NEWS

2011 Toyota Sienna: Up Close

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Rarely one to abandon a shrinking segment, Toyota unveiled a third-generation Sienna at today’s L.A. Auto Show. The automaker had a host of trim levels on hand — the loaded Limited, well-equipped XLE and cool-for-some SE — to poke around in. We did just that. The early word is that minivan shoppers — or at least those who haven’t yet fled the segment for large crossovers — have plenty to look forward to. The Sienna doesn’t go for broke on family features like Chrysler’s minivans do, and Toyota misses the mark on functionality in a couple areas. But the Sienna presents solid utility and impressive seating configurations; cabin refinement rivals the likes of a Honda Odyssey. The company also says it will cost less than the current version.

Front and rear, it’s clear the Sienna got the Venza treatment, which isn’t too surprising since both models were styled at Toyota’s California studios. These proportions seem better, though. There’s more surface area on the Sienna, so the grille doesn’t overpower the rest of the face quite as much as the Venza’s does.

Inside, Toyota scores solid hits on utility and roominess. The front seats present a high driving position and decent sightlines, though the entertainment system’s extra-wide screen obstructs much of your six-o’clock view. There’s plenty of storage space in both the center console and a large open area below the center controls, and the dash sports larger dual glove compartments than before.

The second row slides forward and back with impressive range. If no one is using the third row, slide the second row back for near-ridiculous legroom. NBA players could lounge back there. Toyota says it moved the third row 2 inches farther back than in the previous generation. It still sits too low to the ground — as most third rows do — but it’s suitable for kids. On the off-chance you’re carrying five or six adults, second- and third-row passengers will have to work out a compromise on where to position the second-row seats. I did — with a non-Cars.com journalist, no less – and legroom in both rows was tenable.

The third row folds into the floor manually or via power operation. The three-step manual process feels more cantankerous — like the Odyssey’s third row — than in the outgoing Sienna, whose third row collapsed into the floor with relatively little effort. Toyota doesn’t offer any way for the second row to fold flat into the floor like Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go seats or into themselves like the Odyssey’s or Chrysler’s Swivel ‘n Go chairs. If you need the cargo room, you’ll have to remove the chairs entirely, a Toyota official told me.

Still, with available features like all-wheel drive, a more efficient four-cylinder engine and a starting price confirmed to be less than the outgoing Sienna’s $24,540 sticker, this minivan has the potential to snag a wider array of buyers than its competitors. We’ll be driving it next week, with a full review to follow. Stay tuned for more.

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