2009 Toyota Sienna LE
2009 Toyota Sienna LE
2009 Toyota Sienna LE. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Toyota Sienna

Soccer, anyone?

While Middle Suburbia used to be the stronghold of the Mopar Caravan platform, methinks the current driveway landscaping has more of a Bonsai flavour, even if most of those so-called imports have been built in North American plants for some time. (Makes the whole plight of the North American auto industry seem a little skewed, don’t it?) I recall the words of a friend, who continues to ferry her brood in a well-worn 2001 Sienna CE. “We could have had more equipment on a domestic van, but we figured that the most basic Toyota was still the better choice.”

Like most minivans, the Sienna runs the usual gambit of basic, tint-free necessities to the full-whack back-up camera goodness. The trick for any manufacturer is to find the creamy middle; the trim level and price point with the most wanted sensibilities, plus that extra dash of comfort and shiny things that make Family Gruel Night easier to stomach when the monthly payment is due. Judging from the current selection, it would appear that Toyota’s Sienna nougat is the LE Value Package FWD, with an MSRP of $35,450. (Prices shown do not include freight, taxes, regional incentives, and the cruel and unusual punishment of a ‘mandatory’ $194 addendum for an engine block heater.)

The cockpit/The centre stack

2009 Toyota Sienna LE
2009 Toyota Sienna LE. Click image to enlarge

The thing about family transport is that your focus tends to be part pilot, part hostage negotiator. Simplicity and functionality are key, and the Sienna refuses to disappoint. The leather-wrapped wheel employs a manual tilt and telescope, with audio controls and the expected cruise control stalk, at the 4 pm. position. Delay wipers occur naturally for front and rear vision. Power window controls include a driver’s side auto ascent/descent. The Pane Power continues, with rear window venting capability. These controls are dash-mounted, to the left of the driver position, with the power exterior heated mirrors toggle, tire pressure monitoring system switch, and cancel tabs for the power side doors and liftgate.

The traction control cancel is found to the right of the driver, in the real estate of the knee. Optitron glow adds to the instrument panel visibility. The audio head unit keeps the auxiliary audio input at eye level, with a protective rubber plug when not in use. HVAC tuning is manual, with a rear fan control that stays the responsibility of the driver. The gated automatic shift doesn’t feel the need to include a manu-shift function, thank goodness.

Cubbies!

2009 Toyota Sienna LE
2009 Toyota Sienna LE
2009 Toyota Sienna LE
2009 Toyota Sienna LE
2009 Toyota Sienna LE. Click image to enlarge

If you’re calling yourself a minivan, you had better come to the table with a valley of voids. The front doors include one of my personal favourites; flip-top armrest cubbies. Normally, I have to get behind the wheel of a Porsche to enjoy this kind of sensibility. Both front and rear sliding doors provide bottle-specific holders and storage pockets. The driver’s seatback gets the only storage pocket, while both seatbacks incorporate handy bag hooks. They say you can’t take it with you, but you could take the removable centre console in for the night, probably for a removal of the day’s sticky deposits. Dual depth-savvy cupholders are found fore and aft, with a rear pull-out storage tray, a sizable inner cubby, and a unique reverse-flip clipboard, so you can log disciplinary action accordingly amongst the passengers. The third row walls add cupholders, with flip-top storage. I suppose the passenger walls have an additional cubby of sorts, if you count the cavities that contain the manual retractable sunshades for the second and third rows.

The locking glove compartment is an ample bucket, but the real plus here is the dedicated space for the owner’s manual packet. Take a flip back to the centre stack 8 x 10 glossy, and note the cell-phone sized garage, lower storage bin, and the slide-out cupholder. This cupholder has some serious tension on its spring-loaded C-clamp. There’s even a flock-lined coin holder in the cupholder tray itself, ready to finance your whatevercino purchases. Two 12-volt DC powerpoints are located just above the lower storage bin.

The overhead

The upper pod includes an impressive amount of features, without feeling like you’ve bolted a Univac to the headliner. There’s the expected conversation/witness mirror, and a standard day/night rear-view assembly. Homelink keys are found in the forward information display, which provides economy readings, compass, and exterior temperature.

2009 Toyota Sienna LE
2009 Toyota Sienna LE. Click image to enlarge

Between the courtesy lamps are the control switches for the power sliding side doors, and the power liftgate. The visors are so huge, you need not worry that the slide factor has been omitted. Each visor includes a back-lit vanity mirror. Topside, the LE Val-Pack roof rails are equipped with sliding crossbeams, positioned by dial-style twisters. Adding to the functionality of those beams are dedicated tie-down eyelets.

Seat treat

The LE’s Val-Pack adds a power front passenger seat, in addition to the driver’s power glide. There’s a heat treat up front, with dial controls that appear to have five degrees of toasty separation. Both front and second row chairs are armrest-equipped. The second row performs the usual tumble for third row access. The third row bench has a surprising level of comfort and reclination, as evidenced by the comatose carcass of the IS Comfort Dummy.

Cargo embargo

2009 Toyota Sienna LE
2009 Toyota Sienna LE
2009 Toyota Sienna LE
2009 Toyota Sienna LE
2009 Toyota Sienna LE. Click image to enlarge

Most power liftgates require an inward reach to engage the descent mode. Depending on how quick the movement is, and how shrill the warning chimes are, this method can seem as sensible as dunking one’s cranium inside the open jaws of an over-sized puddy tat. The Sienna method simply requires the operator to tug ever so slightly on the liftgate to engage the downward motion, with no switchery. The third row seating folds into the floor with ease. Note the integrated bag hooks that can be used when the seat is in place. A large storage gully is found on the driver’s side wall of the rear compartment, perfect for washer fluid bottles or cargo netting. A third 12-volt DC powerpoint is found nearby. The second row captain’s chairs can flip their seatbacks forward when required, or be removed completely from the vehicle for maximum stuff.

Spare care

I couldn’t bring myself to provide the visual for the temporary spare tire. While the jacking tools are neatly stowed in the cargo compartment, the rubber biscuit is positioned beneath the second row floor, on the passenger side, exposed to all manner of road grease. (Ick!) Toyota will change it for you, as part of the initial 3 year/60,000 km warranty coverage.

The mill

I’m not a fan of how far back the 266-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 has been tucked into the engine bay, but such is the V6/front-wheel drive life. Service accessibility aside, the Sienna does provide excellent access to all fluid check and fill points.

The Verdict

Be it ever so bland, there’s no place like a minivan that really knows its place in the transportation hierarchy. DVD players and cool boxes aside, it’s easy to see why so many families aspire to the Sienna’s in-your-face functionality, regardless of trim level. It just plain works. Add Toyota’s long-haul rep, and you can’t end up with anything less than 5 stars. We hope you’ve enjoyed the 2008 edition of Inside Story. Happy Holidays!

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