It may be wrong, but possibly my favorite thing about the 2011 Toyota Sienna is its "Swagger Wagon" marketing campaign. They set out to make the minivan cool, and the Sienna is definitely the coolest part of those ads. Of course, it's still a minivan; you won't be winning the Indy 500 in it. However, if you're looking for a stylish, practical and not completely dorky way to haul a family around, the 2011 Sienna is a good bet. It's got an entirely new style, lots of features and all the functionality you'd expect of a minivan.
Driving the 2011 Sienna is no sacrifice. Its carlike ride and handling make it easy to forget that you're driving a minivan at all. Part of Toyota's reboot of the Sienna is improved handling, which makes the ride feel super smooth, if not on the soft side. Still, there's plenty of power for hauling up hills, and the brakes were strong enough to keep me confidant when coming down those same hills.
What really surprised me about the Sienna wasn't its cool new features or the comfortable ride. It was a general feeling that in order to package all those features for a less-than-heart-attack-inducing price, Toyota sacrificed on some of the interior materials and soundproofing. There was more engine noise than I like to hear, but it was drowned out by even more wind noise at highway speeds. I also noticed more than a few rattles and squeaks in my test vehicle. Additionally, the plastic trim at the bottom of the seats seemed to be of poorer quality than I'm used to seeing in a Toyota.
Another thing to watch is the packaging of the options. Toyota has a complicated system of trim levels and a la carte features, which lets the Sienna start at $24,260. My test vehicle, which was not even the top trim level, ran a cool $41,997. Ouch.
Toyota threw the idea of the boxy van out the window and incorporated styling from the Prius, Venza and Highlander when they redesigned the 2011 Sienna. This is a minivan that actually had people saying, "Oooh, pretty!" The edges are rounded without being bulgy or looking bloated. The sculpting on the sides conveys a sense of movement, and touches of chrome bring some sparkle and elegance to the smooth lines. In the front, the large grille slopes right into the slanted headlights, which makes the Sienna look almost sporty. There are options for bolder wheels, and the SE trim offers 19-inch wheels.
Like all minivans, getting in and out is a breeze. I could open the power-sliding doors with the keyfob before I got to the minivan, so the kids could run ahead and climb in on their own, getting buckled all by themselves. That kind of thing is priceless.
The power liftgate makes loading cargo as easy as loading the kids into the minivan. When the third row is in place, a deep well offers room for a major trip to the grocery store or that massive bag of baseball gear that my son drags around. Even a bulky stroller would be no problem.
My test Sienna came with a 266-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that delivered all the goods. There's also a smaller four-cylinder engine, which I drove during an earlier Sienna driving event. The smaller engine is just fine for flat terrain, but in the hills, it struggles. Thankfully, I was spared such trials with the V-6 engine, and I had only its EPA-estimated 16/22 mpg city highway rating to slow me down. It takes regular gasoline so filling it up didn't hurt too much.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
I live my life inside my car. Living inside the Sienna was made as comfortable as possible by things like uber-comfy leather seats and tons of storage cubbies. The center stack's controls are all within a convenient reach and easy to figure out. Who has time to read the owner's manual?
In the second row, the 2011 Sienna's seats slide 18 inches backward and forward. This does a couple of things. First, it allows for optimum legroom for both rows. Second, it makes getting to the third row even easier. My only issue was the sliding seats' covered grooves on the floor that I dubbed "grunge collectors." I don't even want to imagine what they'd smell like a year or two down the road.
In my test car, those cool sliding seats also had a recliner function, which allowed the seatback to go almost completely flat while a footrest popped out for mama's tired tootsies. However, I found the whole setup to be kind of gimmicky. To make it work I had to slide the second-row seat all the way back, but even then, I couldn't stretch out with my feet on the footrest without pressing up against the back of the driver's seat. I had visions of reclining to watch a movie on the giant widescreen DVD system or reading a book while the kids were at baseball practice, but I couldn't fit in the chair. I was more comfortable staying in the driver's seat, near the audio controls and air conditioning.
My kids were happy in the second row, though. They loved the entertainment setup and the super comfy captain's chairs, while I loved the center console storage for the remote and headphones as well as the Sienna's 10 cupholders. The second row's seat belt fit my 9-year-old well, but my tall 7-year-old needed a booster seat for the seat belt to fit him correctly. Oddly, he didn't need it in the third row, which quickly became his preferred seat. I never had a chance to completely fill up the Sienna with people, which can hold eight. With the captain's chairs in the second row, my test car was a seven-seater.
In the third row, there's plenty of legroom for adults as long as the second row hasn't been positioned all the way back. The seats are comfortable enough. Three kids will fit back there, but I would only ask two adults to manage it, unless they were very friendly. Or small.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
No self-respecting minivan could look itself in the mirror unless it had safety features to brag about and crash-test ratings to match. The 2011 Sienna has received the highest score of Good in front, side-impact and rear crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In the past, these scores and standard stability control would have earned the Sienna a Top Safety Pick nod, but IIHS has added a new roof-strength crash test. The Sienna hasn't undergone this test yet.
The Sienna has standard antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control and 11 airbags, including a driver's knee airbag and side curtains for all three rows. It has optional all-wheel drive, and on top-of-the-line Limited models, the optional adaptive cruise control system includes a precollision system that alerts the driver, tightens seat belts and applies some braking if it detects a car that's quickly slowing down in front of it.
There are three sets of Latch connectors in the Sienna, with two sets in the second row and one in the third row. What really stunned me is all three sets are completely buried within the seat crease. No matter how I dug I couldn't see the anchor points, and I could barely feel them. That's pretty disappointing in a family hauler. There's plenty of room for a rear-facing convertible or infant-safety seat because of the sliding second row, and my son's booster seat fit easily in the captain's chair.
Get more safety information about the 2011 Sienna here.
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