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2011 Toyota Sienna
Rediscover the minivan

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Toyota SiennaTo be a minivan these days could mean fading into the sunset with few people giving a second look. Or . . . this could happen.

Rather than turning tail on the category, the new Toyota Sienna will show that, while wagons seem to be today's cool conveyance, minivans can still kick some tailgate.

There are only a half dozen minivans on the market today, while a decade ago there were twice as many. The holdouts cater to a loyal group of True Believers who see these vehicles for what they really are: the most practical blend of versatility, comfort, cargo capacity, safety and affordability around.

Toyota's California-based art studio has managed to inject some styling zip into what would likely be a real challenge for any design team: to make a box on wheels look cool and desirable. The new Sienna looks less benign and more purposeful when viewed from just about every angle. The stubbier hood and prominent grille and air intake present a sportier image (admittedly, an odd adjective to use when describing a minivan), augmented by more aggressive-looking flared fenders. As well, the rear end and taillight treatment avoids the slab-like presence of the previous model.

2011 Hyundai SonataThe interior also abounds with good taste, along with the requisite number of storage bins and cupholders. Noted too are the extra-spacious dual gloveboxes that form part of a particularly attractive dashboard and instrument panel.

As before, there's seating for up to eight passengers, or seven if the optional second-row highback chairs are selected to replace the three-person bench. On the Sienna up-level models, those chairs turn into reclining lounge seats that also feature swing-up foot rests for the maximum self-indulgent travel (just try to pry the kids out of them).

The front- and middle-row seats have more rearward travel for added leg room. As well, the middle seat cushions from the second-row bench can be stowed in back, revealing an extra cup holder and storage tray. The third-row bench folds flat into the load floor when not needed.

Along with being the only minivan available in North America with optional all-wheel-drive (front-wheel-drive is standard), the Sienna now features a segment-exclusive four-cylinder base engine. This 2.7-litre powerplant earns an estimated fuel-economy rating of 11.3 l/100 km in the city and 7.5 highway.

The now-optional 266-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 carries over from the 2010 model and is mandatory when all-wheel-drive is selected.

Both engines connect to six-speed automatic transmissions that replace the previous five-speed unit.

2011 Toyota SiennaThe base seven-passenger Sienna LE four-cylinder and V6 come with dual-zone air conditioning (driver, passenger and rear), multi-adjustable driver's seat, tilt and telescopic steering wheel plus the usual power-controlled goodies.

The eight-passenger LE V6 and seven-passenger LE AWD models add a power-adjustable driver's seat, backup camera and power-sliding side doors with a power liftgate. The SE, pictured here, has a mesh-style grille, multi-panel moonroof, sporty body trim, taillights with tinted lenses, special instrumentation, sport-tuned suspension and distinctive 19-inch wheels (17- and 18-inchers are found on other models).

Along with the second-row lounge chairs with ottoman, the XLE also includes leather-covered seats (heated in front), while the high-stylin' XLE Limited Package and Limited AWD add keyless remote entry and push-button start, 10-speaker sound system, wide-angle rear camera and voice-activated navigation unit.

Additional Limited content places a dual-view wide-screen monitor on board that displays a single program or two programs, side by side, from two sources.

Pricing will likely begin at about $30,000 and peak at close to $50,000 AWD V6 Limited. That range should continue to attract many fiercely loyal trend-bucking minivan buyers with places to go and people to haul around.

What you should know: 2011 Toyota Sienna

Type: Four-door, front- /all-wheel-drive seven- /eight-passenger minivan
Engines (hp): 2.7-litre DOHC four-cylinder (187); 3.5-litre DOHC V6 (266)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: Of the few remaining minivan offerings on the market, the redesigned Sienna has been built to appeal to a knot of buyers wanting maximum size, features and operating economy at a reasonable price.
Points: New spark in minivan image; Four-cylinder base engine delivers good fuel economy, but will it be popular? ; An absolutely huge features list; The only all-wheel-driver on the market at a time when AWD is gaining popularity; Second-row lounge seating might attract the limo crowd; Could a minivan revival be at hand?
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags;  driver's knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 11.3/7.5 (2.7, FWD, est.)
Base price (incl. destination): $30,000

By comparison

Honda Odyssey
Base price: $31,700
Well-equipped van features great road manners and excellent resale.

Dodge Grand Caravan
Base price: $28,850
Roomy, versatile model. Optional 4.0-litre V6 delivers plenty of punch.

Mazda5
Base price: $22,100
Compact minivan has six-passenger room plus excellent fuel economy.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted January 23, 2010. © CarTest.ca TM


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