In the second row, passenger assist handles are integrated into overhead, outboard modules along with reading lamps and air vents. Bag hooks and map pockets are included on the backs of the first-row seats. (Bag hooks are also found behind the third row.) Caution must be used when stepping through the sliding door while the DVD screen is in the down position, for it's easy to bump your head. Power windows in the sliding doors are a welcome feature, and sun shades here and in the third row shield occupants. The naughty pups that are the second-row seats struggle when you try to take them out, but the split-folding third row is as easy as Madeleine Kahn in Young Frankenstein. Three chirps sound to let you and the neighbors know when the power tailgate rises and drops.
Although the V-6 engine is quite vivacious, no one besides the driver will notice this or anything else about the way the Sienna drives. It's meant to shroud (if not to numb) everyone from the outer world. While there is never any jostling, the feather-light, power rack-and-pinion steering and the strut-front and torsion-beam rear suspension do collaborate to keep the driver involved. The AWD version we tested exhibited pronounced understeer, as if we were trying to direct France into Iraq. Plastic pieces in the interior jangled on our bumpy roads, but those wireless headphones shielded second-row passengers from any inconvenience.
What distinguishes the Sienna XLE AWD from the competition? The answer is found when you look up through the extra-large sunroof or raise the third-row sunshade. Or when you back out of a parking spot or swing into one: no minivan will raise more of a protective clamor. The optional all-wheel drive-a plus in the tougher climate zones-is another distinguishing factor. But generally speaking, this minivan meets the category's broadest parameters without in any way exceeding them. It pleases in most every way, neither shocking nor spooking, and always provides an aura of safety and security. Yes, we see the appeal.