Minivans are the survivors of the auto world. Pundits have predicted their demise for years, but they continue on, and for good reason: nothing beats them when you have to move a crowd.
Toyota’s version is the Sienna, which will be completely revised for 2011.
In the meantime, I took a long-distance trip in a 2010 front-wheel-drive CE: it’s the base trim line, at $29,500. Sienna is the only minivan still available with all-wheel-drive, but it can get expensive, rising to $50,980 for the top-line model.
All Sienna models use a 3.5-litre V6 with five-speed automatic transmission. Its 266 horsepower is the highest of its competitors, while its official in-city fuel consumption is the lowest. All Siennas also include electronic stability control, front seat side and curtain airbags, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, heated mirrors, and tire pressure monitoring system.
The second-row seats can be folded in half, tumbled forward, or removed entirely — they’re easy to unlatch, but heavy to lift out — while the third-row seats fold flat into the cargo well behind them. Chrysler is still the only one with second-row seats that fold into the floor, but the thin foam needed to make them work also means they get uncomfortable very quickly.
Sienna’s seats, while initially fine, got very hard at about the two-hour point of an eight-hour road trip. Volkswagen Routan and Honda Odyssey still lead the pack for long-distance comfort.
Big and roomy, Sienna handles like a much smaller vehicle, with light steering and a tight turning circle, important considerations for a vehicle that will probably spend much of its time in and out of parking spots. It stops fine, but the brake pedal feels mushy. I also found the liftgate heavy and hard to close; power liftgates are only found on the upper-line models.
There is a treasure trove of storage cubbies, including two that, like on a Porsche, are hidden under the hinged armrests on the front doors. The centre stack controls are simple to use, and cupholders abound. Fit-and-finish could be a little better, though.
You can get into a Dodge Grand Caravan for much less, but Sienna stacks up favourably among most of its other rivals for price, especially when looking at comparable features — the even “base” Sienna still contains a long list of items.
Power, performance and fuel consumption all rate high, along with functionality that easily trumps any of Toyota’s SUVs or crossovers. Minivans may not be sexy, but they do exactly what they’re supposed to do.