2009 Sienna New Car Test Drive
The Toyota Sienna remains one of the smartest transportation choices an active family can make. Minivans offer more interior room relative to exterior length than any other type of vehicle, and the Sienna is arguably the best of the breed.
Inside, the Sienna is big and roomy, but it doesn't drive bulky, and it's not hard to park. It's smooth, responsive and quiet, and it's more fuel-efficient than an SUV with comparable space for people and things. In just minutes, the Sienna switches from eight-passenger bus to cavernous cargo hauler, with room for full sheets of plywood, 10-foot ladders, or significantly more of anything else than you can put in most full-size sport utilities. With a standard 3500-pound towing capacity, the Sienna will pull a camper or small watercraft. All-wheel drive is available and it's the best choice for wintry weather, though we've found the front-drive models work just fine for suburbia in the Snow Belt.
The Toyota Sienna is available in a wide range of trim levels, making it accessible to a wide range of buyers. The base CE starts below $25,000 and is still well equipped, with a full complement of power accessories, air conditioning with separate controls front and rear, and a six-speaker CD stereo with a jack for MP3 players. The line-topping Limited approaches $40,000, but comes with leather memory seats, high-intensity headlights, and active cruise control; and offers touch-screen navigation and rear-seat DVD entertainment. All models come with a class-leading V6 and a five-speed automatic transmission.
The Sienna offers flexible seating as well, with a choice of second-row captain's chairs that can be repositioned side-to-side for a more bench-like arrangement; or a three-way split-folding bench featuring a center section that can be moved nearly 13 inches closer to the front seats, for easy access to an infant or toddler. All Siennas are equipped with a standard 60/40 split third row seat that folds flat into the floor.
The Sienna also offers all the important safety equipment, and then some. Front passenger side-impact airbags, full-cabin head protection airbags, and a sophisticated anti-lock brake system are standard. Electronic stability control (called Vehicle Stability Control) is now also standard on all models. An optional rear-view camera helps the driver spot objects or children behind the vehicle when backing up, augmenting an audible park-assist system.
Other Sienna strengths are more subtle and less tangible. Among them: hooks in just the right places and seats that fold with one hand. Almost everything works as you'd expect, without struggle or confusion. In so many ways, Sienna reduces the stress of family transport. We've found its power doors are easier to operate and are more convenient than those on the Honda Odyssey.
For 2008, Toyota has made Vehicle Stability Control, traction control, and four-wheel-disc brakes standard on all models. For 2007, Toyota boosted Sienna's performance with a larger and more powerful V6 engine. We love its impressive acceleration, and the way the new engine adds driving excitement. That's right, driving a minivan can be enjoyable.
The 2008 Toyota Sienna is offered in four trim levels, from relatively inexpensive to true luxury grade. All share a 266-hp 3.5-liter V6 and five-speed automatic transmission. All come configured for seven passengers, though the lower-trim CE and LE models are available with seating for eight. All but the base CE are available with all-wheel drive (AWD).
Still, even the CE ($24,340) comes with nearly all the essentials, including dual-zone (front and rear) air conditioning; power windows, door locks and mirrors; sliding doors on both sides; keyless entry; and AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers and an auxiliary jack for MP3 players. The upholstery is a vinyl/fabric combo, and the wheels are 16-inch steel with hubcaps. Second-row captain's chairs and a 60/40 Split & Stow third-row bench seat are standard. A second-row three-place bench seat is optional ($150). CE buyers can also add a package ($285) consisting of cruise control and a roof rack.
Sienna LE ($25,865) is the most popular model. It adds nicer cloth fabric, audio controls on the steering wheel, a 6CD changer, cruise control, heated mirrors, a roof rack, privacy glass, illuminated vanity mirrors, an engine immobilizer, a fold-flat front passenger seat, and other features. A second-row bench seat that seats three is optional.
The LE AWD ($29,035) adds Toyota's full-time all-wheel-drive system. Like other all-wheel-drive Siennas, it comes packaged with run-flat tires on 17-inch alloy wheels, daytime running lights (DRLs), and a windshield wiper de-icer. It does not offer eight-passenger seating.
Sienna XLE ($29,525) and XLE AWD ($32,285) are more luxurious, with yet another level of upgraded fabric; standard power sliding side doors and power liftgate; tri-zone automatic climate control (driver, front passenger, and rear compartment); eight-way power adjustable driver's seat; JBL Synthesis 360-watt audio with 10 speakers, 6CD changer, rear seat audio controls, and Bluetooth; an overhead console with trip computer and universal garage-door opener; fog lights; leather-wrapped steering wheel; and more. The front-drive XLE comes with 16-inch alloy wheels.
The Sienna Limited ($35,465) and Limited AWD ($37,665) are equipped like a full-on luxury sedan, adding leather upholstery and features such as Dynamic Laser Cruise Control, a power moonroof, second- and third- row sunshades, high intensity discharge (HID) headlights, heated front seats with memory, front and rear park assist, auto-dimming electrochromic mirrors (inside and driver's side), and side mirrors with puddle lamps and integrated turn signals. The front-drive Limited comes with the 17-inch alloys and DRLs. Power folding for the third row is optional ($750).
A Tow Prep Package comes standard on all models consisting of a heavy-duty fan and radiator, power steering oil cooler, and 150-amp alternator; but a receiver and wiring harness cost extra ($220). DVD entertainment, DVD navigation, rear sonar and camera systems, and many other extras are available, bundled into packages specific to each trim level.
Safety features include frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags and curtain-style airbags designed to provide head protection for outboard passengers in all three rows of seats. All models are also equipped with a tire-pressure monitor and anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, which together help the driver minimize stopping distance and maintain control when braking and swerving to avoid an accident. Toyota's Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) skid-control system with traction control comes standard on all models.