2011 Toyota Sienna SE Road Test Review

Frik Els - CAP staff
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Unless you're in a red-striped, black 1983 GMC G-15 with a custom rear wing that's being driven by Mr. T, you wouldn't expect other drivers to stop, stare and point at your minivan, would you? Especially not if it's a Toyota minivan. But that tends to happen when you're in a pitch black 2011 Toyota Sienna SE. It hasn't been modified or pimped out in any way - the rear spoiler is standard equipment on the SE and so are the 19" aluminum alloys and fog lights. The suspension is not lowered either, but it looks that way.

The SE stands for Sport Edition and Toyota's rethink of the minivan looks; dare I say it... is cool. Dubbed the "Swagger Wagon" by Toyota's marketing team, the all-new 2011 Sienna range is also a YouTube sensation. Simply type Swagger Wagon in the popular video site's search box and you could join almost 10 million other viewers of the Japanese manufacturer's funny tongue-in-cheek take on hip-hoppers rollin' in the 'hood.

The third-generation 2011 Sienna, introduced early in 2010, certainly sets new design standards in a segment where too many manufacturers got away with making bread boxes on wheels. The new 2011 Honda Odyssey is attempting a similar break from traditional minivan design, but the Sienna went there first. The 2011 Sienna looks more compact and sleek than its length of 5.08m, width of 1.98m and over 3m wheelbase would suggest.

On the Sport Edition the pronounced bumpers, side skirts and deep-set grille, the long sweep of the hood and windshield combined with the sharp shoulder lines and smoked elongated headlights give it an aggressive but elegant appearance. The attractive curves of the LED taillights – similar to those on the equally stylish Venza crossover – also suggest attention to detail. So often the rear of utility vehicles is just an afterthought from the designer – just think of the Chrysler Town & Country or the Kia Sedona to name just two.

The 2011 Sienna receives an overhauled V6 and a new four-cylinder engine. The 3.5-litre V6 sports 266 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque, while the 2.7-litre four-cylinder engine kicks out 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. Passing ability and acceleration are better than you'd expect from a minivan (even with the four-cylinder), thanks in no small part to the smooth six-speed automatic transmission with sequential shift capability fitted to all models.

The 2011 Sienna Sport Edition is set apart from the rest of the lineup by a stiffer suspension and tighter cornering thanks to the specially calibrated electric power steering. You may well ask if something like a sporty minivan can exist. In short, yes. After the attractive styling, the un-minivan-like handling of the SE is the next big surprise. Body roll, wallowing and understeer so typical in the average minivan are minimal on the SE.

I'm not saying that in the 2011 Sienna SE you get the urge to race BMWs and Audis during the morning commute, but compared to what a driver is typically subjected to in a minivan, the handling characteristics of the SE are superb.

Fuel consumption is estimated at 10.4 l/100km in city driving and 7.5 on highways (9.1 combined) for the four-cylinder Sienna LE. The V6 is rated 11.5 l/100km and 8.1 respectively supplying a 10.0 combined number. All-wheel drive is optional on V6 LE and Limited models and pushes up fuel consumption to 12.8 l/100km in town and 9.0 on freeways (11.1 combined).

The SE is an eight-seater thanks to a narrow, centre, second-row seat which is easily removed (takes about 15 seconds without the need to consult a manual) and stowed in a dedicated well on the driver's side behind the third row. The centre console and captain's chairs can slide forward and back a good half a meter or so, but cannot be stowed in the vehicle's floor as is the case in the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan. Folding the 40/60 split third row is also easy to operate – just a pull on a strap.

The $36,600 price for the SE is excellent value considering standard features include a back-up camera, leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather seat bolsters and headrests, 8-way power driver's seat, satellite radio and USB audio input, moonroof, keyless and illuminated entry, and 3-zone climate control.

The MSRP for the four-cylinder Sienna is $27,900. The V6 will start at around $28,900 for the standard model, $32,500 for the LE 8-passenger, $38,700 for the LXE and the top of the line Limited AWD jumps to $49,100.

Finally, Toyota has built a sleek-looking minivan and in the case of the Sports Edition, the SE badge is not a misnomer. Only its dashboard and centre console layout, which were not always ergonomic, caused concern, a problem quickly forgotten when factoring the aforementioned value for money equation.

My verdict? The minivan segment seems destined for a rebirth and the Sienna is leading the way.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Minivan, Toyota, 2011, Sienna, $20,000 - $29,999, $30,000 - $39,999,

Organizations: Toyota

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