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Toyota Sienna a New Standard in Minivans

 By Jim Bray  Thursday, November 25, 2010

Minivans may not be particularly sexy, but they can be pleasant and convenient if your automotive needs require space to haul people and their stuff.
So it is with the 2011 Sienna, a minivan Toyota is daring to call “Comfortable, Convenient and above all, Cool.”

Cool isn’t something I’ve ever though would apply to minivans, and I don’t think it does here, either, but that doesn’t prevent the new Sienna from being a heckuva minivan, with plenty of room for hauling most of the stuff a family could want. And it is truly comfortable and convenient as well. It’s even pretty good to drive.

Sounds like a winner, if you’re looking for a minivan.

The new generation Sienna is available with reclining ottoman seats like you’d get on a La-Z-Boy, a split screen entertainment system, and a choice of powertrain and drivetrain options. My test unit didn’t have the ottoman, er, “ottoperson” seats or entertainment system, much to my chagrin, but it was equipped pretty well nonetheless, with a rear view backup camera, run flat tires (that eliminate needing to have a spare tire taking up valuable storage space), USB audio, satellite radio, three zone climate control and power sliding doors on the sides.

It’s pretty good to drive, too.

The 2011 Sienna features a new exterior starting up front with a kind of Corolla-like grille with projector-beam halogen headlamps and a rump that looks adapted from the Venza. This family resemblance is fine, also reminding one of the classic, dependable nature of the little Corolla and the much newer Venza’s excellent carrying capacity in its own right.

The base engine for the new Sienna is a 2.7 liter DOHC 16-valve dual VVT-i 4-cylinder thingy Toyota rates at 187 hp @ 5800 rpm and 186 lb.-ft. @ 4100 rpm. These figures are more than adequate in a car, but I’m not sure how rewarding they’d be if you have to shuttle a bunch of kids and equipment around, especially in hilly areas. On the other hand, other reviewers (not that they’d know anything!) have said the four banger is actually pretty good as long as you don’t need to stuff the Sienna to the gunwales all the time.

Fortunately, my test unit featured Toyota’s ubiquitous 3.5 liter DOHC 24-valve dual VVT-i V6, whose motivation in this incarnation (or should I say “In-van-nation”?) is rated at 266 hp @ 6200 rpm and 245 lb.-ft. @ 4700 rpm. Now that’s more like it! This is a very good engine and a very nice match when coupled as it is to something the size and general shape of a garden shed.

Siennas also come with a six speed Electronically Controlled automatic overdrive transmission with intelligence (ECT-i), and it even has manual shifting capability. Shifts are smooth and, though it may seem a little strange to have manual setting on a minivan, it came in very handy when going down hills; it would probably be great when the roads are less than clean and dry, too, though I had good weather during my test period.

You can also choose between front wheel drive and all wheel drive; my test vehicle had the latter and the system worked as well as necessary on dry roads. It would undoubtedly be a bonus in winter driving.

The Sienna dances the MacPherson Strut, up front at least, with gas-filled shock absorbers. Its fanny features a twist-beam suspension with coil springs (which magically become sport-tuned on the SE model) and gas-filled shock absorbers. There are stabilizer bars front and rear.

The electric power steering offers a good feel, and the power-assisted ventilated four wheel disc brakes with Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), and Brake Assist stop the vehicle well, with good pedal feel. The aluminum

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