The new Sienna is a marked improvement over the previous model; it is larger, longer, more powerful and filled with delightful and innovative new ideas that should have the teams at Honda and Chrysler more than just a little bit worried. The Sienna is no longer a minivan, not in the truest sense of the word. Quite frankly, save for the Mazda MPV, none of the minivans currently on the market can be called mini. These family-friendly transports have grown in both volume and weight to the point where in some cases they rival many full-size SUVs for interior accommodations. We're not suggesting in any way that this is a bad thing, in fact, in the case of the Sienna, it was a long overdue change; we just wanted to make clear that like the name "jumbo shrimp," the term minivan is now pretty much an oxymoron.
If you place the new Sienna next to a current model, you'll see that the wheelbase is longer by nearly five inches. Five inches may not seem like a lot to you, but to an engineer it's a dream come true. With those five extra inches, the Toyota team was able to increase interior volume by over 45 cubic feet and also to extend the Sienna's width and height without affecting the vehicle's stability. This new, wider footprint is also responsible for much needed extra hip and shoulder room, a noticeable shortcoming on the outgoing model.
A look inside the Sienna clearly shows that Toyota is moving into the upscale van market. Trim levels remain reserved to threeCE, LE and XLEbut with a greater standard and optional equipment list. The Sienna gets a completely revised instrument panel that features a center dash-mounted shift lever, large movable center storage console with two huge cup holders and new gauge faces featuring titanium trim rings in a deeply recessed bin. The audio and temperature controls are housed just above the shift lever; you'll find them easy to operate, though the radio tuning knob may be a bit of a stretch for driver's with shorter arms.
The Sienna's seats take full advantage of the van's extra room and have been given much wider seat bottoms as well as improved back rests. The Sienna's seating configuration can hold up to eight passengers (two in front, three in the center and three in the third-row's split bench seat). If you choose the standard second-row bench seating, you'll find a clever center section that can slide forward a full 13-inches, making it easy for the front-seat passenger to tend to a child or toddler secured in a child safety seat. You can opt for a set of second-row captain's chairs that can be slid together to form a small, two-person bench; this set up allows passengers in the third-row seat a wide entry and exit path. Like the Honda Odyssey, the Sienna's rear seat can fold flush into the floor well, but unlike the Honda, the Sienna offers a 60/40 split seat than can be partially folded away. Cargo space behind the third seat has been improved thanks to the Sienna's new size.
The Sienna's new-found bulk requires a newer, more powerful engine. Answering the call is Toyota's 3.3-liter V6; this modern motor features variable valve timing that helps increase both horsepower and fuel efficiency. We can tell you first hand that this engine performs beautifully in both city and highway driving. The Sienna pulls quickly from a dead stop, yet the engine emits only the mildest sounds. Power is masterfully managed by an electronically-controlled five-speed automatic that makes the most of the engine's torque curve before seamlessly shifting to the next gear; we also liked that the new transmission did not hunt or jump back and forth between gears. Snowbound Americans will be thrilled with the addition of an optional full-time all-wheel-drive system.
We've always liked the car-like agility the old Sienna displayed, and this year's model only builds on that reputation. The wider stance and longer wheelbase make for an extremely smooth ride and further bolsters the Sienna's already rock-solid stability. The new suspension set up is far better than the previous model at handling rough road conditions, especially when fully loaded. Where the old Sienna would tend to bob and bounce, the new version simply absorbs road imperfections with quick jounce and then returns to its routine composure. The steering effort is considerably heavy for a minivan, partially due to the standard 16-inch wheels and partially to the reworked power steering pump; the heavier feel makes it possible to pull off highly accurate maneuvers not usually attempted in a vehicle of this sort. In all, you'll be hard pressed to find a better riding, better handling minivan than the new Sienna.
When you go to test drive the Sienna, you'll discover that in addition to the outstanding fit and finish, the high attention to detail and the excellent choice of interior materials, the Sienna will delight you with such revolutionary features as power-sliding side doors with roll down glass windows, dual front and rear air conditioners, 360-watt JBL sound system, laser guided cruise control (XLE Limited only) and DVD rear seat entertainment unit.