Tiny, Ontario – It’s the annual trip to a rented cottage with friends, and though the drive itself doesn’t usually surpass two hours, the headaches that result often do. And often the ultimate litmus test for the family vehicle, the one in which you decide you really need – or could use for such trips – a larger vehicle.
In years past, our two boys managed to find holes in a purposely laid wall of rolled up sleeping bags, structural pillows from the cargo area stacked to the roof, and football field-sized Costco muffin packs on previous one-week adventures. This despite an armful of individual devices to help keep them electronically sedated. With mid- to full-size SUVs theoretically large enough to comfortably accommodate a seven-day outing for two adults and two grade-school children, not being able to see out behind you becomes very tiring very quickly.
It’s also when back-up cameras become worth their weight in gold.
This year’s steed for the trip was the Toyota Sienna SE, and once again, the family marveled at how much more cargo room and people space a minivan provided compared to nearly every single other type of SUV or crossover on the market. And this one here just happens to be the sportiest of all minivans.
Granted, calling it the sportiest minivan is like crowning it Miss Congeniality in a jailhouse beauty pageant – even the nicest performing minivan places responsive dynamics well down the list of priorities. And so it was here, with a ride that heavily favoured cushy over all else, though the SE is the only Sienna to receive a sport-tuned suspension that drops its overall height by a modest five millimetres. But at least some degree of sportiness is on the list, which you can’t say for some minivans, or many crossovers/SUVs for that matter.
This particularly dashing SE model featured at least an attempt at a more sporting style, with its aggressively tapered lower body cladding all around, rear roof spoiler, and clear tail lamps bringing a more youthful vibe to the class. Pushing too hard to be cool? Perhaps, but any attempt at coolness in the minivan class is a bonus, where (some) folks pay big bucks for an integrated vacuum cleaner.
Interior updated for practicality, not style
On the other hand, once you climb into the seven- or eight-seat Toyota Sienna, the program is flipped mightily: flashy style takes a far back seat to plain-Jane practicality. Yes, the SE’s standard leather seats are nice and comfortable, but there’s not much here in the way of colour variation or immediately notable luxury, in part because this is the sportier SE model, or because the apparently less sleek woodgrain dash and cubby covers are only available on pricier Limited and XLE all-wheel-drive models.
The 2015 Regatta: Comparison Test: Honda Odyssey vs Kia Sedona vs Toyota Sienna
Speaking of all-wheel drive, it’s worth noting here that the Sienna is the only minivan to offer all-wheel drive anymore, so if that’s a feature important to you, the base LE AWD model starts at $37,125, or roughly $3,000 higher than the similarly equipped front-wheel-drive LE model, though the higher priced LE AWD does come standard with 18-inch wheels versus 17s, plus two captain’s chairs in the rear instead of the three-person bench seat.