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2011 Toyota Sienna – Review

This 2011 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2014.
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.5

Bottom Line:

The 2011 Toyota Sienna offers a roomy, comfortable environment for passengers, scads of cargo space, and features and amenities that will keep the family happy on long or short trips. The ride is smooth and quiet, and now buyers can opt for better fuel economy with a 4-cylinder engine or better handling with the sporty SE version.
Pros:
  • Lots of room for people and cargo
  • Plenty of features to keep the kids occupied
  • Smooth, luxurious ride
Cons:
  • Sloppy handling
  • Chintzy standard interior trim
  • Can get pricey

Can a minivan be cool? Toyota seems to think so. By adding a sporty SE trim with unique interior and exterior design cues to the 2011 Sienna lineup, Toyota believes it can raise the minivan's admittedly geeky profile to something more hip.

Along the way, Toyota is also making the van more frugal, with an optional 4-cylinder engine, and more luxurious, with reclining second-row seats in the top version.

Now in its third generation, the new Sienna is certainly comfortable and convenient, but cool? That's in the eye of the beholder.

Model Lineup
For 2011 the Toyota Sienna will come in five trims: base, LE, SE, XLE and Limited. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is available with the V6 engine on LE, XLE and Limited. Standard equipment on the base and LE grades includes tri-zone air conditioning, a 4-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, an auxiliary input jack and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The LE V6 version gets dual power-sliding side doors, a power rear door, a power driver's seat, a multi-information display with backup camera, rear window sunshades, XM Satellite Radio, a USB port and Bluetooth cell phone, and streaming music capability. The SE adds two additional speakers along with the LE's leatherette and cloth upholstery, and two additional speakers, fog lights and 19-inch wheels. The XLE comes with leather upholstery, heated front seats and a sunroof. The top-of-the-line Limited is loaded with second-row Lounge Seating, a power third-row seat, front and rear park assist, dual sunroofs, keyless access and starting, and Toyota's Safety Connect telematics service.

Options include a 10-speaker JBL sound system, a navigation system with voice control, a panoramic rear camera, a rear DVD entertainment system, radar cruise control, HID automatic high-beam headlights, rain-sensing wipers and 18-inch wheels.

Standard safety equipment consists of dual-stage front airbags, side-curtain airbags for all three seating rows, front side airbags, a driver's knee airbag, active front head restraints, a tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, and electronic stability control. Safety options include hill-start control and a Pre-Collision system that uses the available radar cruise control to predict collisions, ready braking pressure, retract the front seatbelts and even intervene with emergency braking when a crash is unavoidable.

Under the Hood
For the first time, an optional 4-cylinder engine has been added to the Sienna lineup: a 2.7-liter four banger that produces 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. It is offered only with front-wheel drive on base and LE trims. The standard engine is a carryover 3.5-liter V6 that produces 266 horsepower and 245 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability. The 4-cylinder has EPA fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway, while the 3.5-liter gets 18/24 mpg with front-wheel drive and 16/22 mpg with all-wheel drive.

Inner Space
The Sienna's interior undergoes a host of changes for 2011. The driver's seating position is less upright and offers additional rear travel, both of which will make taller drivers more comfortable. Most models also add a multi-information display (MID) on top of the dashboard. It shows information such as the time and temperature, climate and cruise-control settings and, in versions without a navigation system, the backup camera image. The controls for the MID are set low on the center stack, so drivers will have to look up and down to control the unit. The other change is in materials. The new dashboard, while tightly assembled and attractive, is made of thin, hollow plastic that makes us worry about future rattles and does little to insulate sound. We'd expect more in a vehicle that can top $40,000.

Minivans need room and convenience, and the Sienna has plenty of both. Sliding doors on both sides (available with power) and a low ride height make the Sienna much easier for a family to use than taller SUVs. Seating configurations for seven or eight passengers are available. When 8-passenger seating is ordered, a unique, removable second-row center seat is provided. It can be detached and stored conveniently along the wall in the back of the van. Though smaller and less comfortable than the flanking captain's chairs, this seat provides a handy walkthrough to the third row, which has enough room for two adults or three kids. Adults will want to ride back there only on short trips, though, because the low seat bottoms make taller passengers ride with their knees at their chins.

Cargo room is a Sienna strength. A well behind the third-row seats helps provide an impressive 39.1 cubic feet of rear cargo volume while also holding a week's worth of groceries in place. When more cargo room is needed, the third-row seats fold into the well, creating a flat load floor with 87.1 cubic feet of space. New Tip Up and Long Slide second-row seats are mounted on tracks that allow the seats to travel forward and back 23 inches. They can push all the way up to the first row to expand cargo space to 117.8 cubic feet. In a pinch, the second-row seats can also be removed to open up a whopping 150 cubic feet of cargo volume. With the seats removed, the Sienna can carry 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets of plywood.

Every minivan manufacturer tries to come up with unique convenience features that can give its vehicle a competitive advantage. With this generation, the Sienna Limited has added class-exclusive Lounge Seating. With built in ottomans, the second-row seats recline like first-class airplane seats, offering enough space for an average-size male adult to lie down and relax. Note, however, that the feet of taller passengers will touch the first-row seats.

On the Road
Buyers expecting the new 4-cylinder engine to be overmatched shouldn't worry. The 2.7-liter four has enough power for most driving situations. It gets the van moving without a problem, though it can struggle to provide passing punch. Those who want more power should choose the standard V6, which is smoother than the four and provides more willing power at any speed. The V6 is also the choice for those who want to tow. It can pull up to 3,500 pounds, while the four isn't rated for towing.

The Sienna's body structure isn't changed for this generation, though the suspension settings have been tweaked. Based on a carlike unibody platform, the Sienna feels more like a car than a truck, and it offers typically smooth Toyota ride quality. In most cases, bumps are handled with ease. The AWD version's run-flat tires can make them feel a bit rougher, though they're not as jarring as the run-flats on the last-generation Sienna.

Despite the car-type architecture, the Sienna is still a large, fairly heavy vehicle with handling to match. Quick changes of direction result in noticeable weight shifts, and sharp turns induce lots of body lean. The steering is also slow and has a numb feel.

The SE is touted as sporty, but it really only mitigates some of the handling drawbacks. Firmer suspension settings make the SE more stable on the road. Weight doesn't shift so quickly or sloppily and there is less lean when the vehicle turns sharply. The steering is also heavier and a bit quicker, but still numb. Road noise from the large 19-inch wheels is considerably more apparent, however, and the ride is firmer. While some might like the better control, others will prefer the smoother ride quality found in other trims.

Right for You?
The 2011 Toyota Sienna is the right choice for families of four or more. It has all the space you need to chauffeur up to seven kids to soccer practice or head down to Home Depot for a load of drywall. It also offers a smooth ride, useful power and, for those in cold-weather states, the security of all-wheel drive. If you're looking for a better-handling vehicle that still provides useful cargo space, you should opt for a station wagon or crossover SUV. But is the new Sienna cool? Eh.

Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.

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BB01 - 7/25/2014 2:02:11 PM