2011 Toyota Sienna Minivan Road Test Review
It builds on assets of Camry and Venza
By Bob Plunkett
On the north-bound path of I-43, which traces the western shore of Lake Michigan and connects Milwaukee to Sheboygan, a sleek new 2011 Sienna minivan from Toyota moves at a quick clip in the inside swift lane.
Even at legal freeway speed, Sienna's accelerator seems to hold much more juice beneath a driver's foot, due to the lively 2GR-FE V6 engine borrowed from Camry, Toyota's best-selling mid-size sedan.
The minivan's long and broad platform, also derived from Camry, feels substantial and forges an expansive passenger compartment filled with three rows of seats plus enough space for everyone in an extended family to travel in comfort.
Securely strapped in a contoured bucket seat, one driver grips a wood-and-leather steering wheel with both hands and from time to time eyes the array of Optitron electronic gauges in the instrument cluster, which dazzle in vivid blue and white light.
External noise stemming from wind and road, always difficult to prevent from intruding into the cabin of a vehicle in motion, seems muted and controlled, creating an interior which remains exceptionally quiet like the confines of a fine luxury car.
And everywhere handy features appear for comfort and convenience -- including way too many cupholders to count.
Obviously with this third-generation design for Sienna Toyota has figured out how to take the alluring properties of popular Camry and repackage them in the practical format of a minivan.
That's why we describe the new 2011 Sienna as the Camry of minivans.
Toyota introduced Sienna in 1998 from a production line which ran parallel to Camry at Toyota's assembly plant in the Kentucky hills at Georgetown.
A second-generation Sienna emerged in 2004 with production shifting to a Toyota plant pitched in the heart of America's Corn Belt at Princeton, Indiana.
The redesigned third-generation Sienna of 2011 also comes together on that Indiana assembly line.
Sienna for 2011 scores some expressive new sheetmetal styling, far more space in the passenger compartment, a load of added safety features and a choice in powertrains -- an energy-efficient four-cylinder plant lifted from the Venza five-door wagon or the forceful 2GR-FE V6 from Camry.
And it trims out as Sienna, LE, SE, XLE and Limited.
The exterior design of Sienna seems sleek and shapely, yet it reveals sculpted curves, curves and more curves imposed on the horizontal format of a two-box wagon.
A dominant face for Sienna shows a broad grille scored with body-colored fins and an enlarged low intake valence stretched from corner to corner, plus canted lamp clusters of an irregular format mounted at the top of front corners with larger projector-type low-beam lamps drilling round points in shimmering acrylic caps.
The aerodynamic body features a low-sloping hood and a raked windshield leading to a rather flat lid over the cabin with a long streak of dark windows on side doors due to muted roof pillars.
Side panels are chiseled practically sheer to forge four slab doors, although there are crisp high-shouldered cutlines and swelled wheel arches.
The stretched front-wheel-drive (FWD) platform of Camry supports the slick aerodynamic structure of this wagon rigged with flexible seating in a spacious cabin plus cargo space in the aft bay with access through a tail-side liftgate.
Although there was no increase in the wheelbase length, Sienna's revamped structure elongates the usable cabin space by approximately two inches and the seats have longer rails for fore/aft travel to accommodate a wide range of heights and sizes of passengers.
There are three tiers of seats.
The first row shows two tall captain's chairs with broader seats to fit a variety of American body sizes.
On the second row in seven-passenger cabins two captain's chairs slide forward and backward by 23 inches -- they move rearward to maximize legroom or come forward close to front seats for a child rider.
Second-row buckets also tip forward to make more cargo room, or they may be removed by flipping latches.
In eight-passenger cabins the second row shows a center seat tucked between the two buckets and it may be removed easily and stowed in the rear bay.
On Sienna's top trim edition, the second-row Lounge Seating buckets recline fully with pop-out foot rests.
The third-row Split and Stow seat folds flat with one motion as seatbacks split 60/40.
Behind the third tier is adequate storage space, but with the flexible seat system there are dozens of configurations for people and cargo. Maximum cargo room with second tier seats removed and the third row folded amounts to a cavernous 150 cubic feet.
Toyota rigs Sienna with responsive handling systems and a long list of standard safety equipment.
The base engine is an aluminum-block 2.7-liter four-cylinder plant which has dual camshafts and dual VVT-i (variable valve timing with intelligence) to optimize cam timing and maximize power production at all engine speeds.
It produces 187 hp at 5800 rpm plus 186 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm.
Sole transmission is an electronically controlled six-speed automatic with intelligent shift control and sequential shifting.
Toyota's 2GR-FE aluminum 3.5-liter V6 engine with dual camshafts plus dual VVT-i becomes the optional power upgrade for Sienna. It zips with 265 hp at 6200 rpm and the torque pushing to 245 lb-ft at 4700 rpm.
The exclusive transmission for Sienna's V6 is also the electronically controlled six-speed automatic with intelligent shift control and sequential shifting.
For optional AWD traction, Toyota's electronically controlled system switches continuously and automatically between FWD and AWD for sure-footed traction. It can distribute the engine torque equally between the front and rear wheels for slow-go momentum in dicey situations.
Toyota casts MSRP figures for the redesigned 2011 Sienna upward from $24,260 for a base Sienna FWD. Top trim Sienna Limited AWD V6 tallies to $ 39,770.
FOR MORE ROAD TEST REVIEWS -
VISIT RTM'S NEW CAR REVIEW ARCHIVE.