It's no secret that I drive a minivan – a 2005 Toyota Sienna to be exact. I'm no longer too proud to admit that I like it. A lot.  What can I say?  I have three children younger than 4, a dog, a husband and a lot of stuff.  A minivan comes in handy. You can imagine my excitement about getting to test-drive the spiffy new 2011 Toyota Sienna SE. I liked it well enough, but after a week in it, I was perfectly happy to have my 2005 back.

Make no mistake, the 2011 Sienna offers a smooth, pleasant driving experience. It has a quiet ride, the brakes are responsive, the seats are comfortable and the V-6 engine works as well as a minivan engine should.  It has cupholders galore, plenty of cargo space and won a safety award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. There's nothing wrong with this vehicle, but there were a couple of things about this new version that didn't sit well with me.

The Sienna has been redesigned for 2011, and it's precisely some of those redesigned features that don't rock my world. The Sienna's wider, shorter body sits low to the ground, and when coupled with the rear spoiler the new look made me feel like I should be cruising the strip rather than going to the grocery store. Superficial? Perhaps, but it matters. With this redesign, Toyota has moved the third row's Latch system to the middle of the bench seat, but with my son's convertible child-safety seat installed in that position, it blocked a lot of the rear window, impeding my view. I wonder if Toyota ever installed a convertible car seat in this position during its design phase and noticed what a huge blind spot it creates.  

There seems to be a Sienna to fit almost any budget, with the base model starting at $24,460 and the top-of-the-line Limited starting at $38,700.  My test car, an SE with front-wheel drive, had an MSRP of $30,750, with a final price of $33,518 because of the addition of the Preferred Package ($1,545 for the power liftgate, rear sunshades and other such accoutrements).  


Something about the 2011 Sienna's exterior makes me think it's trying too hard to be cool. It doesn't quite work for me. While this Sienna has purportedly borrowed some style tips from Toyota's Venza and Camry models, it made me think that this is what a minivan would look like if Toyota ever decided to have its Scion brand manufacture one. Let's be honest, this is a car that people buy to be pragmatic, not to flaunt their cool factor. I'm just not buying into the Swagger Wagon idea. 

The spoiler, 19-inch six-spoke alloy wheels, which are standard only on the SE trim, wraparound taillights, elongated headlights, low side skirt and fog lights give the minivan the look of a low rider.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the attempts to liven up its looks, but when it comes down to it, I guess I'm a minivan purist and find the livened-up bits incongruous with the vehicle's purpose and personality.

While the sporty SE gets 19-inch wheels, other trim levels are equipped with 17- and 18-inch wheels. The SE also comes with its own special curvy grille. I might have liked one of the less sporty trim levels better than the SE, but they all have the low-rider look and a rear spoiler that fails to thrill me. In all fairness, the spoiler does serve the purpose of hiding the rear windshield wiper.

The front-wheel-drive SE has a 266-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that takes regular gas. The Sienna also comes with a four-cylinder engine. Traditionally, the Sienna has only been offered with a V-6, but Toyota assumes that folks don't mind giving up a little engine "oomph" to save some coin at the pump. The V-6 gets an EPA-estimated 18/24 mpg city/highway and the four-cylinder should achieve about 19/24 mpg. 


Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some


While I have plenty of criticisms about the Sienna's exterior, I have few about its interior. It's roomy, and all of the bells, whistles and dials are within reach and easy to use. It's even somewhat stylish.  The interior makes my life in the car easier and more comfortable, which makes me happier. 

There are cupholders by the dozen in this vehicle. I counted 13, which means there's almost two per passenger if you cram the minivan to its fullest capacity. Fitting eight passengers – assuming you don't have anyone in child-safety seats – isn't a stretch.  If you're like me and have three small people in large car seats, you're better off sticking with the seven-passenger configuration. Even with the removable second-row seat, which was an option in the SE, stowed in back, there's enough room to fit an average-size adult on either side of my son's convertible car seat in the third row.

Storage is a breeze in the 2011 Sienna.  Even with the third row in its upright position, there is more than enough storage. I put our wagon in the cargo area with room to spare.  Should you require more cargo space, the seats are removable for a maximum of 150 cubic feet of cargo space. 

My SE test car wasn't fully loaded, but it did have the Preferred Package ($1,545) that includes trizone climate control, a power liftgate, rear window sunshades, USB port with iPod connectivity, Bluetooth connectivity and steering-wheel audio controls.  If you want to really load up, you can opt for the dual-view rear entertainment system with a wide screen that allows you to play two different movies or video games.


Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample/Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample


The 2011 Toyota Sienna has been named an IIHS Top Safety Pick. To earn this safety award, a car must get the highest score of Good in front, side-impact, rear and rollover crash tests. It also must have standard stability control, which the Sienna does.

The Sienna also has standard four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, active head restraints in the front row and seven airbags, including side curtains for all three rows and a driver's knee airbag. All-wheel drive is optional.

The Sienna has three sets of lower Latch anchors, with two sets in the outboard second-row seats and a third in the middle position of the third row. The Latch anchors are deeply embedded in the seats. While the seat cushions were pliable enough to get to the Latch anchors without chipping your diamond ring (as I did in another test car), I'd love to see them a little easier to access in future models.    

The second row slides back and forth, which is a godsend when installing child-safety seats. Because of it, there's plenty of room for a rear-facing infant-safety seat and convertible seat in the second row. While I ran into visibility issues with my son's forward-facing convertible seat installed in the third row, my son had plenty of room. A high-back booster seat fit well in both the second and third rows.

Get more safety information about the 2011 Toyota Sienna here.