2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6
2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6
2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2011 Toyota Sienna

Who says a minivan can’t have some attitude? The last such vehicles to display any real verve were the turbocharged Chrysler minis of the 1980s; since then, few automakers (of those even still making minivans) have dared inject much fun into this segment, for fear of scaring away buyers who still prefer the minivan’s family-friendly formula over the trendier crossover.

While Toyota’s viral “Swagger Wagon” ad campaign suggests that the Sienna’s cool factor has increased exponentially with this redesign, only a new SE trim gets any performance-oriented hardware, in the form of a tighter suspension and steering, with more aggressive bodywork being the outward indicator.

Perhaps more significant is the addition of a four-cylinder model, making this the first four-banger minivan in about a decade, and the first four-cylinder Toyota van since the Previa disappeared in 1997. Knowing that most van buyers prefer six-cylinder power, the four – a 2.7-litre shared with the Venza and Highlander – is only available in the most basic trim, while all other Siennas get a 3.5-litre V6 carried over from the outgoing model. All versions use a six-speed automatic transmission.

2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6
2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6
2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6. Click image to enlarge

The Sienna line-up starts with the LE, which can be had with either seven or eight seats; the eight-passenger SE; seven-passenger XLE; and seven-seat XLE AWD and Limited AWD models.

My tester was an LE eight-seat model, the eighth seat being a removable centre cushion for the second row. Save this middle seat for someone small, as it’s quite narrow. Take that middle cushion out – it stows in a space in the wall behind the third row – to reveal a tray between the outboard seats with cupholders; that’s handy, but even more so is the fact that you can walk between the seats to get to the back of the van. The second row slides fore and aft on long tracks to allow for near limo-style legroom, at the expense of third-row space. Set up all three rows of seats, though, and there’s adequate space for life-size people all around. The second row seats recline regardless of trim, but XLE and Limited models get trick second-row “lounge” seats with a fold-out footrest.

Two improvements make getting in and out of the third row easier here: Toyota says the sliding door openings are two inches (about 50 mm) longer than in the old Sienna, and the bottom cushions of the second row seats fold up to allow the seat to slide far enough forward to be out of the way (tip-up-and-slide in Toyota parlance). In the old model, getting to the back seats involved a two-step process of folding the second row flat and then tipping it forward.

2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6
2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6
2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6
2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6. Click image to enlarge

As with just about every minivan on the market now, the Sienna’s third row completely disappears into a well in the floor when it’s folded to create a flat cargo area behind the second row. Also, the seats can be raised and lowered with one hand, though shorter people might find it a stretch to reach the handle in the seatback when it’s folded. Toyota doesn’t offer a stowable second row, but the seats are removable without the need for tools.

A trip to the Toronto area proved the Sienna to be long-haul comfortable up front, at least, with typical van sit-up-straight front seats. My only complaint was that the adjustable lumbar support was positioned too high in the backrest. You’ll notice a resemblance in the Sienna’s dash to that in the Venza. The controls are well laid out, but some of the buttons – mostly the climate system’s fan speed control – are a reach from the driver’s position. Automatic climate control would help here, but it’s not available until the SE model; Siennas below that get a manual three-zone (driver/passenger/rear) system.

Toyota says the Sienna was designed to inspire the same kind of passion that cars do in their owners. Don’t expect this van to set your heart aflutter, but from behind the wheel, the drive is notably more spirited than in the competition. While the SE gets the up-rated suspension and steering hardware, my LE tester’s ride was nicely tuned all the same: comfortable but just firm enough to keep unnecessary body motions under control. Likewise, the Sienna’s handling isn’t sporty, but it’s competent, and actually inspires some confidence in quick corners. The steering is light, and the brake and throttle pedals are easy to modulate, making the Sienna an easy daily driver, just as it should be.

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