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2001 Toyota Sienna Road Test

By CharlesOfria

Category: $20,000 - $30,000 Minivan
Who should buy this car: A family in need of a reliable, comfortable and practical people and stuff mover. A small business seeking an inexpensive delivery vehicle or a sales person looking for a mobile office.
Comparable models in this class: Chevrolet Venture,  Chrysler Town & Country, Chrysler Voyager (formerly Plymouth Voyager),  Dodge Caravan, Ford Windstar, Honda Odyssey, Mazda MPV, Mercury Villager, Nissan Quest,  Oldsmobile Silhouette, Pontiac Montana 
"Mom, are we there yet?!?"

Minivans are the quintessential CarParts.com.When Chrysler introduced them in 1984, they were applauded as a leap forwardfrom the lowly station wagon and, even though they couldn't totally shake offthe stigma of  "I wouldn't be caughtdead in one," they have steadily proliferated on the American landscape likepopcorn on a theater floor.

The modern minivan is probably the most versatile and space-efficientvehicle you could buy.  Their roomy interiors are designed to satisfy theneeds of the active family as well as those of the ubiquitous sales person whorequires a "mobile showroom."  Maybe this is what fuels the image problem: no onewould expect so utilitarian an appliance to be cool to own or fun tooperate.  Leave that to the sexy convertible or SUV, right?  In fact,wouldn't a truck-based SUV be even better for hauling stuff?  Not by a long shot.  Put a minivan alongside an equal-sized SUV andyou'll be amazed at the difference in cargo-people space.  Most minivans can hold seven people to an SUV's five and stillhave room behind the seats for lots of "stuff."  In general they are quieter,ride better, are less prone to rollover, have more efficient space utilization and get better gas mileage than thetypical SUV.

Based on Camry mechanicals, the Toyota Sienna has proven to be one of the mostreliable minivans manufactured today and that is just the first of many strongpoints.  This well laid out, comfortable, front-wheel drivevehicle boasts world-class Toyota fit and finish.  And, dare I say, it is fun to drive.

WhenToyota introduced the front-wheel drive Sienna in 1998, the press rated it ahead of all of its competition. Now, for 2001, Toyota has added numerous  refinements to analready excellent design.  For instance, the 3.0 L V6 engine received a power boost of 16horsepower to 210 as well as more torque by the addition of Variable ValveTiming with intelligence (VVTi). This feature allows the Sienna to be certified as a Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) andhelps it to get better gas mileage as well with an EPA city/highway rating of 19/25 mpg.

The '01 Sienna received a minor face-lift at the front and rear with a redesigned grille and front bumper, new tail  lights, new wheel covers, in-glass antenna on some models and some new colors. The left-side sliding door is now standard on all models as is a multi-function 50/50 split third row seat.  An interesting new feature is the blue tone instrument faces with white numbers and red pointers. The new color combination makes the gauges easier to read at a glance and easier on the eyes.

Our test vehicle was the top-of-the-line XLE withupgrade package # 2 which adds a power moonroof and dual power sliding doors toits extensive list of features.  The color is a rich blue with a hint of purple(the pictures don't do it justice). The lower portion of the body is painted a metallicgray.  

The powered sliding doors are a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, they are veryconvenient when your hands are full of packages, just press abutton on the remote control attached to your keys and the door glidesopen.  But if you are standing by the open door and try to manually pull itclosed, the door fights you until finally submitting to the tug and closing on its own. There is a convenient button on the inside of the door jam that will power the doorclosed and is preferable to fighting with the door handle.  This"tug-of-war" characteristicis common on most minivans that have the motorized door feature with the notableexception of theall new for 2001 Dodge/Chrysler minivans. On that setup, pulling on the handlecompletely releases the motor so that the doors act like normal sliding doorswithout motors.  This is the kind of feature that quickly finds its way to the competition just like the left side sliding doorthat Chryslerintroduced in 1996, a feature that is now available in virtually every minivan on the market.

The Sienna seats are quite comfortable with plenty of room for sevenpeople, but there's not much room behind the third row seat for theirbelongings. Thisyear, however, seat adjusters were added to the third row seats allowing them tobe moved forward by about half a foot.  With the rear seats moved forward, there is still adequate room for people although it is a bit morecramped.  As with most minivans, getting into the third row seats is best left to the limber youngfolk.

Ourtest vehicle came with the new entertainment system, a feature  that helps to delay theinevitable "Are we there yet?" chant... for awhile anyway.  This systemconsists of a VCR mounted in a console between the front seats, and a flip-downflat screen TV monitor that is mounted in a small console on the headliner andis positioned just behind thefront seats.  There are jacks for two sets of headphones as well as jacksfor connecting the various Nintendos andGame Boys that inevitably find their way into your children's hot little handsduring the holidays.

On the road, the Sienna inspires confidence with accurate steering andexcellent directional stability while providing a comfortable, quiet ride with almostno wind noise.  The Sienna has a very solid structure which allows for a shakeand rattle-free ride over the worst roads.  A stiff structure like this oneallows engineers to recalibrate the suspension for more control while still retaining a goodride. Stopping power from the front disk, rear drum brake system was strong andeasy to control with a good pedal feel. 

When a manufacturer goes about selecting tires for a new model, they mustfirst determine the uses the vehicle will be put through as well as the type ofdriving that the average owner will engage in.  There are many compromises thatmust be made when specking tires for a particular vehicle, not the least of which is cost.  Tires with good traction tendto wear out more quickly while tires that can safely handle high speeds willtend to ride harshly.  Good traction in rain or snow translates to poorertraction on dry pavement.  Throw more money into a tire and thesecompromises are reduced considerably.  Thetires that were selected for this Sienna are P215/65R15 All-Season SteelBelted Radials. They were very quiet and absorbed ruts and bumps well but theyhowled in protest during spirited cornering.  If you are a conservative driver, as mostminivan owners are, these tires will be just fine, but if you push your car fromtime to time, you will long for better rubber.

The Sienna felt very controllable on winding roads following steering inputsprecisely.  There was some minor torque steeras I accelerated out of a corner, but it was not too difficult to deal with.  Push ittoo hard into a turn and the Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) takes over to quickly bring youback under control.  The way this system works is by sensing that the vehicle isbeginning to skid and then applying brakes on an individual wheel and, ifnecessary,  reducingengine power to bring the car back under control.  If, for instance, you take a turntoo fast and the vehicle understeers (keeps going straight even though thewheels are turned), the system will apply the brake on the inside rear wheel andreduce power to the engine until the vehicle follows the path you are steeringtoward.  I had the opportunity to try VSC on several different cars at a race trackand found that the system works like magic.  I deliberately tried to pushthese cars past their limits into tighter and faster turns, but even with my foot tothe floor, they negotiated the path that I was steering into without myloosing control.  Now obviously, most people will not be driving the Siennaon a race track, but they will be driving on wet and icy roads which is whatthis system was really designed for.

VSC uses the anti-lock brake system and the traction control system to do itsmagic.  Most new cars selling for over $25,000 have these two systems soadding VSC is easy since it is mostly just added programming and the addition ofsome inertia sensors.  The Sienna has three other systems that use the antilock hardware:

  1. Brake Assist (BA), which helps you to get maximum stopping power in an emergency stop by sensing that your intention was to make a panic stop but you didn't step hard enough on the brake pedal to activate the anti-lock system on all fourwheels, so it pushes the pedal the rest of the way for you.
  2. Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) replaces the less accurate hydraulicproportioning valve to ensure that each wheel gets the proper amount of brakepressure regardless of vehicle load and the amount of pressure you apply to thebrake pedal.  Also, the shorter a vehicle stops, the more weight that is transferred to the front wheels requiring more pressure to be directed to the front and less to the rear.  EBD monitors all these parameters to insure that each wheel contributes the appropriate amount of stopping power.
  3. A tire pressure warning system that detects low pneumatic pressure in tires by monitoring the antilock system's wheelspeed sensors.  If the system sees that one wheel is turning at a slightlyfaster rate then the other wheels, it will assume that the tire on that wheel islow on air pressure and turn on a warning light on the instrument panel.

The V6 engine with the newly addedVariable Valve Timing was a jewel, providing good power foracceleration and passing while delivering reasonably good fuel economy and quietoperation.  0 to 60 time was a quick (for a minivan) 9.5 seconds whenusing premium fuel (91 octane).  But if powerful acceleration is not important to you,then you can use regular fuel (87 octane).  The engine computerautomatically adjusts the timing to compensate for the lower octane fuel.   This is the same engine that is used in the Lexus ES 300 and the Toyota Avalonand is a big part of why the Sienna is so highly regarded.  

The four speedautomatic transmission was very smooth and seemed to always select the rightgear at the right time.  As with most minivans, a column shifter is usedwhich is fine unless you also have a car with a floor shifter and often switchbetween the two vehicles. I have this problem with my personal cars where I occasionallyfind myself groping air until I realize which car I'm in.  Another minorannoyance (with myself, not the Sienna) was that when I reached for the columnshift, I missed it a couple of times grabbing, instead, the wiper stalkwhich sits in front of the shifter.  Pulling on the wiper control produced a squirt from thewindshield washers onto the freshly washed van that we were all set to takepictures of.

The Premium JBL 3-in-1 Combo sound system was first-rate and had one of theeasiest to use set of controls that I've seen in a long time.  All thebuttons were large and easy to see without requiring reading glasses (for me atleast). The system has an AM/FM Stereo Radio, CD player and a Cassette Player integrated into the radioface.  Sound quality was excellent (at least to my untrained ear) with8 speakers in 6 locations to fill the interior with clear sparkling sound.  There is anadditional set of controls on the steering wheel that handles volume, mute, mode(AM, FM, CD, etc.) and station selection. A minor annoyance was that I foundmyself occasionally bumping the station control button when turning the steeringwheel to navigate a corner causing a"hay! I was listening to that!?!" growl from the passenger seat. As I became more accustomed to the Sienna, that stopped being a problem.

Toyota also did a good job with the newly available front and rear automaticclimate control system, providing easy-to-use controls that allow you to dial inthe temperature you desire and then maintain that temperature automatically. Seat heaters are available but that option requires that you also get theleather interior. There is a small overhead console up front that containsthe sunroof control and an available built-in HomeLink Garage DoorOpener.  Other features include automatic headlamp control and 6 way powerdriver's seat with adjustments for up, down, forward, back, and seatback angle.The tilt feature found on the more popular 8 way power seat is not available on theSienna but I found that I didn't miss it.

Storage space up front was surprisingly sparse.  The glove compartmentwas on the small side while the center console is stuffed with the VCR and hadlittle room for anything else.  The front cup holders are positioned one ontop of the other at the front of the VCR console and are hard to reach. The second and third row seats were better in the cup holder department 

Convertingthe Sienna from a people mover to a cargo hauler has its good points and badpoints.  The rear seat is split 50/50 to make it easier for one (large)person to remove them.  The second row is also removable individually andthe fact that there are sliding doors on both sides helps.  All the seatscan be folded down, allowing a load to be put on top of them while the rearseats can also be "tumbled" forward and stored against the second rowseat backs, clearing a large amount of floor space for stuff without worryingwhere to store the removed seats.

The Sienna is assembled at a Toyota plant in Kentucky along with the Avalon and Camry andshares the same build quality and reliability of these cars.  It is ratedas  "A Best Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and received five stars, the highest possible rating, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for frontal impact protection.  Our test car was equipped with theoptional side air bags as well as front driver and passenger air bags.  I decidednot to test these features.

If you need a solid dependable workhorse to ferry the kids or look for yardsales during the day, and you don't want to be deprived of a comfortable coach totake you to a good sushi bar in the evening, I can't think of a much better choicethan the Toyota Sienna.

"OK kids, we're there... "  

"NOOO,  I'm not finished with my video game and I'mwinning..."

Feedback
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How would I improve this car?

  • Better tires
  • Dual glove compartments like on the Echo and Lexus LS 430
  • A sport model with 16" wheels and tighter suspension would be nice
  • Follow Chrysler's lead with the motorized sliding doors. 

How does the Sienna fit yourdriving style? 

Conservative drivers This is an easy vehicle to live with and should suit this type of driver to a T.  Easy to control with plenty of power on tap when needed. Good brakes 

Sporty drivers Should find the Sienna competent when pushed a little bit, but there are better handling minivans out there, most notably the new Dodge/Chrysler offerings, but they don't have as good a track record in the reliability department..

Fast drivers will not be driving this one fast.  While acceleration is good for a minivan, handling at the limit is best left to cars.  The standard tires are not up to anything more than conservative driving.

 

2001 Toyota Sienna Front Wheel Drive Minivan

Specifications 

Engine Type 3.0-liter V6, DOHC 24 valve aluminum block and aluminum heads. Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i).  
Horsepower 210 @ 5,800 RPM
Torque 220 @ 4,400 RPM
Fuel Recommended Premium 91 Octane Unleaded. Will run on regular with reduced performance.
Transmission Four Speed Electronically Controlled Transmission with Intelligence (ECT-i)
Tires P215/65R15   all-season tires
Brakes Front 10.7" dia. Disk,  Rear 9.8" Dia. Drum,  Standard ABS
Overall Length 194.1"
Wheelbase 114.2
Width 73.4"
Turning Diameter 40.0 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight 3,932
Fuel Tank 20.9 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon EPA city 19, hwy 25. 
Acceleration 0 to 60 9.5 Seconds
Base Sticker Price $24,385 (Sienna CE), $26,235 (Sienna LE), $28,916 (Sienna XLE)

Standard Equipment

  • 3.0L 24 Valve DOHC V6 with VVTi
  • 4 Speed Automatic Transmission
  • Dual sliding doors
  • Anti-lock Brakes
  • Tire Pressure Warning System
  • 7 Passenger Seating
  • Dual Zone Air Conditioner
  • Variable Assist Power Steering

Major Available Options

  • Vehicle Skid Control (VSC)
  • Leather Seats
  • Heated Seats
  • Entertainment System
  • Dual Automatic Climate Control
  • Front Seat Mounted Side Air Bags
  • Power Sliding Doors
  • Towing Package - includes 3,500 lb towing capacity.
  • JBL In-dash 3 in 1 Combo Stereo with 8 speakers
  • In-dash 6-Disk CD Changer 

For more information on the Sienna, visit Toyota.com

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