Let's face it - buying a minivan is the ultimate vehicular concession to parenthood. Nothing says, "My first name is Mommy and I have breast-milk stains on my shirt" like sliding doors. That said, while minivans come in many versions, some are more family-friendly than others. The features available can make or break a kid-hauler.
While driving the Toyota Sienna LE, I discovered that some features that I, at least, assumed were standard on all minivans are actually pricey options. Who knew? As far as this mama is concerned, some options should never be optional. I speak, primarily, of the power sliding doors. No self-respecting minivan should exist without them. Even with the van on a flat surface, my 7-year-old couldn't shut the manual sliding door from his seat. Flat ground is hard to come by in my neck of the woods, so for us, the doors were a major hazard. Several times, one of my boys went to open or close one of the sliding doors, which then went flying shut. I still cringe. Those are some big, heavy doors, which are super scary for little limbs. Power doors have pinch protection sensors; manual doors do not. When I say that power doors are a necessity, it's not because I'm that lazy (although I am); it's because the idea of my little guys' arms getting snapped off is worth the extra cash.
I'm also pretty attached to the concepts of rearview cameras. Am I spoiled? Yes. Am I kidding? No way, my friends. Some things are non-negotiable. The Toyota Sienna is a large vehicle with some pretty big blind spots in the rear. A rear parking assist system is available as an option in the LE, and comes standard on the Sienna Limited, but is not available on the CE version. There are too many driveway injuries and deaths in this country for that kind of a safety feature to be optional (as many as 50 every week, some estimate.)
For the record, the LE is not the base version of the Sienna. Even at a rather moderate $27,000, the LE comes with lots of nifty, kid-centric stuff. With room for 8 and more ways to configure the seating than I care to count, (including a "front and center" seat in the second row) there is plenty to love about this van. The driver's seat quickly and quietly adjusts in six ways and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes into position.
The stereo boasts an in-dash 6-CD changer, an auxiliary input port and six speakers. It's not fabulous, but really, how loud do any of us need to hear the soundtrack to "High School Musical 2"? As long as I can plug my iPod in and play it loud enough to drown out the whining in the back seat, I'm content.
As with most Toyotas, the ride is super smooth and virtually silent. Even at highway speeds, all is calm and quiet onboard. Well, until one of the kids opens a rear window and that horrific vibration gets going. Ah, the eternal struggle of window control; kids love having their own power windows, I can't stand to have them open. A car can only solve so many problems, right?
One problem that is solved in the Sienna: a nifty hook folds out of the steering column on the passenger side for hanging a purse or bag. Another argument averted: two-zone climate control lets everyone be comfy and a conversation mirror pops down from the ceiling to allow peeks at the baby without getting kinks in my neck (or worse, getting into a collision). Even folding the seats is easy and honestly, actually, a one-handed job. Toyota has put little pull-cords everywhere for folding, reclining and stowing the rear seats. I easily folded and stowed the third-row seats with one hand. Even more astoundingly, popping them back up is just as easy.
Let me be upfront and admit that I own a minivan. I do, and I love it. It is, by far, the most practical vehicle on Earth. I'm convinced that once anyone drives a minivan for a while, there is no going back, at least not until car-seats and strollers are a thing of the past. For me, the question isn't whether to drive a minivan, it's which minivan to drive.
*For more information on the 2008 Toyota Sienna LE and its safety features, visit Cars.com. With questions or comments regarding this review, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
LET'S TALK NUMBERS
Latch Connectors: 2
Seating Capacity (includes driver): 8
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove On): Good Times
2008 Toyota Sienna LE
Base price: $ 24,340
Price as tested: $ 27,453
Engine: 3.5L V6
Fuel: 17/23 mpg
Ground Clearance: 6.9"
Turning Radius: 36.8 ft
Cargo space: 148.9 cu ft
NHTSA Crash-Test Ratings
Driver's side: 4 Stars
Passenger's side: 5 Stars
Front occupant: 5 Stars
Rear occupant: 5 Stars
Rollover resistance: 4 Stars