Reviewers differ in their opinions as to whether the 2011 Toyota Sienna has the chops to finally overtake its longtime nemesis, the 2010 Honda Odyssey (Base MSRP: $26,805 to $40,755) and claim the title of top minivan. Yet virtually all but the most skeptical critics agree that the new Sienna somewhat unexpectedly -- and quite brilliantly -- shines in a number of significant areas. Case in point: the Sienna's new 187-horsepower, 2.7-liter, four-cylinder engine, offering 19 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway (versus the V6 engine's 18 mpg city/24 highway and 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway on all-wheel drive models). Motor Trend's Kim Reynolds says, the addition of the four-cylinder "makes a pretty compelling case for itself in these thin-wallet times." Equally notable is the sporty new SE edition that prompts Popular Mechanics' John Pearley Huffman to comment, "It's easy to dismiss the idea of a sporty minivan… but the Sienna SE is easily the best-looking minivan on the market."
Chris Walton, chief road test editor for InsideLine.com, is impressed by the Toyota Sienna SE's distinctive styling cues, such as a different lower front fascia and mesh grille, chunkier rocker panels, clear-lens taillights with dark chrome surrounds and 19-inch wheels. But he says its road manners are equally notable. "The Sienna SE doesn't float like a marshmallow because the body motions are so much better controlled," he says. At the same time, he says it also "doesn't steer like an ocean liner because the steering is more lively and natural feeling." He says the SE will certainly "give a run to the class-leading handler," the Honda Odyssey.
"It's a minivan with carbon fiber bits inside, a lowered stiff suspension and a body kit," says Autoblog.com's Frank Filipponio, "and that's exactly why we like it… the mere fact that it exists elevates the entire range."
However, MSN Autos' Kirk Bell offers a dissenting opinion. "The SE is touted as sporty, but it really only mitigates some of the handling drawbacks." Bell notes that weight doesn't shift as quickly and there's less lean in sharp turns. But, while steering is heavier and a bit quicker, he says "it's still numb." Still, the MSN reviewer applauds Toyota's newly available "frugal" four-cylinder engine offered on both the Base model as well as the better-equipped Sienna LE. Like the standard 3.5-liter V6, the economical base engine is also mated to a new six-speed transmission with manual-shift capability.
"The use of a six-speed transmissions is maybe more important here than the engine choice," explains Walton, noting that different transmissions are used for the four-cylinder and V6 engines. He says the new electronically controlled transmissions are programmed for intuitive operation, and they smoothly and comfortably choose the correct gear in different driving scenarios.
What's odd about the 2011 Toyota Sienna, say editors of U.S. News and World Report, "is that reviewers are actually excited about it" -- and they're not alone. According to InsideLine.com's Josh Jacquot, the Sienna is "feature-laden, thoroughly modern, quicker than the Odyssey and just as efficient" which, he says "makes a winning value statement." Noting that the current-generation Odyssey has prevailed for the past three years in Inside Line's road-test comparisons, Jacquot says both minivans are immensely capable and each has its shortcomings, but the 2011 Toyota Sienna "is simply the best value in minivans sold today."
The 2011 Sienna's all-new exterior styling also impresses the majority of reviewers, who note that the Sienna has long been the "automotive equivalent of Wonder Bread… satisfying, but also squishy and bland, a product purchased for the sake of the kids," Car and Driver's Tony Quiroga heartily approves of the more striking design, which he says is less anonymous and includes slab sides that give way to a defined shoulder line and bulging front fenders, adding, "We might even go so far as to call it attractive."
TheCarConnection.com's Marty Padgett writes that the Sienna's new design is "nothing to draw a flash mob or attract civil disobedience," but he's thoroughly pleased with the results of new body panels, more dynamic front end, geometrically bold windows and the rearward tapering bodylines. Padgett notes that the Sienna cabin also reflects a new styling theme that's aimed at a more spacious feel, but he says some aspects of the interior appear less expensive than before.
As dramatic as the exterior changes are, Autoblog's Filipponio says "the interior is this van's main attraction."
In particular, Filipponio cites the one-motion ease with which the third-row bench seat can be raised or lowered into the floor, as well as the newly-optional 16.4-inch LCD monitor that "unfolds from the headliner while dropping jaws" and can display two separate program options side-by-side or a single standard or widescreen program.
"This is a product that feels high quality in every way… from how the doors latch to how well ride motions are isolated," says Popular Mechanics' Huffman. And he can't resist mentioning the "giant Nike-spec swoosh of woodgrain (or faux carbon fiber on the SE) that sweeps from under the ventilation and navigation controls over to the right side door -- straight off Michael Jordan's shoes right into Toyota's minivan." Huffman also commends the class-exclusive second-row lounge seating for the Limited model, which includes plush captain's chairs with ottomans, not unlike a Laz-E-Boy, that emerge when the seats are reclined.
Inside Line's Jacquot, however, says the 2010 Honda Odyssey's "lightweight, simple-to-remove second-row seats also offer a measure of utility unavailable in the Sienna Limited." According to Jacquot, the recliners were comfortable, "but you have to be the right size," noting testers who were taller than 5-foot-9 disdained them. "If you're a little too big," he says you'll find your shoes resting against the front seatbacks. "And if you're really big, your feet just won't fit anywhere at all."
Overall, however, reviewers are impressed with the 2011 Sienna's interior and long list of standard features, including dual sliding doors, second-row seats that slide 26 inches fore and aft, folding third-row seats, remote keyless entry, three-zone climate control, a 3.5-inch display on models not equipped with navigation, XM satellite radio capability, three 12-volt outlets and an auxiliary audio jack.
"As one would expect in a minivan, storage space abounds," says Car and Driver's Quiroga, citing "two glove boxes, massive door pockets, more cup holders than there are seats, sliding storage console between the front seats, and even a place to store your purse (or European carryall) on the floor." Cargo volume ranges from a minimum of 39.1 cubic-feet to a class-leading maximum of 150 cubic feet.
The 2011 Toyota Sienna is available in five model grades: Base, LE, SE, XLE and Limited. All-wheel drive is available on V6 LE, XLE and Limited models (the Sienna remains the only minivan to offer an all-wheel-drive option). LE models add dual power sliding doors and a power rear door, as well as an eight-way power driver seat including lumbar, a USB port with iPod connectivity, plus Bluetooth phone and streaming audio capability. XLE models include such features as leather-trimmed and heated front seats, moonroof, 10-speaker JBL audio system and voice-activated DVD navigation, along with a rear Panorama back-up camera and sonar, and Smart Key keyless start. In addition, to second-row lounge seating, the luxurious Limited model also offers a power-stowing third-row seat, dual moonroof and Toyota's Safety Connect telematics system.
Standard safety equipment on all trim levels includes driver and passenger front- and side-mounted airbags, three-row side curtain airbags and a driver's knee airbag. There's also a full complement of safety features including electronic stability control and traction control, as well as an available Pre-Collision System. As of this writing, the 2011 Toyota Sienna had not yet been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but it receives the highest possible rating of "Good" in both the frontal-offset-impact and side-impact tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Several reviews highlight comprehensive road tests and solid advice for buyers including TheCarConnection.com, InsideLine.com, Car and Driver, Autoblog.com and LeftLaneNews.com.
TheCarConnection.com veteran Marty Padgett provides a comprehensive and extremely informative review of the 2011 Sienna including insights into performance, features and how the new Sienna compares to the competition.
Review: First Drive: 2011 Toyota Sienna, Marty Padgett, Dec. 18, 2009
2. Inside Line
This highly informative road test between the new Sienna and the current Honda Odyssey provides a wealth of insight as to the comparative strengths and weaknesses of both models. While the writer concludes that the Odyssey prevails in space efficiency and handling, the new Sienna emerges the winner of the match.
Review: 2011 Toyota Sienna vs. 2010 Honda Odyssey Minivan Comparison, Josh Jacquot, Feb. 8, 2010
After a brief history of the minivan, Frank Filipponio provides impressions from his first drive of the 2011 Sienna, ranging from exterior and interior styling, to trim levels and a thorough description of the seating options. The minivan's new high-tech options are also addressed. His final assessment asserts "the minivan has a chance at a comeback…cool or not."
Review: First Drive: 2011 Toyota Sienna Tries to Make the Minivan Cool, Frank Filipponio, Dec. 18, 2009
TheCarConnection.com's Marty Padgett follows up on his initial review of the new Sienna with additional discussion of the minivan's performance, design and interior features.
Review: 2011 Toyota Sienna -- Bottom Line, Marty Padgett
Mark Elias offers a discussion of the minivan and Toyota's take in general, noting the carmaker has "added a few niches" to the minivan playbook. He also provides insight as to the racing background of Toyota's chief engineer and focuses on the evolution of the new SE model. Performance aspects of the new four-cylinder engine and the standard V6 are addressed as well.
Review: First Drive: 2011 Toyota Sienna, Mark Elias, Jan. 18, 2010
The editors of Edmunds.com conduct a thorough first drive audit of the new Sienna, noting that Toyota offers "a little 'same-old, same-old' (not a bad thing) and something of a shocker -- a sport-tuned minivan." The various trims, features and options are discussed, as are the minivan's road manners with both the four-cylinder and V6 engines. The editors also offer praise for the new interior, storage options and plush Limited model, noting that the SE model possesses "some dynamic chops."
Review: 2011 Toyota Sienna First Drive, John DiPietro, Dec. 20, 2009
7. Inside Line
Inside Line's Chris Walton reports from behind the wheel of a new 2011 Sienna SE. He includes insights from Toyota's chief engineer, his own observations on handling and styling, plus detailed information about the minivan's versatile seating options, standard equipment and available options.
Review: 2011 Toyota Sienna -- First Drive: The Triumph of Natural Selection, Chris Walton, Dec. 18, 2009
8. Car and Driver
Car and Driver's Tony Quiroga provides a thorough review of the 2011 Sienna, offering buyers practical information regarding trim levels, features, performance and handling.
Review: 2011 Toyota Sienna -- First Drive Review, Tony Quiroga, December 2009
9. Motor Trend
Kim Reynolds offers a largely complimentary but objective review of road testing the 2011 Sienna, noting that the Sienna line-up is "a dream team of players, each one just as capable in its own, diverse way."
Review: First Test: 2011 Toyota Sienna LE: The New Best Minivan on the Market, Kim Reynolds, December 2009
This comprehensive review addresses virtually every nook and cranny of the new Sienna, including performance, comfort and convenience features, as well as its cool technology. John Pearley Huffman's bottom line: even if Toyota didn't completely reinvent the Sienna, they did an excellent job of refining the box to a new level of comfort and paired that with a secure solidity.
Review: 2011 Toyota Sienna Test Drive -- Minivan Reinvented?, John Pearley Huffman
11. U.S. News Rankings and Reviews
U.S. News Rankings and Reviews, a website run by U.S. News and World Report, does not conduct its own testing. Instead, like ConsumerSearch, it conducts an in-depth analysis of other publications' reviews of minivans. Unlike ConsumerSearch, U.S. News then translates these into numeric scores. The site offers detailed information for the 2011 Toyota Sienna in key areas, such as performance, exterior, interior, safety and reliability. Still, this site is an excellent place to find a broad range of reviewer perspectives on the new Sienna.
Review: 2011 Toyota Sienna, Editors of U.S. News Rankings and Reviews
12. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's independent crash-test regimen results in the highest rating of "Good" for the 2011 Sienna in front- and side-impact collisions.
Review: Toyota Sienna, Editors of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
13. MSN Autos
Kirk Bell of MSN Autos reports on a first drive of the 2011 Sienna, and provides detailed performance, features and safety information. He notes the new Sienna is the "right choice for families of four or more" and includes all the space needed to "chauffeur up to seven kids to soccer practice or head down to Home Depot for a load of drywall."
Review: 2011 Toyota Sienna -- First Drive, Kirk Bell