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By Rick Popely
December 1, 1999
Vehicle Overview Toyota was a small player in the minivan market until it introduced the front-wheel-drive Sienna to replace the rear-wheel-drive Previa. Business has picked up for Toyota since that introduction, and the Sienna is the top-selling import model in this segment.
Sienna is based on the front-drive platform of the Toyota Camry sedan and is built at the same plant in Kentucky.
Exterior Sienna comes in a single size with the choice of a single sliding door on the passenger side or dual sliding doors. A single slider is standard on the base CE model, and one on the drivers side is optional. In the LE and XLE models, dual sliding doors are standard and a power-operated open-close feature for the passenger side is optional.
With an overall length of 193.5 inches, the Sienna is about an inch shorter than the Mercury Villager/Nissan Quest twins and about 6 inches shorter than the Dodge Grand Caravan.
Interior Sienna meets the minivan standard of seats for seven and exceeds most rivals in the cupholder department with as many as 14, depending on seating arrangements.
CE and LE models have two front buckets, a two-place removable middle bench and a three-place rear bench that is split 50/50, which folds for extra cargo room and is removable. Two middle captains chairs are standard on the XLE and optional on the LE.
With the middle and rear seats removed, Sienna holds 143 cubic feet of cargo.
Under the Hood The 194-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 is the same one used in the Camry, and it comes with a four-speed automatic transmission. The Sienna is about 700 pounds heavier than the Camry, and the additional weight takes its toll in acceleration, which is not nearly as spirited as in the sedan. However, the engine and transmission work in harmony for smooth, quiet operation.
Safety Antilock brakes are standard on all models, but side-impact airbags for the front seats are not available. Integrated child-safety seats were optional last year on models with the middle bench seat, but that feature is not available this year.
Performance Toyota finally moved into the minivan mainstream with the Sienna, which is well built, is as easy to enter and exit as most sedans, and drives like a car. Its major fault is that neither passenger room nor cargo space match that of rivals, such as the Honda Odyssey, Dodge Grand Caravan or Chevrolet Express. If you can manage with a little less elbowroom, the Sienna is a good choice.