2012 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Ah, joyous refrain! It's minivan time once again, and therefore I can do the many chores that normally go undone until one of these fabulous vehicles comes along. Yes, if you read my reviews regularly you'll know I'm a fan of the van, and for more reasons than just my personal need for hauling rubbish to the dump, running back and forth to my storage locker, and picking up gear at my local building supplies store. Minivans are the do-all of the automotive world, or at least the do-almost-all (I've learned they're not that great off-road). And every time I get one, I plan my week out on a strict itemized schedule.

Monday afternoon: take unneeded bookshelf to storage locker. With the third row tumbled under the floor and second row seatbacks folded flat it fits in the Sienna easily. Tuesday afternoon: haul outdated TV stand to locker. It's taller than the bookshelf, but fortunately doesn't cause the need to remove the second row seats. Actually, they fold up and forward nicely, taking up less storage space than most second row seating systems in the class. Tuesday night: head to Ikea to buy new media stand… a gorgeous white lacquer unit that looks great under my flat screen while more accommodating of a modern media station; a Mac Mini that I've got running my audio/video setup. Problem? The unit is too long to transport without removing the seats. Fortunately I premeasured and took care of this at home. Challenge? Removing the seats! OK, they're not as difficult as in previous years, but the second row buckets in today's 2012 Sienna XLE aren't exactly lightweight for my hardly robust 160-pound build. I'm guessing that the average sized soccer mom might have a tough time with them too. I pulled them out, mind you, and was able to haul them to my storage space (I don't have an enclosed garage like some folks and therefore had to carry them about 5 metres before setting them down). I survived, but I'd rather be able to tumble them under the floor. Wednesday morning: errands.

The Sienna is a great around-town traveling companion, smooth as can be over rough inner-city surfaces, agile enough to dodge errant drivers, offering a wonderfully tall vantage point with superb visibility all-round to notice those errant drivers in the first place, and filled with safety features like traction and stability control, ABS-enhanced four-wheel discs, a full-load of airbags including one for the driver's knees, active front head restraints, tire pressure monitoring, Toyota's Smart-Stop Technologies that kill power to the engine if the throttle and brake are pressed simultaneously to override any potential unintentional acceleration, and the list goes on.

Performance is more than adequate when fitted with the V6, a non-issue next year when the 2.7-litre four is discontinued due to lack of buyer interest. I find that a bit of a shame, as it offered ample performance for most owners and benefited fuel economy, albeit the gain was obviously not enough or more would have bought it. Then again, maybe Toyota is being shortsighted here, as fuel prices aren't exactly going down and therefore the four might've gained more traction this coming year. I suppose we'll never know. All said I'm a big fan of Toyota's 3.5-litre six. After all, if it's good enough for a Lotus Evora, it's good enough for a Toyota minivan. The engine pulls strongly from pretty well anywhere in the rev band, with a maximum of 266 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 245 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. Power goes down to the front wheels in base configuration, although the Sienna is the only van on the market with available all-wheel drive and the production team in Princeton, Indiana have expanded the build to include an XLE AWD trim level for 2012.

That's the model Toyota loaned me for my test week, and all I can say is you won't notice much if any difference in the dry, but in slippery conditions all-wheel drive can be a major asset. For instance, on the way up the mountain during ski season, snow tires aren't required if your car is all-wheel drive.

While the difference in traction on the dry is nominal, you might notice a slight bump at the pump. The AWD Sienna gets a claimed 12.3 L/100km rating in the city and 8.6 on the highway compared to 11.3 and 7.9 for the front-drive model, so unless you live in the snow belt or do a lot of skiing the gas savings and lower initial cost make staying with front-wheel drive more advantageous. Incidentally, the four-cylinder achieves a claimed rating of 10.4 city and 7.5 highway, an impressive figure aided by the same efficient standard 6-speed automatic transmission that comes with the V6.

As mentioned, my tester was trimmed out in XLE AWD, splitting the difference between the LE just below and the Limited just above; the sport-oriented SE kind of off on its own extremely cool (for a minivan) trajectory. Toyota Canada gives the XLE many of the luxury features that come in the pricier Limited, which makes it a very popular choice for the luxury van buyer considering its $40,710 base price, destination included, in front-drive form. That's $8,375 less than the Limited, by the way, while pampering occupants with heated leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, woodgrain dash trim, second-row captain's chairs with comfy lounge seating with built-in ottomans and long-slide adjustment, tri-zone automatic climate control, powered flip-out rear side windows, a powered glass sunroof, a powered liftgate, backup sonar, fog lamps, 18-inch alloys and more. All-wheel drive adds $1,685 to the bottom line.

You're probably curious as to what the Limited offers for $8k and change, so here's a list of highlights: proximity sensing Smart Key with pushbutton ignition, premium leather, driver's side memory, a four-way powered passenger seat, power-folding auto-dimming side mirrors with integrated turn signals, a woodgrain and leather-wrapped steering wheel, Optitron electronic gauges, JBL 4-disc audio, navigation, a panorama rearview camera, dual-view wide-screen DVD entertainment, a dual sunroof, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear sonar, chrome grille, and more. Yah, it's a lot of equipment that can make life a lot more enjoyable, but the XLE offers most of the visual luxury cues, like leather and woodgrain, so it might do the job for you.
I should mention that the XLE and Limited models are seven occupant vans, while you can opt for an eight-passenger configuration in LE and SE trims. I'm not going to into any detail as to what comes base. Suffice to say that the Sienna LE is reasonably equipped for under $30k ($29,680 including destination), but the move up to the LE V6 is worth every penny as it adds some critical items I wouldn't want to live without in any car let alone a van. Van-specific must-have features include dual sliding doors, a backup camera, plus second- and third-row retractable sunshades, important if you've got an infant or smaller kids, while must-have items on any car that come with the LE V6 include Bluetooth, USB audio input, and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. It also gets an auto-dimming rearview mirror, XM satellite radio, a powered driver's seat, and more for $34,280, freight and PDI included.

Certainly the Toyota Sienna represents good value, especially if you factor in its expected resale/trade-in price, which averages quite a bit higher than most of its rivals. Reasons for this include quality, reliability, and let's not discount styling. To my eyes at least, the Sienna is hands down the best looking van on the market.

Hey, it's already Thursday and I've got all my chores done. Suppose I'd better load it up with weekend gear so that the kids and I can have a little fun. Baseball bag, pitching machine, mountain bikes, cooler filled with bevvies, bag of munchies, skis… hold on! Let's give it a month or two for those. How I wish I had this 7-seat gondola in November.

Yah, the Sienna XLE AWD is a van I could live with year round.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Minivan, Toyota, 2012, Sienna, $30,000 - $39,999,

Organizations: Toyota

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