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Monday, April 22, 2013

Toyota Sienna

The Toyota Sienna minivan is a popular choice for families, and an example of Toyota's willingness to keep trying until it hits the sweet spot in a vehicle segment. It's one of the top three minivan choices, along with the Honda Odyssey and the vehicles that pioneered the category 30 years ago: the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country, which are effectively twins.

Now assembled in the U.S., the Sienna can seat up to eight passsengers. Like its rivals, its side doors slide--under power on certain models--and a hideaway third-row seat is available as well. But the Sienna has one available option that no other minivan does: It offers all-wheel drive. Every Sienna now has a 3.5-liter V-6 engine paired to a six-speed automatic transmission; a four-cylinder engine option available on earlier models has been eliminated.

For more information on the Sienna, including prices, options, and specifications, see our full review of the 2013 Toyota Sienna. You can also compare the Toyota Sienna to some of its competitors.

The Sienna offered today first went on sale in the spring of 2010, for the 2011 model year. About the same size (and a little heavier) than the version that preceded it, the new Sienna has a more premium look and feel. The powertrains that year included a 266-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, with a six-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive; Toyota also offered a 187-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine in 2011 and 2012, but discontinued it starting in 2013.

The same year it also added to the base LE model some equipment previously found only on more expensive models. All versions now sport a USB port; Bluetooth with audio streaming; automatic climate control; power front seats; a power tailgate; and power sliding side doors. Seating includes available plush second-row captain's chairs with footrests, and the infotainment offerings have been spiced up with a new split-screen setup that's perfect for gaming.

The Sienna has been Toyota's minivan offering since the late 1990s, after the company rebooted its minivan idea and gave the boot to its old mid-engined, rear-drive, egg-shaped Previa minivan. In 1998 the Previa was replaced by the more mainstream, front-wheel-drive Sienna. With a platform that shares some components with the Toyota Camry, the Sienna could be offered at a more affordable price.

Initially, the Sienna did get the same powertrain as the Camry V-6—a 194-hp 3.0-liter, replaced after several years by an even smoother, more flexible 210-hp version. These first-generation Siennas have proven reliable, but Toyota hadn't yet found its way to the front of the pack; seating is definitely a step behind the Chrysler minivans of the time, and the third row has to be lifted away rather than folding flat, and the interiors were quite drab. A lot of shoppers who are intimidated with the immense size and weight of newer minivans might find these Siennas just right. Side airbags and stability control became available in 2001, so with the stronger engine, too, the 2001-2003 models are the pick of this bunch.

For 2004, Toyota introduced a redesigned and considerably larger Sienna. With a 230-hp (or 215-hp), 3.3-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission, this Sienna delivered performance that was about the same as the model before it, though the 266-hp, 3.5-liter engine introduced for 2007 gave the van more confidence for passing and highway hauling. But the Sienna didn't have a lot of charisma or style and near the end of its life was looking quite outdated next to some rival models. Interior materials were also panned for being a bit drab and plasticky, once again, on all but the top XLE and Limited models.

However these vans came well equipped, though you'll need to move up to the higher trims to get items like power sliding doors, the power-folding third-row seat, and power seat tailgate. While LE models came with a bench in the second row, XLE and XLE Limited models came with twin captain's chairs. Options included front and rear parking sensors, a JBL audio system, and laser-guided cruise control. Toyota made side airbags standard for 2006.

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