Road Test Reviews, Toyota, Vehicles

2011 Toyota Sienna SE – Road Test

What came first – kids or minivans?
Do you buy a minivan because you’ve got kids or did you get kids because you bought a minivan?

When was the last time you looked at a minivan and said: “Wow, that looks pretty good.. I wonder how it handles?”

Yeah, me neither – until this past summer when I was parking next to a 2011 Toyota Sienna SE at the Toronto IndyCar race. It caught my eye because it was so big and the rear wing and side skirts actually made it… dare I say it… sporty looking!

I was at the auto show when Toyota launched the all-new Sienna, but since I’m neither a “van” person nor a parent – I just walked on by and checked out other vehicles like the Lexus convertible – that’s more my kind of car. So to be completely shocked and stunned by a good looking minivan is not the typical thing I do, so there was only one thing to do – book one for a Road Test….

First Impressions
This isn’t the first minivan I’ve taken out for a week-long test. I’ve tried the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country a couple of times as well as the wonderful Hyundai Entourage, but there was a purpose: my wife needed a van to transport her portable photo studio and we also did a head-to-head comparison a few years ago – just for fun and the amusement of our friends that have kids. This week there was no purpose other than to just drive it.

Jumping behind the wheel, the first thing I notice is the large steering wheel – I realize it’s a big van, but it’s not a city bus!! Later that day my wife got into the passenger seat and the first thing out of her mouth was: “This thing is huge – it’s like a school bus.” So we’ve established that the 2011 Sienna is a big van, but surely there’s more to it than that right?

Actually yes there’s way more than just the size of this to impress you. The price is also eye-popping – in a good way. After driving around in it all day I thought I’d check out the price – I try to make an educated guess before I get the actual price. For some odd reason, Toyota didn’t include the price with the press material, so I had to go on-line to “build” the vehicle. Before doing that I’d guessed it would be in the $42,500 price range. Well, when I saw the price on-line my eyes did a double-take – wow, I was way off. There are no options on the SE model – what you see is what you get. My wife’s usually bang-on when it comes to guessing the price of vehicles – I think it’s blind luck, but she insists it’s an educated guess based on what she thinks it’s worth. Well, she comes up with a price of $53,699 because this puppy’s loaded and massive!  I tell her the price is… (drum roll please)… $36,600.

“NO WAY!!!”
“There’s no way it’s that cheap!”
“Well it is.. check out the web site if you don’t believe me.”

Over the course of the week that we had the Sienna, everyone was gob-smacked when we told them the price. Seriously,  if Toyota tacked on $20,000 and changed the badge to a Lexus they’d have a hard time keeping them in stock. This is cheaper than a similarly spec’d Camry – but with way more room and luxury.  We’re still not sure how that’s possible!

The Sienna drives like a much smaller van, so the feeling of it being so huge dissipates quickly… until you climb back in the next day. To be honest, if you’re going to get a minivan it might as well be as big as possible – what’s the point of getting a little one? I parked it next to a friend of mine’s Chevy Venture “extended” van. He was sorely disappointed that his van was so much smaller than the Sienna, and that GM had the nerve to call it an extended version. As someone who actually chose to purchase one as opposed to needing one, he was very impressed with the Sienna. I’m thinking I just sold him his future van.

The 2011Sienna is slightly shorter and wider than the previous model- resulting in more responsive handling and greater interior volume according to Toyota. I didn’t drive the previous model, so I can’t really comment on that aspect. The sliding door openings have also been increased for greater ease of entry/exit, and without a doubt, they are the biggest openings I’ve ever seen in a van of any size! The “Power Sliding Door System” enables both side doors and the back door to be opened and closed with a push of a button on the key fob, by grabbing and releasing the door handle, or the driver can open and close them using buttons in the ceiling. I loved using the fob options when my arms were full or it was raining.

When I asked Toyota for the SE version of the Sienna, I was just expecting to get a regular Sienna with some extra body bits to make it look nicer, but I was wrong. Toyota have decided to add some more “sporty” touches to this version such as a Sport-tuned Suspension, Sport Calibrated Rack & Pinion Electric Power Steering With Variable Power Assist and unique 19″ Rims with P235/50R19 all-season tires. The SE also gets Sport Edition Gauge Cluster, Smoked Headlamps and Taillamps, Distinctive Seat Upholstery and Interior Trim, Sport Edition Front Bumper, Rear Bumper, Side Skirts and a power moonroof.

As mentioned earlier, there are no options to be added to the SE, so other standard features include: an automatic Tri-Zone Air Conditioning System (the driver can control all of it, or let the rear passengers control their own temperature settings), an 8-way power-adjustable driver’s chair with power lumbar and armrest, Tilt & Telescopic Steering Wheel, Leather Wrapped Steering Wheel & Shift Knob, Steering Wheel Audio Controls, Backup Camera, 3.5″ Multi-Information Display (MID), Overhead Console Box With Conversation Mirror, Sunglass Storage, and 2nd & 3rd Row Retractable Sunshades. I was a little surprised to find that the front seats weren’t heated and it didn’t come with automatic headlights, but otherwise, it comes with just about everything you could wish for and some things you wouldn’t have expected like the rear side windows that actually go down.

Sienna’s 3.5 Litre V-6 feature Dual Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i) generates 266 hp and 245 lb.ft of torque, offering class-leading power. The new engine is designed for low weight, low noise and vibration while producing greater fuel economy and fewer emissions than the previous generation. The V-6 models come equipped with a Tow Package that includes Engine Oil Cooler, Heavy Duty Radiator, 200W Fan, and coupling along with a towing capacity of 3,500 lbs (1,590 kg).

Power is more than adequate for the Sienna and I didn’t find any change in performance whether I was alone in the van or there were five people aboard.

There’s a little green “Eco” light in the gauge cluster. According to Toyota it’s for: “Use less fuel. Standard on all models, an Eco Driving Indicator that provides real-time assessment on driving efficiency. When Sienna is being driven in an ‘economical’ manner, an indicator light turns on .. as a visual encouragement and reinforcement of good driving habits.” Uh Ok, well I drove the Sienna as I would drive any vehicle and it didn’t make one bit of difference if there was a little green light or not. It remained on probably 99% of the time, so I was obviously hitting their target fuel economy without even trying. Incidentally, for the first time ever I did better than the on-board computer – it said I was getting 12.3 L/100 kms but I actually got an impressive 11.7 L/100 kms over the entire week … in a monstrous van!

The sound system comprises of an AM/FM CD with MP3/WMA Player, USB audio input, Bluetooth capability, integrated XM satellite radio, 6 Speakers, Vacuum Fluorescent Display (VFD) – which enables read-outs to be easily read even when wearing polarized glasses – a big problem in many of today’s digital read-out stereo systems. The artist/song information on MP3’s we had plugged into the USB jack was a bit of a hit and miss – every other song had no information displayed – I have no idea why as I label/rip/convert all my songs the same way (my wife says I just don’t know what I’m doing). The sound quality is quite good, but we felt it was lacking “something” we couldn’t put our fingers on. Oh wait … I found it – crank up the volume! Once I’d done that it was a superb sounding system (score one against having rugrats).

2nd Row Seats
Second-row seating is extremely generous and very adaptable. The SE model comes with seating for 8 and the second-row is very adaptable. The second row is actually captain’s chairs with a 40/20/40 arrangement and the centre seat is removable (it can be stored in the back). The seat features a “Tip-Up and Long Slide” function where the sliding rails are so long, the entire seat or part of it (it splits 60/40) can give the passengers very little room or as much as required. With the second-row set for a reasonable amount of knee/leg room, third-row occupants can still have a whopping 25cm (10″) of knee/legroom. Three adults can sit back there – as well as the third-row – quite easily. For added comfort, the second and third-row seats also recline.

3rd Row Seats
Sienna’s third-row seating is also very adaptable. The seat splits 60/40 and stows into the floor when not required. It features a wonderfully easy “One-Touch Split and Stow Mechanism” that folds seats flat for storage with one easy motion and using just one hand. When stowed, the back deck is completely flat. Pulling the seats out is as effortless are dropping them into the floor. I really liked having the option of the third-row seat being split so I didn’t have to put the entire seat away – just part of it.

Cargo capacity is every bit as generous. With the third-row seats folded into the floor and the second-row seats right up against the front seats, I measured 189cm long by 120cm wide by 112cm high – that’s absolutely incredible. With the second-row seats pushed all the way back for maximum leg space, the cargo area still measured 132cm long (and 120cm wide by 112cm high). With maximum seating in place, the Sienna still had a terrific 66cm by 120cm by 127cm of storage between the third-row seats and the back door thanks to the very deep bin that houses the third-row seats when they are folded away.

Toyota have taken the safety aspects of a minivan to the extreme by including all the following safety features as standard equipment: ABS with Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Traction Control (TRAC), an enhanced version of Toyota’s Vehicle Stability Control System (VSC). In the past, ABS, Brake Assist, Traction Control and VSC have acted independently. Enhanced VSC combines all of those systems, along with engine output and steering inputs to offer greater cornering and stopping performance. The 2011 Sienna comes with seven Airbags (dual-stage front and seat-mounted side airbags, a new driver-side knee airbag, side curtain airbags covers all three rows).

The Conclusion
Well we spent a week with the Sienna and it gave us no urges to pro-create, so the answer to the question I posed at the beginning has to be: the kids came first. For many people, ankle-biters and rugrats are an indelible part of life. For those people there can’t be anything more useful than a minivan for transporting the family – let’s face it, other than the Ford Flex no CUV or SUV comes close to providing the space and comfort needed. Some people buy them because they transport people and a car just doesn’t offer enough room. No one really wakes up one morning with the urge to purchase a minivan – they purchase them for their needs either now or in the future. If I had a family or needed to transport people on a regular basis, I wouldn’t even look at any other vans or CUV’s, I’d make a bee-line to my nearest Toyota dealership and buy a 2011 Sienna SE – at least I’d look cool while I was being practical.

It’s big, but drives small
The third-row seats split and disappear/appear using only one hand
Second-row seats are very easy to remove
Great price and value

Second-row seats don’t stow in the floor
No bum warmers

Immediate Competition:
Chrysler T & C, Dodge Caravan, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest

By The Numbers…
Please visit your local dealer for the latest prices and incentives.
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Powertrain:                  3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6 engine; Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVTi); 6-speed  Automatic transmission; FWD
Horsepower:                266 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque lb-ft:                245 @ 4,700 rpm
0-100 kph:                   N/A

Cargo Capacity:            Total – 425 L (150 cu.ft) // 2nd Row – 247 L (87.1 cu.ft) // 3rdRow – 111 L (39.1 cu.ft)
Curb Weight:                  2,010 Kg (4,460 lbs)
Wheelbase:                     3,030 mm
Towing capacity:         1,587 Kg (3,500 lbs)

Fuel Consumption:  (Regular Unleaded – 87 Octane)
City:  11.5 L/100 kms  //  Highway: 8.1 L/100 kms  //  Combined: 10.0 L/100 kms
I averaged 11.7 L/100 kms during city/town driving.

Pricing for the 2011 Toyota Sienna SE ($ Cdn)
Base Price / As Tested: $36,600
(Sienna Base Price: $27,900)
Destination & Delivery: $1,560

The 2011 Toyota Sienna is covered by a 3-year or 60,000 km vehicle warranty. The powertrain is covered for 5 years/100,000 kms. It also comes with a 3-year roadside assistance program.

Copyright © 2011 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland

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