I am not an automotive journalist. In fact, I don’t even drive to work – I ride a bicycle. However, I do work with a number of folks who write about cars for a living, which is how I came to be in possession of a fully loaded 2012 Toyota Sienna Limited for about a week and a half.
|1. Two engines available: a 2.7L 4-cyl with 187 hp and a 3.5L 6-cyl with 265 hp.
2. The 2.7L 4-cylinder gets 19/24 mpg (city/highway) while the 3.5 V6 AWD achieves 17/23 mpg.
3. The Sienna Limited comes with a 16.5-inch monitor, lounge seating in the second row, a JBL 10-speaker audio system, three-zone climate control, navigation system, backup camera and leather seats
I was planning a trip from Toronto, Ontario to Charleston, South Carolina with my wife and two young daughters. Too cheap to pay for plane tickets and unnerved about tackling the 950-mile journey (each way) in my 2010 Mazda5 and its not-exactly-awe-inspiring four-cylinder engine, I asked if I might be able to borrow a well-equipped minivan in exchange for an article/review of the vehicle and no-doubt harrowing details of the trip.
MINIVAN? IT’S MORE OF A LUXURY CAR
My wife came with me to pick up the Sienna and as soon as we opened the doors and looked around we felt somehow out of place – almost like we stole something. In terms of minivans, the move to the Sienna was like upgrading from Khloe to Kim Kardashian. The Sienna feels very much like a luxury car – a really big one. Quite frankly, I didn’t know Toyota made anything this opulent.
Soft leather seats, dual powered moonroof, navigation system, backup camera, satellite radio, and push-button start are just some of the features the Sienna has that my Mazda5 doesn’t. But the key feature for us was the surprisingly large (16.4 inch) fold-down monitor. Like manna from heaven, short of a rag soaked in chloroform, this was our best bet to keep our three-year-old from making this long drive a living hell.
Once I pushed the ignition button (yet another novelty) and started the drive for home I found my newest favorite feature of the Sienna Limited – the steering wheel. With smoothly polished wood on the top and bottom and leather on the sides, it is a pleasure to hold. If I was handy at all with a toolbox I’d have taken it out and put it in my car and hoped Toyota wouldn’t notice. I dare say gripping this steering wheel made me feel more important and more accomplished than holding my daughter’s hand when she was learning how to walk. (That sentence will probably cost me at least two sessions with a therapist when she’s a teenager).
When it came time to pack up and hit the open road, both my wife and I were amazed at how much room was available for all our stuff. The Mazda5 is technically a minivan (sliding doors and all), but it doesn’t feel half as roomy as the Sienna. Traveling with two little kids (my other daughter is 10 months old) means you basically bring everything you own with you, right down to a portable crib. Forget about trying to pack smartly when you’ve got a vehicle this huge…just throw it all in and deal with the chaos later.
RELAXED ON THE ROAD, OR AT LEAST THE SIENNA IS
With the opening credits of the Little Mermaid rolling, the four of us hit the road. Through the busy city streets the Sienna definitely feels its size. It’s not as easy to zip in and out of traffic-soaked lanes as our daily driver is, but once you get on the highway you forget all about it. The Sienna Limited’s 3.5L V6 gets you up to speed smoothly and is quite comfortable cruising along at 80 mph. Even negotiating the steep climbs up the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia weren’t enough to slow the Sienna’s energetic pace.
Sure, you could hear the engine working as it dealt with the nastiest ascents, but I never noticed the needle moving past 4000 rpm – well below the redline. It was driving through the mountains that I most appreciated the extra power the Sienna afforded. Sure, my Mazda5 would have made it, but not without some protest from its modest mill.
Oddly, it was while we were completely stationary that I had my biggest issue with the Sienna; filling up the tank was a chore. Not just because it holds a substantial 20 gallons and gas prices are achingly high, but because I could almost never squeeze the trigger on the pump without it immediately shutting off. I tried maneuvering the nozzle in just about every way, but the fuel would hit it in a way that made it think the tank was full. It may not seem like a big deal to fill up a tank at half-speed, but when you’re doing it three times in a single day it gets a little tiring – especially when you’ve heard Ariel whine about wanting to live in the human world for the seventh time! I get it, your father is a hard ass and Prince Eric is dreamy. I would have given almost anything if she was eaten by a shark…just once. Child nightmares be damned.
ENOUGH ROOM TO ROLL AROUND IN, BUT WE DON’T RECOMMEND IT
After putting more than 2000 miles on the Sienna Limited in nine short days, I can say with confidence that it’s a comfortable vehicle to spend time in. The front seats provide great support with plenty of adjustments so I could get it just right. Particularly nice is the driver’s seat that moves all the way back when the car is turned off and magically returns to my desired settings once on. The only negative aspect of the interior is that the right armrest could use a little more padding as my elbow regularly dug down to the hard plastic beneath the leather and foam, but that is a minor foible.
As for the rear seats, I can’t really speak for their comfort. The captain’s chairs in the middle row look great and even feature legrests – not unlike a cozy lounger you’d find in any living room. However, my daughters are both still strapped in car seats and couldn’t take full advantage. My youngest daughter had it the worst, as she’s still in a rear-facing seat and couldn’t even watch the movies. How cruel!
I once took a van trip with my family to Minnesota when I was about nine-years-old and we were allowed to lie down on the fold-down bed in the back with no seatbelts and the sound of rolling tarmac to lull us to sleep. That’s just good parenting. Alas, my wife didn’t think it best to let the little ones crawl about the van.
All told, having the Sienna Limited for this trip was a blessing. While we didn’t completely avoid the screaming and crying (only some of which came from my daughters), just having the movies playing and a little more personal space paid huge dividends.
I’d run out and buy one now, but having a huge vehicle like that in a big city is a little cumbersome (though parallel parking is aided by the back-up camera) and the price tag of nearly $40,000 could net me two Mazda5s. Turns out all the bells and whistles come at a cost.