2011 Toyota Sienna

toyota sienna review

Coolness is effectively the art of doing it wrong. The best music isn’t always the most pleasing to the ear and great paintings are rarely pretty. Fashionably good looking clothes are rarely well suited to any task and conversely, going about your business in combat boots, cargo pants and a tactical vest would make you look like a tool. The coolest kids at school take a lax view of their studies and tend to misbehave. The goody goody overachievers are dorks.
With that in mind, we bring you the Toyota Sienna.


There’s no beating a Van, particularly a front-wheel drive van, for usable interior volume. The engine and transmission are crammed up front, with only the fuel tank, spare tire and rear suspension to be fit under the body. While not glamorous by any measure, it’s got to be a designer’s dream come true to have near free reign to wring the most utility out of a given volume. Toyota’s designers did just that: whether it’s people, gear or both, the Sienna can be rapidly configured to swallow whatever you’re trying to feed it.
As a not-so-mini minivan, the Sienna wasn’t exactly hurting for rear storage, but maybe by the time you accumulate eight people’s worth of gear a standard “way-back” starts to get full. The solution? Toyota’s carved an extra 18″ out of the floor where one might expect the spare or the fuel tank to go. The resulting storage pit rivals my compact wagon’s whole rearend for volume. Just be careful when dropping something over the backs of the rear seats. It’s a long way down.


Gone are the days of heaving a 70lb rear seat into the garage should you need to carry more furniture and fewer people. With a one-handed tug on a strap, the Sienna’s third row disappears into the way-back’s storage pit. A (hearty) one-handed pull brings it back up. The seat is split, so you can go halfsies between people and gear in you need to. Way-back passengers also benefit from reclining seat backs.
Moving forward in the cabin, the middle row sports captain’s chairs that slide with the flick of a lever. This isn’t just for third row access, both seats slide far enough fore and aft to open up huge areas of floorspace. With the third row down and the second row all the way forward, you could practically park an original Mini in the back. Sliding them back would leave enough room to set of a genuinely entertaining slot car track behind mom and dad. The seats are comfortably grownup sized, provided you’re a grownup and not a “grown-out“. Typically, captain’s chairs come at the cost of an extra seat, capping seating at seven, rather than eight. The Sienna includes a removable jump seat that attaches to the driver’s side captain’s chair. It’s a nifty feature for the rare occasion when all three kids bring a friend, but not a seat that anyone would want for a cross-country journey. When not in use, it stores in a pocket in the side of the rear storage area.


Buying a minivan represents a choice to put your kids’ needs ahead of your own. Such is the case up front in the Sienna. The seats are acceptable, but honestly a bit disappointing for a top of the line trim spec like our Limited. The dashboard has a nice visual design to it, despite the swath of wood looking like it’s co-branded with Puma. Unfortunately, when we go from looking to touching (stop laughing) things get a bit disappointing. The plastics are hard and respond to a tap with a thin-feeling “tink” rather than a “thunk”. The wood is entirely unconvincing. I’d also be remiss as an auto reviewer if I didn’t point out the ill-fitting panels on the passenger side of the dash. That said, functionally speaking, it’s great. Controls are well laid out, and the ceiling mounted console features controls for all three power doors and a fisheye mirror for keeping an eye on your brood (or drunk friends).


Our Sienna Limited came with Toyota’s slick rear seat entertainment system which features a drop-down widescreen monitor that can be hooked up to the onboard DVD player or auxiliary inputs and runs audio either through the car’s speakers or to wireless headsets. The video screen has a “dual view” feature where it’ll display a split-screen between two inputs. As my son’s still pre-TV, so The Missus and I decided to grab a bottle of wine and watch (the original) TRON on DVD. In the driveway. We are not cool people. For the most part, the system worked great, but did reveal two main weaknesses. First, there’s no way to control volume from the rear of the car if the audio’s playing over the main speakers. Secondly, a couple of power-door openings and a two hour movie drain the battery enough to put the Sienna into a battery protection shutdown mode. Basically, don’t plan on using it as a mobile theater during a soccer tournament without occasionally running the engine.
Speaking of the running the engine, we need to at least mention the driving dynamics. There are none to speak of. The 266hp 3.5L V6 and six speed auto have enough power to get moving in in-town traffic and cruise in the 80s on the freeway. The chassis is smooth but not wallow-y, but not particularly graceful when it comes to cornering or weight transfer. None of this is meant as a knock against the Sienna, as no one’s buying a 200 inch long, 4500lb box on wheels to carve the canyons.


At the end of the day, what do we make of our blue whale?
It’s odd that SUVs and CUVs have  replaced minivans, given that the Sienna offers more actual utility within its ponderous hull than any SUV. The Sienna can also be ordered with all wheel drive (unfortunately starting at $38k), eliminating yet another excuse for buying an SUV. The seating, the storage, the reconfigurability, they’re all better than any vehicle we’ve ever tested (hint, hint, Honda and Chrysler). That said, Toyota’s attempts to impart any feeling of luxury fail. As with the 4Runner Limited, Toyota’s leather feels public-transit grade. The “wood” and plastics aren’t bad to look at, but have a lousy feel to them. Despite the excellent utility, our tester’s $39,606 price is a tough swallow, as the finish and trim just aren’t on par with we’d like to see in a nearly $40,000 van. Luckily, it’s not hard to ease back on the options and end up at an acceptable price point in the low $30s, in which case the Sienna succeeds at almost everything it sets out to do.
In short, it’s as uncool as can be.

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49 responses to “2011 Toyota Sienna”

  1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    The perfect drink for when, or after, you've been inside a Sienna.
    <img src="http://popsop.ru/wp-content/uploads/grolsch_miller_genuine_draft.jpg&quot; width=350>

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Sienna Miller? Anyone?
      Just me then.

      1. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

        I'll give you one, I apparently am the only one to follow on that particular train.

        1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

          Thank god for that. I thought something had gone horribly wrong.

  2. tonyola Avatar

    Is this the official Sienna theme song?[youtube u_HH_jher3c&feature=related http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_HH_jher3c&feature=related youtube]

  3. facelvega Avatar

    Do minivans even have a bad connotation anymore? It seems that boring suburban homemakers barely even drive them these days. The only identifiable group I see always opting for them is hasidic Jews, and except for people who live near hasidic neighborhoods, I don't see that turning into a stereotype. In my mind, they now only connote harsh utilitarianism and refusal to participate in the SUV system. It's like the bland practicality of a camry or accord raised to an almost political position. In other words, I respect them, it's a good car gesture for people who don't care about cars.
    Too bad they don't still make cheapo stripped-down beater minivans, though. The kind that were also available in panel van versions, or that could just be turned into a transport unit without worrying about messing up the interior. I remember a brief period, say five years total, when a beat-up out Caravan or Quest with a little rust on it was the coolest possible college car, owned only by cute girls whose friends were all in bands (and their instruments were probably in the back) or by trustafarian guys with the pioneer beards of the early hipster movement. I don't know what the cool kids drive these days, but I'm betting it isn't a Highlander or an Enclave. (I teach at an art and design school, but in the middle of NYC so the students don't have cars.)

    1. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell

      Having semi-recently checked out of youth culture, I honestly have no idea where they sit with "kids these days".
      I'd say for those raised from the mid-80s through the 90s, the minivan is our de facto "mom car", as thats what we rode around in. By then, the station wagon was already dead. In a way, I can empathize with older generations who cringe when they hear wagon, as that's what I do with a minivan.
      The unique characteristic about a minivan is that is can pretty much never be built into anything that's mechanically all that impressive. WRXagon is pretty dang fast as it is, but could easily be upgraded to STI spec or beyond. There's no reason not to put a 427 + 4spd in my '67 Country Sedan. But a V6 FWD, AT minivan will always be a lardy box on wheels. That's hard for me to get over.
      That said, as a poor kid looking to get the most car for his $2500, a minivan would be hard to beat, provided you're willing to be on perpetual DD duty. No kid of mine will ever get one, and no daughter of mine will ever get in one on a date, for obvious reasons.

      1. humblejanitor Avatar

        My dad had a 1984 Voyager when they first came out. He hated to let it go but he replaced with a 1988 Reliant K Wagon. For more of my life, I either rode in a van or in a wagon. Nowadays, he has a newer Town & Country.
        Utility is most likely his reasoning behind these vehicle choices. Back in the early to late 80s, it wasn't uncool to ride around in either because the mini-van didn't really take off until the 90s.

      2. facelvega Avatar

        Yes, it seems to me that performance will never be an option for these, so that's why I regret the loss of the anti-bourgeois no-nonsense utilitarian version that the early minivans degraded into when they got about 5-10 years old. The fact that the vehicle had lived as the cliche mom car made its rebirth into utility all the more subversive and thus cool. Not for high school kids, though (heebie-jeebies on the daughter scenario!), strictly college cool. Unless you were literary, in which case you drove a Volvo wagon instead, with much the same connotation. Can you tell I went to college in the mid-90s?

        1. Tim Odell Avatar
          Tim Odell

          You can still get stripper versions, hell, the bottom-end Sienna is like $23k, and rental-spec Caravans are even less.
          If you mean totally stripped work-van style, there are the Ford Transit Connect, HHR Panel and Caravan Cargo Van, all of which are work-truck spec inside.
          They're still dirt cheap as used cars, too, maybe not as plentiful as the mid-90s, but still not in short supply. Dunno what today's Volvo wagon is, because it's no longer a Volvo wagon.

          1. facelvega Avatar

            I think the magic was in the family hauler that could slowly degrade into a work van due to cabin squareness and insubstantial interior panels. A definite work vehicle presses different buttons, and it's hard to imagine the interiors of the new stripper models ever aging into toughness. But you're right on the used car front, no question.

          2. Jeff Glucker Avatar
            Jeff Glucker

            Also… for the performance side of things, Dodge is going to produce a "man-van"… basically a Caravan R/T or something like that. Should be out later this year..

          3. Deartháir Avatar

            Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee. Oh, that'll be worth seeing. Can I PLEASE do the review on that one?

        2. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

          The seats in a Volvo 7/9-series wagon fold down, allowing two individuals up to six feet or so in height to comfortably lie in the cargo area and cuddle, or perhaps even sleep. Ask me how I know.

    2. Thrashy Avatar

      I don' think minivans have a bad connotation, so much as they just say "I have absolutely no requirement of my vehicle other than that it move and carry stuff." The only guy I knew in college with a minivan used it primarily to shuttle his beer pong table around town, though I imagine that if his girlfriend would have allowed it he'd have a mural of a wizard undead shadow priest on the side.
      As far as I can tell, the only common denominator for "cool kid" cars at college are that they are less than five years old and have VW badges on them. Never have I seen so many Passats and Jettas in the same place as I have in the lot between the art school and the architecture school…

      1. facelvega Avatar

        I teach at an architecture school that is part of an art institute, and the only student car I know of for sure is a new GTI, so there may be something in what you say.

      2. Eggwich Avatar

        At University of Michigan in the late 90s, I don't think they let girls into sororities unless they drove a Jetta or a Grand Cherokee. Me, I played a lot of pinball and drove a Mustang.

        1. skitter Avatar

          Still bitter the sisters didn't give you the bid?

          1. Eggwich Avatar

            Still bitter they never gave me anything.

  4. Seth_L Avatar

    Based on experience, after a couple years of child-hauling, that interior is going to look like a disaster. Everything scratching, peeling, discoloring or otherwise wearing poorly.
    But where's the irritating tween mophead telling Sienna owners they're dorks, and that they should buy a Highlander?
    My white hot scorn for that commercial knows no bounds.

    1. humblejanitor Avatar

      I bet that kid gets bullied everyday at school.
      Just look at him. Fodder for a bully.

      1. bzr Avatar

        One can only hope.

    2. Armand4 Avatar

      Did you see the one where the little mophead is feeling sorry for his buddy who has to ride home in a big mid-'90s Buick wagon? I'd take the LT1-powered Buick over a Highlander or a Sienna any day.

  5. SSurfer321 Avatar

    oh yeah, nice van review too. The in-laws have the last generation of these. It's a minivan and does everything a minivan should. My only gripe with theirs is the seatbacks of the 2nd row. I just cannot get comfortable in the seat. The lumbar support is all wrong.

    1. Seth_L Avatar

      What, you didn't buy the 20th Anniversary edition like all proper nerds? For shame!
      *checks amazon* CRIPES!

    2. Mechanically Inept Avatar
      Mechanically Inept

      My daily driver is a 1997 Caravan, absolute base model with manual windows/locks, one sliding door, 14" rims, and 2nd/3rd row bench seats. Over the summer, I had the displeasure of riding from Michigan to Tennessee in the third row of a newer Town & Country, the 2001-7 model or whatever, and it was absolute hell. The bottom of the seat is tilted back at some insane angle to guarantee your legs fall asleep, and the seatback has about .5 inch of padding. The 2nd row captain's chairs are hardly better, if at all. All rows of seats in my van are incredibly comfortable, though, with room to stretch out and lots of padding. I usually have the 2nd row out, which means seating for 5 and literally several feet of legroom for passengers in the rear. What a luxury…

  6. Paul_y Avatar

    I finally saw a new Sienna up close this weekend, and honestly, it looks way better in the metal. While I myself have no need for a vehicle bigger than my xB (which I could probably park *in* a Sienna), I do appreciate the utility of minivans — I'd buy a new minivan long before I ever bought a new truck/SUV. They really are vehicles for people who largely put actual function ahead of giving a shit what the douchebag neighbors think.

    1. SSurfer321 Avatar

      My lifted truck and flat brim hat take offense to that last sentence…

      1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
        Jeff Glucker

        You must live near me…

        1. skitter Avatar

          I can just imagine the douchebag HOA;
          No bro shall own a minivan.
          No bro shall curve his hat.
          No bro shall block the construction of skate ramps with landscaping.
          Any landscaping dubbed in the way shall be ripped out.
          No bro shall lack Four Loko cans lining the windowsills.

    2. ptschett Avatar

      It depends what kind of function you're looking for. A minivan would kick my midsize pickup's butt for hauling 4×8 stuff, but my KLR650 needs the unlimited headroom it gets in a pickup box.

  7. theeastbaykid Avatar

    During the height of the SUV craze, you always heard testaments like "I couldn't face a minivan, so I got an Explorer." Presumably for the difference in fashion. Yes, those people deserve high-speed rollovers.

  8. salguod Avatar

    Man, you make me miss my old Odyssey. That rear well where the seat folds down (thank Honda for that, first seen in the original Odyssey in 1995 or 1996) adds a lot of utility. I think we lost 50% of the space behind the third row when we traded for our Saturn Outlook SUV.
    SO why did we trade then? Towing. Minivans pretty much max out at 3,500 lbs, not all that much. When towing our medium sized pop up camper (about 2,500 lbs loaded I'd guess), our 1999 Odyssey seemed rather stressed. Our Outlook adds 1,700 of capacity. Almost tows like that pop up isn't even there.
    But I miss the space, that wonderful, cavernous space. Not only the cargo space, the space all around you in the front row. In an SUV, the floor's higher and there a big ol' console crowding your right side. Don't get me wrong, I love the Outlook. It's a great vehicle. It's just no minivan.

    1. Maymar Avatar

      It's cases like that where I feel a little disappointed that the full-sized van never caught on the way that pickups did, considering how the Express and E-series are lagging about 2-3 generations behind their bedded counterparts. They're so terrible at anything other than being big, you'd have to pay me to drive one (incidentally, as a part-time courier, I do get paid to drive one).
      I also lament the loss of the Astro – living in a lakeside community, we used to be littered with the things since they were better for towing boats than a Caravan. Of course, since the Colorado's dripping in mediocrity, I don't know if a van counterpart would be worth it.

      1. salguod Avatar

        Interestingly my sister was looking for something bigger than their Odyssey because they have 5 kids. They were talking Suburban and I told them to look at a full size van instead. more room, and (I assumed) more fuel economy. Nope, the base 2WD Suburban gets better fuel economy than the Express. Smaller brick to push through the air, I guess.
        The Astro & Aerostar RWD vans were ideally set up for what we need. Nissan's new Quest is supposedly RWD, but from what I've read still carries only a 3,500 lb tow rating.

      2. Tim Odell Avatar
        Tim Odell

        My family had a '92 E-series for a couple of years growing up. WIth the EFI 5.8L and the standard bench interior, it was actually pretty peppy in a straight line. Not bad with 4,000 lbs of boat behind it, either.
        Unfortunately, even then, even as a new car, the chassis and build quality felt dated…and they've made no significant changes since then.
        We replaced it with a 3/4 ton Suburban after one too many boat launch ramp burnouts and chains-on-when-they're-not-really-required incidents.

  9. Maymar Avatar

    I have to admit, I'm rather partial to Chrysler's set-up. I find folding the rear seats slightly easier (although I'll admit it's because I've spent considerably more time around Caravans than Siennas), and I like that the middle seats fold into the floor also (which leaves yet more storage when they're up). Although, the 8th passenger jump seat is pretty cool.

    1. salguod Avatar

      Honda was the first, in 2005 I think, with the jump seat option. Theirs stows in the spare tire well under the floor when not needed.
      Having driven my 1999 Odyssey for 10 years and up to 203K and now recently driven a couple of 2010 T&C rental vans with ~35K, the Chrysler product feels inferior in quality to even my worn out Ody was. Very rough around the edges, both in design and operation. I was surprised how coarse it felt.
      Oh, and if you've ever had to sit in one of those second row sto-n-go seats for very long, you wouldn't be a fan. Very thinly padded and too low to the floor make for a sore bum after 30 mins or so.

      1. Tim Odell Avatar
        Tim Odell

        Yeah, but a T&C rental is definitely the "Rented Mule" of the automotive world. They're poverty-spec, never maintained and generally abused by everyone who touches them.
        That said, as I understand it, even the human-spec T&Cs suffered from Daimler-Chrysler's lousy plastics dark ages, and there's a lot of plastic in there.

        1. salguod Avatar

          OK, sure, but how bad to you have to hoon one over 35K miles to make it feel worse than an 11 year old van with over 200K?

          1. Tim Odell Avatar
            Tim Odell

            Apparently you haven't been using your rental cars properly…

          2. Deartháir Avatar

            General rule of thumb for those of us who sell cars to rental companies; when it comes back, assume that whatever the mileage, multiply it by about 3.5 to get the appropriate equivalent. Works pretty well, because then when you put a 50k ex-rental car beside a 175k private car, they're pretty fair comparisons.

  10. GTXEliminator Avatar

    Does your cursor flash on this page?

    1. BlackIce_GTS Avatar

      My cursor flashes on every page. (on this site and the toaster thing.)

  11. ptschett Avatar

    Good thing I don't wear a tactical vest to work. (Of course, product engineers are assumed to be tools by certain other departments anyway…)

    1. skitter Avatar

      I cannot function properly without cargo pants.

      1. Deartháir Avatar

        I cannot function properly with pants.

        1. ptschett Avatar

          That's what she said.

  12. klaud Avatar

    Coolest thing in that van was the Recaro child's seat. My daughter has one…and as such, is also the nicest thing in our '97 4Runner.