length is behind you. There’s only about three feet of Sienna from the windshield forward. That makes it easy to judge how much room you’ve got available during parking maneuvers while the light, electric-assisted power steering (and remote-view back-up camera) makes it easy to execute such maneuvers.

Overall, I found it much tighter feeling than the previous Sienna, which was noticeably easier to unsettle than the Honda Odyssey. Barf bags for the back seat riders are no longer needed. 

The Sienna’s Large Marge proportions only become hard not to notice when you slide it into your garage.

AT THE CURB

Well, it’s a minivan.

Even though several major car companies – Ford and GM – have entirely dropped traditional minivans from their product portfolios, they weren’t dropped because the concept is unsound. The GM and Ford vans were just crappy vans. The Sienna isn’t (neither is the Odyssey – as far as the Chrysler… well…. ). Yes, it can be a family bus; but it can also be a luxury bus, if you move up the trim line.

The standard Sienna is family-ready as it sits: Dual sliding doors, three-zone AC/heat, power windows, locks, cruise control and a better-than-decent AM/FM stereo with CD player and MP3 hook-up. At $24,560 sticker, this version of the Sienna is extremely affordable compared with the Odyssey, Chrysler T&C and even the much-touted value leader in this segment, the Kia Sedona – which is actually slightly more expensive than the Sienna at $24,595 to start. Don’t automatically rule out the four cylinder engine, either. Drive one first. You may find it to be plenty – and could save yourself a solid grand.  

But what makes the new Sienna really shine is that you can upgrade to the V-6 and eight-passenger seating, order AWD – and toss in some very nice luxury/convenience features on top of that – and still come in well below the pushing $40k (and over $40k) price of a higher-trim but still FWD-only Odyssey or T&C.

There are some other things to note about the Sienna, too.

One is that new SE Sport package – which in addition to the mondo 19 inch wheels also includes a snarkier-looking front clip with fog lights, mesh grille inserts along with a body kit for the side panels tinted headlights and tail lights. The package gives buyers who may have been attracted to the sportier-looking but smaller Nissan Quest a good reason to shop Toyota instead And it gives would-be Odyssey and T&C buyers another Sienna “plus” they can’t find in the Honda and Chrysler vans. Let alone the very traditionally minivan Kia Sedona. 

You can also get a pair of super-nice second row captain’s chairs in the Sienna that have their own fold-out footrests – just like your favorite TV-watching chair at home. These ride in long-travel tracks that allow the chairs to be pushed back so far that you can’t touch the backs of the front seats with your feets on a dare.

On Limited trims, the third row seats power fold themselves into the floor at the touch of a button.

And there’s that factory Mobility/Access package which preps the Sienna to handle a wheelchair or scooter.

The optional rear-seat DVD system has an unusual (maybe unique) and definitely useful split screen display monitor that lets users watch two different things at the same time. You can even order Lexus-like technology such as rain-sensing wipers and Adaptive Cruise Control that automatically adjust the Sienna’s following speed in relation to the ebb and flow of traffic, keeps it from going faster than your dialed-in speed when going down a steep grade – and so on.

The Chrysler T&C and Odyssey also offer similar high-end luxury amenities, but generally, they cost more when comparably equipped and AWD isn’t available in those two at any price.

Sienna wins on cargo space, too: 150 cubic feet (with the second row seats out and the third row folded) vs. 148.5 in the Honda and – surprisingly – 143.8 in the 2011 T&C. Surprising, because the T&C is physically a little bigger than both the Sienna and the Odyssey.

So, it appears that Sienna’s pretty much got all the bases covered. The base model is now the most affordable full-sized van on the market – even if it’s only by about $30 – while the higher-trimmed Limited is as opulent and up-to-date as the very nicely fitted out and finished Honda Odyssey, while being a much better bet reliability and re-sale value wise (no offense) than the historically not-so-great in that department Chrysler T&C.

The Sporty SE, meanwhile, crosses lances with the Nissan Quest, taking care of that loose end.

THE REST

Is there a downside? If you’re in the market for an eight-passenger minivan, not that I can see.

Well, there is the warranty issue… 

Toyota is still peddling a pretty skimpy three year/36,000 mile comprehensive on this unit (five years/60,000 miles on the powertrain) vs. the industry-best five year, 60,000 mile comprehensive and ten year/100,000 mile powertrain coverage Kia gives you. But the counter argument there is the Sienna’s a much nicer van (better finished, quieter, more luxurious, etc.) than the Sedona and it now costs less (to start) and (if history is any guide) will probably hold onto its value longer.

Honda’s coverage is the same as Toyota’s. So’s Chrysler – but I wouldn’t trust ’em that far while I’d be ok with either the Honda or the Toyota. Again, no offense. Just a reality check. Chrysler has a long way to go – and may or may not get there.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Whatever your needs – and budget – there’s probably a Sienna that meets them.

Throw it in the Woods?

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Eric –

    You refer to the Sienna as both a “full-size minivan” and “the most affordable full-sized van” in the same article. I know that the latter quote is probably a typo, but what about the former? “Full size minivan”? I’m not aware of any distinctly “mini” minivans. The Nissan Quest isn’t so small that it could support making such a distinction here.

    On a related matter, what are your thoughts regarding the suggestion that VW microbus (or the seat-forward Ford and Dodge adjuncts of the 60s) really pioneered the minivan?

    -Jim

    (Apologies if this post appears twice.)

    • Hi James,

      Usually, “minivan” just means a traditional front-wheel-drive-based (yep) minivan! A “van” can be shorthand for minivan but used to – and probably still does – imply a RWD-based machine like the Ford Econoline or the old Chevy Astro, etc. I’ll fix the story to address any confusion – thanks for the input!

      Chrysler is typically given credit for the modern minivan, the K-car based Caravan of the early ’80s. It can be debated, of course. The argument is that the Caravan was the first car-based/ FWD minivan while the others you mention were based on more traditional RWD layouts, etc. It’s not unlike the who created the first muscle car argument. Many say the Chrysler letter series, not the ’64 GTO. Others go back even farther…

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