Test Drive: Toyota Sienna

Road trip! During a typical year we each fly 30 to 50 flights, but as automotive journalists, we only have time to make perhaps three to five road trips each year.? What?s wrong with this picture?

Most of our driving time is centered on getting a feel for the two new cars we get each week to test at home.? We used them for everyday driving, like running to Costco and Home Depot and then we drive them over one of our fun-to-drive test loops through the mountains near our home.? Between that and the travel to new car introductions, we only have time to drive about 150 to 200 miles for most cars we test.

A road trip on the other hand, is spending 10 or 20 hours in the car, covering hundreds of miles.? We recently had to attend a service for a departed friend on Central California Coast, and thought that might be a good time to drive the 1,600 miles round trip.? With all the wonderful sexy, fast and luxurious cars, we get to test on a regular basis, we asked for one of our favorite travel vehicles to make this trip, a minivan.? Fortunately, Toyota Sienna minivan just happen to be available at that time?.perfect!

The Sienna Limited is an outstanding travel vehicle ? roomy, plush, and it?s loaded with little goodies that can make a trip much more comfortable.

All new in 2011, the Sienna looks like a Toyota, with the familiar family characteristics.? Leading the way is a classic Toyota grill, flanked by wing-like headlight modules.? The sides and rear end have tasteful sculptured treatment giving it a distinctive look, for such a big box.? With five models being offered, Toyota builds one of these, seven, or eight passenger vans, for nearly every budget.

At the introduction, nearly a year ago, we had a chance to drive all five models, and ended up with two favorites, the luxurious Limited for obvious reasons and the sporty SE.? The SE gets more aggressive design elements along with enhanced handling and lower ride on a sport-tuned suspension. ?Being partial to vehicles with agile handling and the ability to move quickly around corners, the SE model exposed us to a feature we?ve not had with a minivan previously.? It was actually possible to throw this 200-inch box around corners with confidence and without the body roll typically experienced in this type of vehicle.

A 266-hp DOHC aluminum 3.5-liter V-6 engine powers the three upper-level Siennas and is an option on the base and LE models.? For the first time, a 187-hp, 2.7-liter four-cylinder provides the power for the two lower level versions.? All engines are outfitted with a six-speed automatic transmission.? The four-cylinder version earns a fuel economy rating of 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.? The V-6 gets16/22 mpg.? Zero to 60 mph acceleration times are 9.5-seconds for the four-cylinder and 7.4-seconds for the V-6. ?On our road trip, we drove about five to ten miles per hour over the posted 65 and 70 mph speed limits and averaged 21.3 mpg for the 1,600 miles.

Sienna is the only minivan sold in the U.S. to offer an all-wheel drive option for V-6 powered models, giving it a distinct advantage in northern climates.? The V-6 also has a 3,500-pound towing capacity.

Starting at $24,260, the base Sienna offers high value and high content with air conditioning, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, keyless entry, power windows and locks and seven or eight passenger seating.? The luxury appointments of the Limited provide living room-like comfort for families or empty nesters that like to take their friends or grandchildren along. ?However, luxury and cool features are expensive.? The base price on the AWD Limited we took on the trip was $40,570, including the destination charge.? The extensive LTD Premium Package added features like the Dual View Entertainment center with wireless headphones and voice activated DVD navigation with a Panorama Camera integrated into the backup camera. The camera allows the driver to switch between the regular view and a wide-angle mode.? The package also includes a premium JBL? audio system with XM radio, NavTraffic, auxiliary inputs and Bluetooth for hands free phoning and music streaming.? It doesn?t include hard disk drive storage for music.

Barbara was pampered on our road trip, by watching movies from the plush second row seating, which just happen to have ottoman?s that fold out the seat.? It was just like sitting in a recliner, at home.? ?Bill liked the easy to use navigation system and the NavTraffic, especially when driving through the San Francisco Bay area freeways. ?The rear backup camera proved to be very helpful too.

Here is a tip for road trips, if you haven?t discovered it yourself.? You can rent movies for $1 at Blockbuster Express? and the Redbox? and then return them down the road.? In the west, nearly every McDonald?s restaurant has a Redbox, so we could stop, rent a couple movies, and then a few hours later, drop them at another Redbox and pick up others.?? It?s a great way for passengers to pass the time on a long trip?it works for adults and children alike.

The road trip to California proved to us, once again, why we like the spacious and exceptionally comfortable Toyota Sienna. ?It?s almost like riding in a plush business jet, but a slower pace and lower altitude.


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