2011 Toyota Sienna – Click above for high-res image gallery

It's generally accepted that every new iteration of any vehicle is somehow better than its predecessor. And that's true of the 2011 Toyota Sienna minivan, which is festooned with more goodies (like a 16.4-inch widescreen monitor for rear-seat passengers) and a sportier flair (complete with a sporty SE trim) than the previous generation Sienna. The only question that remains, then, is this: Do those improvements automatically equal a better vehicle?

According to Consumer Reports, the answer is no. And surprisingly, it's not even close, with the new Sienna's overall test score of 80 paling in comparison to the 2010's overall score of 94. The main culprits cited by CR for the plummeting score are poor fit and finish and excessive interior noise – bad enough that CR claims it's not possible to have a proper conversation between front and rear passengers.

So, if not the Toyota Sienna – which held the honor for three straight years – what is CR's top-rated minivan? The six-year-old Honda Odyssey. For what it's worth, there's a new Odyssey coming out next year, but as we've seen from the Sienna, a new model doesn't necessarily equal one that tests better at the influential magazine. It's also worth noting that the new Sienna's overall score is roughly on par with that of the Kia Sedona, which has been available in its current configuration since 2006.

Consumer Reports also tested other people movers, such as the micro-minivan Mazda5 and the large box-on-wheels crossover Ford Flex. Both vehicles got rather positive reviews, and testers found that they may be looked at as realistic replacements for the tried-and-true minivan paradigm of the Toyota Sienna. Check out the official press release after the break.

[Source: Consumer Reports]
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Ford Flex Eco Boost posts "Excellent" score, Toyota Sienna rates "Very Good"

YONKERS, NY - The Mazda5 microvan posted an "Excellent" score in Consumer Reports' ratings, as part of a test in the September issue that featured three different types of family movers. Although smaller than a standard minivan, it is ideal for families on a budget.

"The Madza5 hits a sweet spot for families on a budget," said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Connecticut. "It provides most of the versatility and convenience of a minivan along with stingier fuel economy, more agile handling and a lower price."

Also included was the Ford Flex EcoBoost three-row SUV and the redesigned Toyota Sienna minivan which posted "Excellent" and "Very Good" test scores, respectively. Prices for the vehicles in this test group ranged from $23,805 for the Mazda5 to $46,720 for the Flex.

The Mazda5 previously earned a Top Pick designation in CR's Annual Auto Issue in the Family Hauler category.It is versatile and relatively roomy, despite its modest size. It has sliding rear doors, a small third-row seat, and seating for up to six. Consumer Reports opted to retest the '5 after it was upgraded for 2010, with electronic stability control.

While both the front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions of the Toyota Sienna posted "Very Good" test scores and it is a very good vehicle, it doesn't measure up to the previous model, which had been CR's top rated minivan for three years. It is still roomy and efficient with a smooth ride, but a drop in interior fit and finish and quietness, among other things, contributed to an overall drop in score. It now ranks below the top-rated Honda Odyssey and roughly on par with the Kia Sedona.

This is the second version of the Flex tested by Consumer Reports. This version is equipped with Ford's EcoBoost engine which is turbocharged with direct-fuel-injection technology to optimize performance and fuel economy. The improvement boosted this version of the Flex to the top of the midsized three-row SUV category, below only the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which was rated an"Excellent" road test score.

A new model, the Honda Accord Crosstour crossover model was also tested for this issue and posted a "Very Good" score. Like the Acura ZDX and BMW X6, the more affordable Accord Crosstour has a tall stance and all-wheel drive, but the coupe-ish design hurts visibility, rear access, and cargo space.

While the Mazda5 is Recommended, the Toyota Sienna and the Flex EcoBoost are too new for Consumer Reports to have reliability data. CR only Recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR's Annual Auto Survey of its more than seven million print and Web subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

Full tests and ratings for all five vehicles appear in the September issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale August 3. The reports are also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org. Updated daily, ConsumerReports.org is the go-to site for the latest auto reviews, product news, blogs on breaking news and car buying information.

The Mazda5 is more agile and fun to drive than larger minivans. It rides well, with good isolation over bumps. The Mazda5 Grand Touring ($23,805 MSRP as tested), is powered by a 153-hp, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that performs adequately and gets 24 mpg overall in CR's own fuel economy tests. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Braking is Very Good. The rear 50/50-split rear seatbacks fold easily into the floor when they're not needed.

The redesigned Sienna used to compete head-to-head with the Honda Odyssey; now its test score is similar to the Kia Sedona, which also posted a "Very Good" test score. It has a very comfortable ride, a spacious and versatile interior, a smooth powertrain and good fuel economy. The Toyota Sienna XLE ($35,810 MSRP as tested), is powered by a 266-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers lively performance and gets 20 mpg overall, the best of any minivan CR tested. The six-speed automatic transmission is responsive and smooth. Braking is Very Good. The split third-row bench folds easily to create a large cargo area.

The Ford Flex's boxy styling may strike you as either cool or homely, depending on your tastes. But CR's engineers found the Flex to be a spacious and extremely practical vehicle. It's quiet, rides comfortably and has limo-like room in the second row. The Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost ($46,720 MSRP as tested), is powered by a 355-hp, 3.5-liter turbo V6 engine that is powerful and gets 17 mpg overall, the same as the non-turbo Flex. Braking is Very Good. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Folding the seats is an easy task that opens up a large cargo area.

Whether you think of the Honda Crosstour as a raised hatchback or a crossover, it's designed for those who want an SUV's versatility, high seating position, and all-wheel drive without the bulky size or high fuel costs. But when pushed to its handling limits, it behaves more like a ponderous SUV. The Crosstour is a comfortable, quiet vehicle, with a smooth, responsive powertrain. The Honda Crosstour EX-L ($34,730 MSRP as tested), is powered by a 271-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that gets 20 mpg overall. The five-speed transmission shifts smoothly. Braking is Very Good. The 60/40-split rear seats fold down in sections, but maximum cargo volume is modest.

With more than 7 million print and online subscribers, Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Web site and owns and operates a 327-acre Auto Test Center in Connecticut. The organization's auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To subscribe, consumers can call 1-800-234-1645 or visit www.ConsumerReports.org.

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