Test Drive: Toyota Sienna

San Francisco ? Like a pair of sensible shoes, the minivan has long had the stigma of being practical but not very stylish.? For 2011, Toyota has advanced in both the styling column and the practical column with a new, from the ground up, third generation minivan.? Building on the a reputation that most often had the Honda Odyssey and Sienna side-by-side in the rankings, Sienna advances to Generation 3 with more stylish sophistication, inside and out.

Styling cues expand on the Toyota family characteristics and in the midst of a five-van lineup, add a new SE sporty model for 2011.? The SE gets more aggressive design elements along with enhanced handling and lower ride on sport-tuned suspension.

We drove all five new offerings at a recent Sienna introduction in San Francisco, sampling everything from the high value Sienna base model with new four-cylinder engine up to the posh Limited with 16.4-inch wide screen entertainment unit and recliner-like second row seats.

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 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 lover 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 is nearly as good at 16/22 mpg.? Zero to 60 mph acceleration times are 9.5-seconds for the four-cylinder and 7.4-seconds for the V-6.

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 grand children along.

Upper level Siennas are available with many of the latest electronic enhancements 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 or a wide-angle mode.

Toyota?s premium JBL? audio system includes XM radio with NavTraffic, auxiliary inputs and Bluetooth for hands free phoning and music streaming, but it doesn?t offer the hard disk drive storage used in many of the new cars.

Minivans were once a mainstay of nearly all the automakers, but today there are only seven automakers still making these multifunction haulers, and Toyota can claim leadership with the new Sienna.

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