2004 Toyota Sienna LE
Click image to enlarge (Photos: Toyota Canada)

by Greg Wilson

Take that, Honda Odyssey!

I don’t know if Toyota used the Honda Odyssey as a benchmark for the new 2004 Sienna minivan, but the redesigned Sienna is a heck of a lot like the current Odyssey – rivaling it in many respects and beating it in others – notably seating versatility and the availability of all-wheel-drive.

That’s not too surprising really – Honda is Toyota’s arch competitor, particularly in North America, and the Odyssey is ranked by many critics, including me, as the best minivan around.

The previous Toyota Sienna minivan, which replaced the Previa in 1998, has played second fiddle to the Honda Odyssey for many years. It’s smaller, less powerful, doesn’t handle as well, doesn’t look as good (in my opinion), and doesn’t offer that handy fold-into-the-floor third row seat.

The new Sienna arrives with an all-new body that’s considerably bigger and an interior to match. It’s about 150 mm (5.9 inches) longer, 100 mm (4 inches) wider, and has a wheelbase that’s 130 mm (5 inches) longer. The new Sienna is slightly shorter than a Honda Odyssey, but it has a longer wheelbase and is about 45 mm (1.7 inches) wider.

2004 Toyota Sienna LE
Click image to enlarge

A new 230 horsepower 3.3 litre V6 engine mated to a standard five-speed automatic transmission replaces the previous 210 horsepower 3.0 litre V6 and four-speed automatic transmission. The Odyssey has a 240 horsepower 3.5 litre V6 and five-speed automatic.

The Sienna’s pricing remains competitive although top-of-the-line Siennas, now available with options like a DVD entertainment system and laser cruise control, can go over $50,000. The base price of the 2004 Sienna CE is $30,000, a decrease of $665 over the 2003 model. The Sienna LE has increased in price by $1,365 to $34,750, but it has more standard equipment which Toyota says is worth nearly $2,600. Top-of-the-line Sienna XLE goes for $43,600. Siennas with all-wheel-drive are offered in LE ($39,160), XLE ($46,700) and XLE Ltd. ($52,070) trim.

Standard equipment

2004 Toyota Sienna LE
Click image to enlarge

2004 Siennas are available in CE FWD (front-wheel drive), LE FWD, XLE FWD, LE 4WD (all-wheel drive) and XLE 4WD. All Sienna’s have a new 230 horsepower 3.3 litre V6 engine with a lighter-weight aluminum alloy block and variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i). The new engine meets future ULEV2 (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle, Tier 2) regulations.

A new five-speed automatic transmission replaces the previous four-speed automatic, and all 2004 Siennas have anti-lock brakes, Brake Assist and Electronic Brake force Distribution. XLE FWD, LE 4WD and XLE 4WD models also get Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control.

Base models now have larger new 215/65R16 tires, while LE 4WD and XLE FWD and 4WD ride on P225/60R17 all-season radials. The tires on 4WD models are run-flats.

My test van was an LE with front-wheel-drive, and its price of $34,750 included eight-passenger seating (2-3-3), automatic transmission, 6-speaker AM/FM/CD/Cassette sound system, dual-zone climate control system, power sliding rear passenger door, power windows and door locks, keyless entry with hatch release, fog lamps, and cruise control.

Top of the line XLE 4WD models can be equipped with a Limited package that includes a DVD Rear Seat Entertainment system with wireless headphones, backup sensors, laser cruise control and high intensity discharge headlamps.

Interior is a comfortable environment

2004 Toyota Sienna LE
Click image to enlarge

With its fairly low step-in height (43 cm/17 inches), and big doors, the Sienna is easy to get in and out of. Even so, the driver sits fairly high, and has a broad view of the road ahead. Visibility to the sides and rear is also very good due to the large windows.

The driver’s seat features power seat cushion height adjustment at the front and rear of the cushion, and a manual lumbar adjustment for lower back support. The driver’s seat in the CE and LE includes a soft cloth covering, good side support, and inboard folding armrest, and I found it very comfortable. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes too.

The Sienna’s instrument cluster is easier to see than before – larger white numerals on a black background, backlit at night, stand out clearly. The metallic trim around the gauges is illuminated when the headlights are turned on, adding to the clarity of the display. The instrument cluster includes a tachometer and a transmission gearshift indicator.

The centre control panel protrudes forwards for easier reach, and most controls are mounted higher rather than lower on the centre stack. The most unusual feature is the automatic transmission lever which sticks out of the lower centre stack – more on this later. An AM/FM/CD/cassette player at the very top has big, easy to read letters and buttons, and the sound is excellent. However, the radio’s grey LCD display was hard to read because the clear plastic cover is susceptible to glare. That contrasts with the bright green illuminated digital clock lower in the console which is easy to read.

A dual-zone automatic climate control in the Sienna LE features separate driver and passenger fan controls, but only one temperature control. A power door lock button on the far side of the centre stack is hard to see, but there is another one on the driver’s door. A feature I liked was a button that turns on all the interior lights at once, and in the overhead console, a convex mirror for keeping tabs on restless rear passengers and an information display with a compass and outside temperature readout.

One complaint about the centre stack design: the lacquered trim on the sides wraps over the top of the dashboard and catches reflections through the windshield. For example, a tree reflection will appear to move across the centre stack, distracting the driver’s eye from the road.

2004 Toyota Sienna LE
Click image to enlarge

Variable intermittent wipers are standard on the front and rear – the latter very useful because the vertical rear window accumulates dirt (or slush in winter) very quickly, but not quickly enough to justify constant wiping.

The dash includes two small covered storage bins and two 12 volt powerpoints, useful for storing cell phones or PDA’s. A large storage bin with a flip-down lid is located at the bottom of the console.

Between the seats are two cupholders, and a large bi-level storage bin with flip-over notepad holder on the top.

The Sienna LE has a power-operated passenger-side sliding door, but the driver’s side door is operated manually. This is OK because most passengers get in from the curb side anyway. The driver can open it by pressing a button on the overhead console, and the rear passenger can open it by pressing a button near the door. To prevent small children from opening the door, the driver can lock it out from the driver’s seat. The power door can also be opened by a remote key fob, which is handy when approaching the vehicle from a distance. The power door features ‘pinch protection’ which reverses the door if anything or anyone gets caught while it’s closing.

It’s worth noting that the new Sienna has roll-down windows in the rear sliding doors – most minivans have fixed windows. The Sienna’s windows roll-down about half way.

Terrific seats

The centre row consists of three individual seats that are positioned close enough to form a bench seat. All three centre seats have reclining seatbacks, and all three can be moved forwards and backwards – handy for increasing third row legroom, or for increasing second row legroom when there’s no one in the third seats.

2004 Toyota Sienna LE
Click image to enlarge

Second row seatbacks can be folded flat, and each has a hard plastic back with built-in cupholders which makes a great table. For example, the centre seatback can act as a table for the outboard second row passengers.

As well, all three centre seats can be flipped over forwards to create a larger rear cargo area. As well, all three seats can be removed from the van individually by pulling on a lever. It’s not difficult and the seats are relatively light because of their smaller size. I had one concern: the plastic mouldings around the seat tracks can be easily scratched by the metal seat fittings.

It’s possible to access the third row from either the driver or passenger sides – the outboard centre seats slide forward and tumble to allow easier access to the third row.

One of the best features of the Sienna are its unique 60/40 split third row seats which can be individually folded into a well in the floor, thereby creating a flat loading surface. The advantage of this seat design is that you don’t have to remove them from the van to create a flat cargo surface. As well, they can be folded individually, so that it’s possible for example, to have two rear seat passengers on one side, and a flat surface for luggage on the other. That means greater versatility when carrying passengers and cargo – in the latter case, you could accomodate six passengers plus some sports equipment.

The third row seats have adequate headroom for somone up to 6 feet, but barely adequate legroom – they’re best used for children. For comfort, the seatbacks do recline, there are cupholders and storage bins in the third row, and map lights and air vents above the third row.

For safety, outboard third row passengers have height adjustable head restraints which can be lowered flush with the top of the seats so as not to impede the driver’s rearward visibility – and there are three 3-point safety belts.

Spacious cargo area

The large hatch opening measures 135 cm (53 inches) wide and 104 cm (41 inches) tall, and the liftover height into the cargo area is just 63 cm (25 inches) high. Inside, the roomy cargo area is 121 cm (four feet) wide between the wheelhousings and even wider above them.

2004 Toyota Sienna LE
Click image to enlarge

The Sienna has plenty of rear cargo space behind the third row seats because of the deep well in the floor. Total cargo volume behind the third row seats is 1240 litres (44 cu. ft.) – that’s more than double the trunk space of a Camry.

Folding the individual rear seats into the floor requires tugging on two separate straps and pivoting the seats into the floor. A bit of effort is needed, but it’s easier than folding the single rear bench seats found in the Honda Odyssey and Mazda MPV – and it’s much easier than having to lift them out of the van.

With both split third row seats folded flat into the floor, cargo space increases to 2680 litres (95 cu. ft.) and the cargo floor length is 145 cm (57 inches); and with the second row seats removed, there is 4220 litres (149 cu. ft.) behind the front bucket seats.

Driving impressions

I really liked the Sienna’s driving position, which is similar to the Odyssey’s. The driver sits high, and the dash and steering wheel are mounted relatively low, increasing forward visibility and taking the weight off the driver’s arms while driving.

2004 Toyota Sienna LE

2004 Toyota Sienna LE

2004 Toyota Sienna LE

2004 Toyota Sienna LE
Click image to enlarge

The position of the gear lever for the automatic transmission looks unusual – but it’s actually very convenient to reach because it’s higher than typical shifters and it’s positioned on the left side of the centre console, closer to the driver.

With 230 horsepower and 242 lb-ft. of torque at just 3600 rpm, the Sienna’s quick acceleration and overall responsiveness is surprising. Though the Honda Odyssey has 10 more horsepower, it develops its maximum torque at 4500 rpm, considerably higher than the Sienna. The Sienna jumps off the line, and at maximum throttle, it’s easy to spin the front tires on dry pavement. The Sienna CE and LE are not available with traction control – only XLE FWD, LE AWD and XLE 4WD models get Toyota’s Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control systems.

The 3.3 litre V6 with variable valve timing lets out a dull roar on acceleration, but overall, it is an extremely quiet, smooth engine. Engine and road noise are minimal at highway speeds, but I noticed some wind noise coming from the windshield area – a bit surprising given the Sienna’s aerodynamic shape. At a steady 100 km/h, the Sienna’s engine turns over just 1800 rpm, and at 120 km/h, it’s only 2300 rpm.

Fuel consumption is very good for a big vehicle that weighs 1870 kg (4123 lb.): in the city, it offers 12.2 l/100 km (23 mpg), and on the highway it gets 8.1 l/100 km (35 mpg). That’s slightly better than an Odyssey.

The Sienna’s five-speed automatic transmission is really responsive and smooth, and a good match for this willing engine. Its gated shifter allows you to shift from 5th to 4th by pushing the gear lever sideways – I found this an easy way to gear down quickly when approaching a steep hill.

Its rack and pinion power steering, without variable assist, proved to be very responsive and easy to use in city and highway driving situations – almost as good as the Odyssey, but not quite. For a big vehicle, the Sienna turns in quickly and handles quite well despite some lean. The suspension is an independent MacPherson gas struts in front, and a single torsion beam at the rear – the latter one of the major reasons the Sienna has such a lot of cargo space.

The Sienna’s turning circle of 11.2 metres (36.8 ft.) is very tight for such a long vehicle, and about a foot tighter than the Odyssey. The Sienna’s standard Michelin Energy Green X 215/65R-16 inch tires aren’t small, but I got the feeling that it could use bigger tires – or perhaps a softer tire compound for more grip.

Brakes are four wheel discs with ABS, Brake Assist (which automatically increases braking force during panic braking situations) and Electronic Brake Force Distribution (to even out front to rear brake forces) are all standard.

Competitor overview

Competitors for the 2004 Toyota Sienna LE $34,750 include the Honda Odyssey LX ($32,200), Dodge Grand Caravan Sport ($29,520), Chevy Venture LWB ($33,530), Ford Windstar Sport ($33,375), Pontiac Montana SE LWB ($34,210), and Kia Sedona EX ($27,595).

As I mentioned, the Odyssey is closest in character to the Sienna – some allowances in price need to be made for standard equipment differences. The Sienna has the most flexible seating arrangements and is one of the roomiest, if not the roomiest.

In terms of refinement, performance, handling, and driving pleasure, I would place the Sienna near the top of the list. The GM minivans handle better, the Windstar has more available safety features, the Sedona is considerably cheaper, and the Grand Caravan may offer more features for the money as well. But it’s hard to beat the Sienna for reliability, durability and resale value.


An extremely roomy minivan with unusually flexible seating and cargo arrangements, the new Toyota Sienna minivan is powerful, quiet and easy to drive – a very practical vehicle for extended families.

The Sienna is built in Princeton, Indiana.

Technical Data: 2004 Toyota Sienna LE FWD

Base price (CE) $30,000
Base price (LE) $34,750
Price as tested (LE 8 passenger) $35,180
Type 4-door, 7 or 8 passenger minivan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive (optional AWD)
Engine 3.3 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves, variable valve timing
Horsepower 230 @ 5600 rpm
Torque 242 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Tires P215/65R-16 all season
Curb weight 1870 kg (4123 lb.)
Wheelbase 3030 mm (119.3 in.)
Length 5080 mm (200.0 in.)
Width 1965 mm (77.4 in.)
Height 1750 mm (68.9 in.)
Towing capacity 1587 kg (3500 lb.)
Cargo capacity 1240 litres (44 cu. ft.) behind 3rd row
  2680 litres (95 cu. ft.) behind 2nd row
  4220 litres (149 cu. ft.) behind 1st row
Fuel consumption City 12.2 l/100 km (23 mpg)
  Hwy 8.1 l/100 km (35 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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