2004 Toyota Sienna
Photo: Toyota Canada. Click image to enlarge.

by Grant Yoxon

Toronto, Ontario – Toyota Canada president and CEO Ken Tomikawa was making a joke when he suggested nicknaming the 2004 Toyota Sienna “My Big, Fat, Aerodynamic Minivan” after the recent popular movie with a similar title. Reporters attending the press briefing for the Canadian launch of the second generation Sienna laughed. Mr. Tomikawa has a good sense of humour. When he speaks, people smile.

He may have made the remark in jest, but the moniker fits well. The new Sienna is big. It is now as large as a Honda Odyssey, the target for this and other new minivans arriving this year. The new Sienna’s wheelbase has been stretched 129.5 milimetres (5.1 inches) and it is 165 mm (6.5 in) longer, 99.1 mm (4 in) wider and 40.6 mm (1.6″) taller than the previous model.

And it is fat in the sense of being well endowed with standard and optional features. You can load this new Sienna up to the level of a Lexus, with a price that is nearly, but not quite as weighty. More than $20,000 separates the base level CE model and the XLE Limited with all wheel drive.

The Sienna CE will start at $30,000, $655 less than the ’03 model despite what Tony Wearing, Group Vice President Toyota Canada calls “a comparably equipped price advantage of $1,800.” More for less, it’s a refrain buyers like to hear. The mid-range LE also offers more for less compared to last year and starts at $34,750.

2004 Toyota Sienna XLE
Sienna XLE

2004 Toyota Sienna XLE
Sienna XLE

2004 Toyota Sienna XLE
Sienna XLE

2004 Toyota Sienna CE and XLE
Sienna CE (white) and XLE. Photos: Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

Fully equipped, with features like all wheel drive, rear seat DVD entertainment system, dual power sliding rear doors and power rear hatch, vehicle stability control and advanced traction control, high intensity discharge headlamps, dynamic laser cruise control, sonar rear parking assist, three zone automatic climate control and full three row side curtain airbags, as well as the usual assortment of leather, wood grain, chrome trim, premium sound and power everything, the Sienna XLE Limited can set you back $51,965 plus freight and taxes. It may sound like a lot, but compared to other top end minivans like the Chrysler Town & Country, it is well-equipped and well-priced.

Even in it leanest, trimmest configuration, the Sienna CE has a hefty complement of standard features. As well as power windows, door locks and mirrors, the CE offers sliding door power windows, keyless entry, one touch tilt and telescopic steering, tire pressure warning system, four wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, dual zone front and rear air conditioning, windshield wiper de-icer and enough cup and bottle holders to meet the needs of the thirstiest family of seven or eight.

With seating for seven or eight, the 2004 Sienna can accommodate even big families, maybe even overweight families. And the seats can be configured in 17 different ways. Centre row captain’s chairs can be positioned with an aisle in the middle or together as a partial bench. They also flip forward or can be removed entirely. On 8-passenger models, the middle seat can be positioned closer to the front seats putting junior within reach of the driver or passenger. Or it can be folded down to use as a table.

The rear bench is split 60/40 and can be lowered independently – without removing the headrests – into a deep well in the floor, leaving a flat cargo surface. With the middle row seats removed, the Sienna can accommodate a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood or up to 4.22 cubic metres (148.92 cubic feet) of cargo.

In addition to 16 cup and bottle holders – two for every possible passenger – the new Sienna raises the bar on interior storage with a two level glove box, compartments under the front arm rests, a sunglass holder in the driver’s door, a bin to store a garage door opener in the overhead console, wide, shallow door pockets, seatback pockets and, on LE and XLE models, a bin under the front passenger seat and a removable centre console that can be positioned between either the first or second row of seats.

2004 Toyota Sienna

2004 Toyota Sienna

2004 Toyota Sienna 3.3 Litre V6

2004 Toyota Sienna LE
Photos: Toyota Canada. Click images to enlarge

All this added baggage would be excessive if the Sienna handled like a sumo wrestler, but despite gaining 95 kilograms (209 pounds), the larger Sienna is surprisingly light on its feet. The first generation Sienna felt heavy and dull at the steering wheel, but a new front suspension geometry improves steering feel and feedback from the road. Steering now feels as light and precise as some of its more svelte competitors like the Dodge Caravan and Mazda MPV.

A wider track – 99.1 mm (3.9 in) were added – improves cornering stability and, when combined with the Sienna’s longer wheelbase, helps provide a comfortable ride. As well, Toyota engineers took more than three feet out of the Sienna’s turning circle improving manoeuvrability significantly.

And with a new 3.3 litre engine that produces 230 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 242 lb.ft. of torque at 3,600 rpm, the Sienna has plenty of power for on ramp acceleration, passing and towing (1587 kg/3500 lb). When pressed, the 3.3 litre V6 responds with a throaty growl and smooth acceleration.

Despite the increase in power, the Sienna has a much smaller appetite for fuel. Advanced technologies like variable valve timing and electronic throttle control combine with much improved aerodynamics – Mr. Tomikawa wasn’t joking – to earn a fuel consumption rating, for two wheel drive models, of 12.2 litres per 100 kilometres (23 miles per gallon) in city driving and 8.1 L/100 km (35 mpg) on the highway. It is also a cleaner engine, complying with future Ultra Low Emission Vehicle-II regulations.

The Sienna is the first application for this aluminum alloy block engine. The same engine will appear in the Lexus RX330 which debuts next month and will likely appear in other Lexus/Toyota V6-powered vehicles in the future.

The first generation Sienna earned a top crash test rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and this is unlikely to change, although the new minivan has yet to be tested. However, advanced safety technology like vehicle stability control and traction control, seat mounted side air bags and a full length, three-row side curtain air bag are still extra cost items, available only on XLE FWD and AWD models.

The new Sienna – Mr. Tomikawa’s big, fat aerodynamic minivan – offers much more to consumers than the model it replaces. Bigger, more powerful and better equipped, it is also nimbler, cleaner and more fuel-efficient. Perhaps you can have your cake and eat it too.

The 2004 Sienna goes on sale this Spring.

Sienna has competition

The 2004 Toyota Sienna is the first of three all-new minivans to hit showrooms this year. The Ford Freestar, expected to go on sale this fall, promises greater interior flexibility including fold-flat seats, improved ride and steering and a more powerful engine. The new 4.2 litre V-6 will offer best-in-class torque (265 lb.-ft. at 3,500 rpm), but less horsepower than the Sienna – 201 at 4,250 rpm. Ford revealed the Freestar at the recent Toronto and Chicago auto shows.

Nissan introduced the radically-designed – for a minivan, anyway – 2004 Quest at the Detroit show in January. The Quest will be the largest minvan in this corpulent class and will offer some unique features like “Skyview” glass panels in the roof. Powered by Nissan’s 3.5 litre all-aluminum V-6, with at least 230 horsepower and 235 lb.-ft. of torque, the Quest promises to be a major contender in the long-wheelbase minivan category. Three-row head curtain air bags will be standard equipment.

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