2011 Toyota Sienna SE Review

Toyota’s new Sienna is better looking, but not necessarily better overall

2011 Toyota Sienna SE Review

The 2011 Toyota Sienna sports a bold new athletic look that separates it visually from the plethora of in-class offerings in today’s marketplace, and continues to blend the visual line between station wagon and minivan. From a rear three quarter view, the Sienna could easily be mistaken for a taller, wider, Prius with its clear taillight treatment and high door lines. Meanwhile, the nose of the Sienna looks like a stretched out Camry with its deep air dam and aggressively angled projector beam headlights. Our test model (the SE trim level) even came equipped with anthracite hued optional 19-inch wheels. On paper in may not sound all that attractive, and true enough, the look may in fact be polarizing. Any way you look at it though, Toyota’s move to take the previously mundane wallflower of a minivan and turn it into a dance floor diva is a good thing in the own-it-cause-you-must car world.

FAST FACTS

1. The all-new 2011 Sienna now comes in a sporty SE trim level with stiffer springs, tighter steering, 19-inch wheels, plus a new more aggressive front fascia, lower side skirts and a rear diffuser.

2. A new base 4-cylinder engine is offered for 2011 with 187-hp and a 19/24-mpg rating, while the larger 3.5L V6 makes 266-hp and gets an almost identical 18/24-mpg.

3. The Sienna continues to be the only minivan that offers AWD.

4. Cargo room behind the third row is 16.6 cu.-ft.

5. Pricing ranges from $24,260 to just under $40,000

SEVERAL TRIM LEVELS AND A NEW BASE ENGINE

There are, as in previous years, several Sienna trim levels, which is currently the only minivan on the market that offers optional all-wheel-drive. From base model in ascending order, the trims include the LE, SE, XLE, and Limited. The LE, XLE, and Limited offer either FWD or AWD formats, while our test vehicle SE is offered in front wheel drive only.

Although a powerful 3.5-liter V6 that churns out a healthy 266 horses is standard on the SE, XLE and Limited, the base LE comes with a new 2.7-liter 4 cylinder with a spunky 187 horsepower rating. (The LE offers the optional V6.)

TREMENDOUS CARGO ROOM, BUT QUALITY SEEMS DIMINISHED

The SE has room for eight, with a sliding middle seat bench that offers excellent legroom when the rear seats are stowed. Storage nooks and crannies abound in the Sienna, but so does the use of hard plastic surfaces throughout the interior. While the thick leatherette wrapped steering wheel feels substantial, and the leatherette trimmed cloth seats are comfortable, there is a subtle feeling of cost reduction measures to the new Sienna.

Driver seating position is upright and somewhat less sedan like than in previous models, and outward rear visibility is good, although judging distances around the massive front fenders does take some getting used to. The gauges are well placed and clearly visible, but the center dash mounted back up camera monitor is entirely too small. 

The 2011 Sienna offers enormous amounts of storage capacity with a truly cavernous 150 cubic feet of space available behind the front seats. There is still 87.1 cubic feet of room behind the 2nd row, when it is moved forward, and 39.1 cubic feet of storage behind the third row. There is also ample room for baby seats on the second and third rows, and the nifty sliding second row makes it that much easier to get a binky back in little Timmy’s mouth when he’s having a tantrum. However, why Toyota does not cover the back of the front seats with some type of more durable material is a mystery. It is the one area of the interior where a hard plastic surface would make sense, and stop damage from the inevitable sneaker marks when toddlers kick the seats.

SE TRIM HAS ITS DRAWBACKS TOO

The driving experience in the Sienna is something to be appreciated, although it also has its drawbacks when compared to the previous generation van. While the potent V6 makes passing maneuvers and freeway merges in the Sienna an effortless task, the lack of AWD on our test car did affect the confidence with which the Sienna accelerated, especially over bumpy surfaces. 

Speaking of bumps, washboard surfaces are the bane of the SE model. While speed humps and potholes are handled easily enough, save for an occasional unpleasant jarring, several bumps in quick succession sent a resonance down the length of the vehicle and reminded us quickly that we were driving a van and not a sedan. 

Although braking from the ABS equipped four wheel disc brakes is confidence inspiring, and the 19-inch wheels wrapped in substantial 235/50 tires offer predictable grip, some of the nimbleness from the 2010 seems to have been lost in the 2011.

At an EPA rated 18-mpg city and 24-mpg on the highway the 2011 Sienna, which is about 200 lbs heavier than the last model we tested, actually gets better fuel mileage than its predecessors, thanks in part to the smooth shifting and efficient 6-speed ECT-i automatic transmission. Those fuel economy numbers are, however, a few ticks short of the new Honda Odyssey.

Although there were no government safety ratings available at the time of our test, the Sienna is clearly safety conscious as it comes equipped with a vehicle stability control system, seatbelt pretensioners, and a veritable cornucopia of airbags throughout the vehicle.

NOT CHEAP

Price of admission for the Sienna is $24,260 for the base LE with the four cylinder – a reasonable starting price for an extremely utilitarian vehicle that is nice looking to boot.  However, the prices do climb, and quickly. By the time you look at the option laden Limited with AWD and the V6, you’re just shy of $50k. We are, after all, talking about a minivan here.

Our test model stickered at $33,518 with an options package that added $2,169 to the $30,550 base SE price and included power side and rear doors, individual temperature settings, a CD player with MP3 capability, USB iPod port, steering wheel mounted controls, floor mats and a security system among other items. The delivery and handling fee tacks on an extra $800.

Despite its 30 something price tag, our SE did not include AWD, full leather seating surfaces (cloth and kids don’t always mix), or even a DVD player. It doesn’t seem that Toyota spent the money where they should have in some areas. Sure, the wheels look great, but chances are you kids would appreciate the chance to lose themselves in another episode of Dora on your next extended road trip (something you’d probably prefer as well) rather than bragging to their friends that they’re riding on 19s.

THE VERDICT

All said and done, Toyota still makes one of the best minivans in the business.  However, with the new 2011 model one can’t help but feel that the economy and a need to cut costs has seeped its way into the Sienna. Although you can typically bank on Toyota’s legendary drivetrain quality and their resale value, if you factor that cost cutting feeling with the hit to your wallet into your purchasing decision, it seems that there may be some better buys out there.

RELATED READING

2011 Honda Odyssey Review – First Drive 2011 Toyota Sienna: First Drive 2010 Chrysler Town & Country Review

2009 Ford Flex Review 2009 Volkswagen Routan SEL 2008 Buick Enclave CXL Review

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