And, believe it or not, there are situations where you might want to drive the new Sienna aggressively. In an apparent attempt to appeal to younger buyers, Toyota is offering a distinctly sporty, V6-only SE model. It includes firmer dampers, springs, and antiroll bars along with nineteen-inch wheels (seventeen-inch aluminum wheels are standard). Sienna chief engineer Kazuo Mori, a go-kart racer on his own time, adds that he personally took charge of retuning the SE’s electric power steering for better feel and precision. Topping it all off are sporty fender skirts and front and rear fascias that make the van look a bit like a plus-size Mazda 5.
Charging up the Ortega highway, with sharp dropoffs to one side and motorcycles buzzing by on the other, the SE demonstrates remarkably good body control. Some minivan buyers might not appreciate the slight ride penalty, as the stiffer dampening exposes the torsion-beam rear axle’s difficulty articulating over imperfect surfaces. The SE-specific power assist however, is perfect for this application, and it makes us wonder why other Siennas are still saddled with completely lifeless, numb steering.
“The Toyota way,” offers Mori with a wry smile, explaining that some higher-ups still feel that Toyota’s family vehicles should offer pillow-soft rides and finger-light steering.
This oversight aside, all Siennas are pleasant and easy to drive. The new six-speed automatics shift smartly and allow even the 187-hp four-cylinder to keep up with stop-and-go traffic and changing gradients. Ride and road isolation are excellent, and the mostly carryover platform remains commendably stiff, emitting nary a rattle or squeak, even on our preproduction test vehicles.
Overall, the new Sienna doesn’t bring any real innovations, but it remains supremely competent and versatile. That, combined with a promised price drop, should be enough to retain the true believers who wear the soccer-mom badge proudly.