Toyota had a rough start in the American minivan market, competing with small, decidedly Japanese models against the larger, boxy domestic purveyors that defined the segment. Finally, the first-generation Sienna brought Toyota into the fray, sharing platform and powertrain–and resultant refinement–with the beloved Camry, but the Sienna still trailed the leaders slightly in size. For the current Sienna, Toyota analyzed its competition and unashamedly adopted all the best elements and technologies from those vehicles into a single, quality vehicle engineered to a high standard. Launched as a 2004 model, the current Sienna doesn’t need to make apologies, boasting the size, power, flexibility, and features required to stand tall in this mature market segment. Available in CE, LE, XLE, and XLE Limited models, the well-executed Sienna can be had as a basic family hauler or loaded with Lexus-grade premium content.
The Sienna’s new creases and angles are a great improvement over the styling of the first-generation van. Roll-down windows in the sliding rear doors are a fun new feature, as the kids in back will have a much easier time signaling truckers to honk their horns. That should be enough entertainment to postpone the “are we there yets” for awhile. The standard 16-inch steel wheels aren’t as sad looking as some competitors’, but upgrading to an LE model with optional aluminum wheels brings a more upscale presence, with notable features such as a roof rack, privacy glass, and heated side mirrors.
The Sienna’s interior design screams “Toyota” as loudly as the exterior. It’s not as handsome as that of the , but it approaches Lexus-like in top trim. The gear selector is sensibly located in the middle of the center stack, and directly above that are user-friendly climate controls. Drivers with short arms may complain that the high-mounted stereo controls are hard to reach; Toyota might consider swapping the radio and vent positions. As you move up toward the Sienna’s near-$40,000 maximum price, the list of interior options grows longer than a McDonald’s order from six hungry soccer-game-winning passengers. This list includes leather, a number of seating options–adjustable bench seats, sliding captain’s chairs, and eight-passenger configurations–a 10-speaker sound system, in-dash CD changer, satellite navigation, DVD entertainment system (with handy power and A/V jacks), a moonroof, heated seats, park assist with a rear camera display on the navigation screen, and sun shades for both the middle and rear windows. The third row of seats conveniently splits and folds flat into the floor.
The lengthy list of safety gear helps make the Sienna one of the most appealing family conveyances on the road. Although with standard ABS and dual front airbags, the stripped-down LE model is by no means remarkable, the costlier models can be had with traction control, stability control, tire-pressure monitoring, run-flat tires, and practically enough side and side curtain airbags to allow the van to float. All-wheel drive is also optional, making a case for this van as a SUV alternative, especially in snow-belt states. And like a mom warning us to “Be careful!” when we go out to play, the Sienna emits a beep whenever it senses danger. Beep! The traction control is engaged. Beep! The parking assist says you’re about to collide with an obstacle. Beep! The automatic doors are closing. It’s like making a wrong move in a game of “Operation.” If you can tolerate the din of beeps, the Sienna is sure a safe place to be.
Propelling the Sienna is Toyota‘s innovative 3.3-liter DOHC V-6 with VVT-i variable valve timing. Mated to a smooth five-speed automatic transmission, the 230-horsepower motor, with 242 lb-ft of torque, moves the Sienna down the road at a respectable pace, in minivan terms, at least. Upshifts are quick and downshifts are unnoticeable to all but the most sensitive of drivers. EPA fuel economy for front-drive models is 19/27 mpg–two miles per gallon less than a Camry sedan with the same engine–and mid-pack for minivans, with some Honda Odyssey models bettering it on the highway by one mpg. The only drawback is the sticker under the gas cap demanding pricey premium fuel.
Behind the Wheel
The driving experience in the Sienna is one of confidence and security. The suspension does an admirable job managing bounce, pitch, and roll, giving the Sienna a surefooted feel and a comfortable ride. Steering is light and buttery smooth. The modest 3.3-liter engine delivers impressive off-the-line performance, though it’s much less responsive during part-throttle conditions, where the vehicle’s weight and mannered transmission seem to limit verve. Brake responsiveness and stopping distances are merely average, with a gradual reaction requiring added attentiveness in stop-and-go traffic. All told, the Sienna provides a refined, daresay soft, driving experience conducive to passenger comfort. Most drivers will be quite satisfied with the dynamic performance for such a large vehicle, though the Honda Odyssey does have an edge in this department.
The Sienna is great for drivers who require the people- and cargo-toting versatility a minivan offers, yet want a refined, civilized vehicle. Those looking for more flare and performance might be happier in the handsome Honda Odyssey, and Chrysler‘s clever Stow ‘N Go seating/storage system and minivan-pioneering heritage may be more attractive to some others. Drivers begging for attention will be drawn to Nissan‘s artsy Quest or possibly GM’s awkward, snout-nosed vans. But those who prize quality, safety, reliability, and a touch of Lexus refinement in their people-mover will undoubtedly revel in the many pleasures the Sienna offers. Even on a diet of premium fuel, the 2005 Sienna earned an Excellent IntelliChoice Ownership Cost Value rating, solidifying it as a smart buy.
Though not the outgoing valedictorian of its class, the Sienna is a straight-A student with a promising future in the business of safe, efficient transportation.
- What’s HotQuality, valuePlethora of optional gadgetsClever foldaway rear-seating What’s NotNot the cutest gal aroundPremium fuel requiredCheaper models lack important features
As the new Sienna released last year, no notable changes were made for ’05.
As in all minivans, the must-have option here is the rear-seat DVD entertainment system, also known as cruise control for kids. With the entire family on board, electronic stability control and side and side-curtain airbags are important features. For those who face tough winters, the availability of all-wheel drive alone may be a deciding factor with the Sienna, as it’s a rare feature on minivans.
Others to Consider
Chrysler Town & Country, Honda Odyssey,