February 2009. The Toyota Sienna places second behind the Honda Odyssey (*est. $26,355 to $41,005) in reviews, thanks to just a few key flaws. Safety is the big difference: The Sienna lags behind other minivans in both front and rear crash tests.
When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration simulated a head-on crash between two minivans at 35 mph, the Toyota Sienna was the only 2009 minivan that didn't earn a five-star rating for the driver's safety. The Toyota earned four stars, meaning the driver has an 11 to 20 percent chance of serious injury in such a crash (in other minivans, it's less than 10 percent).
In rear-end crash tests at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Toyota Sienna is one of only two 2009 minivans rated "poor"; the other is the Nissan Quest (*est. $25,950 to $35,650). In the Sienna's case, the IIHS didn't even bother to test its seats, which don't have adjustable lumbar support, because measurements showed the position of the head restraints could not protect a tall person in a crash. Optional seats with adjustable lumbar support had better-positioned head restraints, so the IIHS tested those, but they still performed poorly.
Reviews also criticize the Sienna for looking and driving too much like a boring minivan, with dull-feeling steering and braking, along with plenty of body roll. Testers say the Honda Odyssey is a little more stylish and a lot more agile, but critics note that the Toyota does a few things better than the Honda. The Sienna costs a bit less, while sporting a more luxurious and comfortable cabin than the Odyssey. The Sienna's cargo bay is also slightly bigger than other minivans'. Its 266-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 makes the Sienna the most powerful minivan you can buy, and it's the only one with available all-wheel drive. All Siennas use a five-speed automatic transmission.
Testers appreciate the Sienna's extra safety features, such as a backup camera that reduces the blind spot behind the back wheels, and auto-reverse doors that stop sliding if something (such as a child's hand) gets in the way. However, the jam-protection doors are not available on the base CE trim, and reviews note that the backup camera is only available as part of a $3,990 option package. If you want the backup camera, you also have to pay for heated, leather-trimmed seats; a power moon roof; an upscale stereo with satellite-radio capability; a navigation system and a DVD entertainment system for the back seat.
The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are the only minivans that offer eight-passenger seating. It's an option on the base CE trim (*est. $24,540) and also on the more luxurious LE trim (*est. $26,065). If you opt for the eighth seat, you'll get three removable second-row seats without armrests. On the seven-seat models, the second row includes two removable seats with armrests. All Siennas have a 60/40 split stowable third-row bench seat.
The Toyota Sienna's EPA-estimated gas mileage (17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, 19 mpg combined) is about the same as other full-size minivans, although adding all-wheel drive cuts the figures to 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway/18 mpg combined -- the worst among minivans.
Of all the excellent reviews we found for the Toyota Sienna, Consumer Reports' is the most comprehensive. The magazine accepts no freebies or advertising, purchases the cars it tests from local dealers, and its tests are exhaustive and scientific. The road test at Edmunds.com is also very thorough and credible, although testers there don't compare minivans head-to-head as Consumer Reports does. Crash tests at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are very important resources, as they find safety flaws with the Toyota Sienna that other reviews miss. Lesser reviews fall into the second tier because they are older, or not as thorough or objective as the best reviews. However, they all offer something unique. For example, the reviewer at MotherProof.com pays attention to little touches that make her life as a mom easier (such as the Sienna's one-handed folding seats), which expert testers generally overlook.
Consumer Reports' ratings chart makes it easy to see how the Toyota Sienna stacks up against other minivans. Experts here test every aspect of each minivan -- ride, handling, comfort, etc. -- and even conduct their own fuel-economy tests. Editors generate reliability scores for each minivan based on reader surveys, and each model gets a thorough write-up with a detailed list of specs and safety features.
Review: Toyota Sienna, Editors of Consumer Reports
2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
You can search SaferCar.gov for government crash-test results for most vehicles on the market today. The Toyota Sienna is one of only two minivans that do not achieve five-star impact and four-star rollover ratings, although its ratings are almost that high.
Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, Editors of SaferCar.gov
3. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash-tests the Toyota Sienna and other minivans. Although it performs well in front and side crashes, the Toyota rates "poor" for safety in rear-end collisions.
Review: Toyota Sienna, Editors of IIHS
Edmunds.com doesn't test the Toyota Sienna head-to-head against other minivans, but editors do compare it to its leading competitors. They award the Sienna a rating of eight (out of 10), calling it "one of the best minivans you can buy."
Review: 2009 Toyota Sienna Review, Editors of Edmunds.com
Consumer Guide names the Toyota Sienna to its Recommended list of minivans, but the Sienna does not earn a Best Buy rating. Editors award the Sienna numeric scores in 11 categories (such as cargo room and ride quality) and provide brief explanations. The Sienna's overall score places it just about average among minivans.
Review: 2009 Toyota Sienna, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com, Jan. 28, 2009
MotherProof.com reviewer Lori Hindman tests the upscale 2008 Toyota Sienna LE along with her two sons, ages 5 and 7. She especially appreciates the advanced safety features included in the LE package.
Review: Minivans Can Be a Guilty Pleasure, Too, Lori Hindman, Apr. 11, 2008
7. Motor Trend
Motor Trend compares the Toyota Sienna with its competitors, based on their features. The Sienna offers more storage than other leading minivans, and it's the only one that offers all-wheel drive, making it "clearly a strong player in the minivan segment," the review concludes.
Review: First Look: 2009 Toyota Sienna, Editors of Motor Trend
8. Canadian Driver
CanadianDriver.com's James Bergeron drives the Toyota Sienna for four days and compliments its comfortable ride and long list of features. Bergeron doesn't compare the Sienna to other minivans, however. Although he tests the 2007 model, this review is still pertinent, as the Sienna hasn't changed much since then.
Review: Day-by-Day Review: 2007 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD, James Bergeron, Feb. 26, 2007
9. Car and Driver
This brief review concludes that the Toyota Sienna is "a highly capable minivan" with a refined ride and interior. Car and Driver highlights a few notable features of the Sienna, such as its unique (in this class) optional all-wheel drive.
Review: 2009 Toyota Sienna -- Review, Editors of Car and Driver, Sept. 2008
10. The Truth About Cars
This review is long on sarcasm, but short on helpful details. The reviewer bluntly criticizes the Toyota Sienna for being bloated, goofy-looking and boring. However, he adds that the Sienna also exemplifies all of the good qualities minivan shoppers want.
Review: 2008 Toyota Sienna LE Review, Samir Syed, Mar. 19, 2008