A family looking for a practical, economical, very reliable vehicle that has room to spare for any family activity.
Comparable models in this class:
Chevrolet Venture, Chrysler Town and Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Windstar, Ford Freestar, Honda Odyssey, Mazda MPV, Mercury Monterey, Nissan Quest, Oldsmobile Silhouette, Pontiac Montana
When it comes to a practical CarParts.com, there is nothing that comes close to the sensible minivan. Thumb your nose all you want, but when you consider the efficient space utilization and configurability, the minivan is king. The soccer-mom's chariot, the salesman's office on wheels and dad's all-purpose carryall had long been the domain of the station wagon. But wagons quickly fell out of favor sometime after 1984 when Chrysler first introduced the Dodge Caravan to an awestruck population that was making do with imitation-wood sided Ford Country Squires and Oldsmobile Vista-Cruisers.
For many years, Chrysler had a lock on the minivan market, first because they were the only game in town, then years later, because they were simply the best minivans on the market. Other manufacturers came along with new designs that they were sure would capture the crown away from the minivan leader, but Chrysler was a moving target and kept coming back with new features and ideas that left the competition reeling.
Now, Toyota believes that they have the vehicle to do the job. The new for 2004 Toyota Sienna has been redesigned from the ground up with tons of new ideas and conveniences that they think will do the job of de-railing the Chrysler juggernaut.
In order to make sure that the new Toyota minivan met the needs of their prospective buyers, the chief engineer on the Sienna project, Yuji Yokoya, took his family on a cross-country tour of America using the previous generation Toyota Sienna. He drove through small towns and large cities, deserts and mountains, taking lots of notes along the way. Yuji's plans included driving through every state in the continental United States, every province in Canada and every estado in Mexico. When he finished his trek, he and his family had logged over 53000, miles and learned a considerable amount about living with a minivan. Among the many things in his log, the new Sienna had to have improved crosswind stability, it must have all-wheel drive as an option and it needed a much tighter turning radius. The interior had to be more comfortable with improved convenience and flexibility. It had to have roll-down windows for the second row seat and it needed to be kid-friendly. Yokoya-san also learned on his trip around America that he liked Wendy's triple burgers.
The styling of the new Sienna is not as graceful and clean as the previous model, but it's not bad either. Toyota quality does come through loud and clear with fit and finish worthy of a car twice its price. I really think that if Toyota could beef up their styling department to produce lookers like the vehicles coming out of Nissan and Chrysler, the other auto manufacturers might have to pack up their tents and find a new line of work.
Behind the wheel, I found everything to be well placed, easy to see and high in quality. The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes so that short drivers can sit well back away from the airbag equipped steering wheel while still being able to reach the pedals. The gearshift lever has been moved from behind the steering wheel to a position at the base of the central stack. The new shifter falls easily to hand but does not block the center pass-through.
An unusual feature on this new Sienna is the number of power window buttons on the driver's door. There are four of them. Most minivans have 2 for the front door windows and maybe 2 more for the rearmost windows that tilt slightly out in order to ventilate the interior (I don't count those as real power windows). Well, the new Sienna has honest to gosh power windows in the sliding doors. In order to keep them powered while the doors are open, there is an ingenious flexible cable buried in the lower track that moves with the door and keeps the connection live at all times.
Front seats on our XLE Limited are as comfortable as any I have sat in at any price. This is the kind of driver's seat I would want for a cross country haul. The second row seats are equally as comfortable as the front, and with a slight pull of a lever, fold up and tumble forward, out of the way with hardly any effort at all. The third row seats work like magic. from the rear load area, you pull on one strap to flip the seatback forward. Then, a light tug on the second, clearly marked strap pulls the entire counterbalanced seat into the recess in the floor making it completely disappear and form a flat load area. Remember the old Castro Convertible TV commercials where a small 7 year old girl pulls a bed out of the couch, then jumps up and down on it? (that is if you were around in the '70s to remember that) Well, storing this Sienna rear seat is so easy, a child could do it.
The optional console between the front seats is removable and can also be repositioned between the second row seats assuming captain's chairs were ordered instead of 3 across seating. If you did order 3 across seating, the center seat section can be positioned up against the front seats so that mom (or dad) can tend a child seated in that position.
Speaking about tending kids, there is a flip-down wide angle mirror in the overhead console that Toyota calls a conversation mirror and allows the driver to keep an eye on the rascals sitting in the back. There is also a 115 volt home style AC electrical outlet that can be used to power video games and the like. These devices can also be connected to the flip-down video screen that comes with the optional DVD player. It's mounted just behind the front seats on the headliner and can be viewed from the second and third row seats. There is also a pair of headphones so that rear seat warriors fighting for peace in the galaxy, won't intrude on the peace and quiet in the front seat.
The center row right bucket seat can be mounted inboard to form a 2 passenger love seat or outboard to form a pair of captain's chairs. As mentioned earlier, when the right seat is mounted outboard, the console (or a center seat) can be mounted between the two outboard seats in the second row. A nice feature on the second row seats is that the seat belts are part of the seat, so there is no belt webbing in the way of people climbing into the third row. On the down side, the heavier structure required to provide the necessary strength for the seat belt loads makes the second row seats quite heavy and a bear to remove when you need a clear load floor.
The Sienna has sharp, responsive steering that belies the fact that this is a two ton plus large vehicle. Acceleration, while not spectacular, was more than adequate with the larger 230-horsepower 3.3 liter V6 engine coupled to an all-new five-speed automatic transmission I found there to be plenty of power to get me off the approach ramp and out into the flow of traffic. The suspension soaked up the scars of the typical urban landscape without much complaining and provided a smooth, compliant, and very quiet ride. Fuel economy was excellent for this class with an EPA rating of 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway
Toyota now builds the Sienna in four trim levels (up from three for last years model). And the prices are substantially lower, model-for-model and feature for feature, than last year's Sienna. The new lineup includes the base CE, the better equipped LE, the more lavishly equipped XLE and the top-of-the-line XLE Limited. Even the lowest priced CE is fairly well equipped with 7 or 8 passenger seating, power 2nd row roll-down windows and a 5 speed automatic transmission, all of which were not available in last year's model.
The new Sienna is about as American as you can get while still retaining a Japanese nameplate. A major share of the engineering that went into the Sienna was done at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor Michigan while much of the styling was done in California. 90 percent of the components are from North American suppliers. The engines and transmissions are manufactured in West Virginia and the vehicle is assembled in Indiana.
Safety was also a priority with the new Sienna. The vehicle comes standard with 4-wheel Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) and low tire pressure warning system. It is also expected to be top rated for crash protection. Also available either as standard equipment or an extra cost option, depending on the model you choose, are front side airbags, side curtain air bags that protect all three rows of outboard passengers, traction control, stability control, brake assist, rear disc brakes, windshield wiper de-icer and daytime running lamps.
Storage space is huge by current minivan standards. The Sienna can be equipped to hold 8 people with 43.6 cubic feet of space left over behind the third row seat for their stuff. With the third row seat stowed, the space for cargo grows to 94.5 cu. ft. and a whopping 148.9 cu. ft. when you also remove the 2nd row seats. With the load area clear, a 4' by 8' sheet of building material will fit flat on the floor. If you need more room than that, get a full-size van or a truck.
The Sienna can be equipped quite lavishly with a wide assortment of options and trim levels. Prices start at ,995 for the 7 passenger CE and jump to over ,000 for an XLE Limited with all the options. Available features include: Power sliding doors and liftgate, DVD navigation system, DVD rear entertainment center, all-wheel drive, leather seats, stability control, traction control, brake assist, dynamic laser cruise control,. the list goes on and on.
The minivan market has seen little activity of late with manufacturers devoting their resources to the more popular (and profitable) SUV market, but there seems to be a flurry of activity lately with a bevy of new minivans soon to arrive. Two of them are from the Ford camp and will serve as a replacement for the Ford Windstar and Mercury Villager. The Ford version will be called the Freestar and its twin for the Mercury camp will be named the Monterey reviving a name from the '60s. Another new minivan you can expect by year's end is a replacement for the Nissan Quest. We should see all of them make their debut sometime in the fall. Judging by this new Sienna, I would say that they have a tough act to follow.