Minivans have always been superior as people movers. They're easier to park and drive than SUVs, have a low step-in height for easy access, plus comfortable seating and cushy ride characteristics.
The Toyota Sienna has been designed since the beginning to optimize those advantages. But times change, and so has the Sienna. Toyota rolled out an all-new, fifth-generation Sienna for 2011. The 2012 Sienna is nearly identical, with only minor changes regarding standard equipment and options.
This latest-generation Sienna is very much a transportation solution for moving up to eight people, but it is also versatile as a cargo mover, with more flexible interior configurations.
Visually, the 2012 Sienna looks less like a minivan than previous generations, with lower, longer lines, and a wider stance. For 2011, Toyota designers altered the profile and stance to make the Sienna more appealing. Although the current model is based on the same mechanical platform as the previous generation, with the same wheelbase, it has more interior room. Interior seating arrangements were completely redesigned and can be rearranged more easily to carry passengers, haul cargo, or any mix of both.
Sienna excels in second-row passenger comfort and cargo flexibility. The second-row seats are mounted on very long sliders, so they can be moved far forward or far back, depending on the way the interior needs to be configured for people or cargo. With the second-row seats adjusted to the rearward limit, a walk-in isle is created, big enough for an adult to walk through to help a child or an older passenger. With the second-row seats adjusted all the way forward, walk-in access to the third row becomes possible. With the second and third rows removed, Sienna offers a cavernous 150 cubic feet of cargo space, more than most SUVs offer.
The 2012 Toyota Sienna is available in five grades, with seating configurations for seven or eight. There are models aimed at practical transportation, models driven by luxury tastes, and even a sport model, the Sienna SE, which drives and handles more like a sports sedan. The Sienna SE sits lower than the other models, on a sport-tuned suspension, with its electric power steering tuned for quicker response and better feedback.
At the opposite extreme is the luxurious Sienna Limited, which has the nicest interior, and low-effort steering tuned for ease of operation, with very high levels of power assist. That makes the Sienna Limited easy to park and maneuver at low speeds, but it also requires more attention to keep in the center of the lane when driving quickly. Sienna LE and Sienna XLE models are somewhere in between, with steering and chassis priorities balanced 50/50 between comfort and handling.
Sienna is available with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine; higher grades are all V6-powered. Front-wheel drive is standard. All-wheel drive is available with the V6. We found little difference between the four-cylinder and the V6 in daily driving, but then there isn't much difference in fuel consumption, either, so the V6 may be the better choice. The V6 runs a little smoother at highway speed, with more reserve power for passing.
The Toyota Sienna is made in America, designed in California, developed at Toyota's technical center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and assembled in Indiana. It will be sold only in North America and Puerto Rico.
The 2012 Toyota Sienna ($25,060) comes standard with cloth upholstery, tri-zone manual air conditioning with air filter and rear-seat control panel, seven-passenger seating, power windows with auto up/down and jam protection in all positions, 60/40 split and stow third-row seat with one motion stow, removable second row seats with tip-up and long-slide feature, cruise control, windshield de-icer, integrated color-keyed rear spoiler, AM/FM/CD with four speakers, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels with 235/60R17 tires. Sienna is also available with a V6 ($26,300).
Sienna LE ($26,145) upgrades with eight-way adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support, third-row sunshade, six-speaker audio, XM Satellite Radio, steering wheel controls for audio and telephone, Bluetooth for hands-free cell phone operation, compass and outside temperature displays, dual power sliding doors, HomeLink garage door opener. Sienna LE V6 ($29,700) is similarly equipped. LE AWD V6 ($31,930) adds all-wheel drive, 18-inch wheels with 235/55R18 tires.
Sienna XLE V6 ($33,205) and XLE AWD V6 ($35,545) upgrade with leather upholstery, automatic air conditioning, power liftgate, power moonroof, heated front seats, anti-theft system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, wood trim, towing package, power rear quarter windows. Added for 2012 are a four-way power passenger seat and auto on/off headlights.
Sienna Limited V6 ($39,300) and Limited AWD V6 ($40,570) get upgraded 6CD JBL audio with 10-speakers, overhead consoles, integrated antenna, chrome door handles, push-button start, smart key, deluxe mirrors, dual panel moonroof, sonar parking system, second-row captain's chairs, third-row seats that power stow in floor, memory for driver's seat, leather with wood steering wheel, 18-inch wheels with 235/55R18 tires.
Sienna SE ($33,440) features special body trim, 19-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, and it comes with exclusive instrumentation and unique interior colors and trim.
Options are too numerous to list, but include navigation ($1610-$1860), with the price depending on trim level; and a rear-seat entertainment system ($2495).
Safety features include Toyota's Star Safety System with anti-lock brakes (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), and Traction Control; the mandated tire pressure monitor system; three-point seatbelts in all seating positions with adjustable seatbelt anchors on front and second row seats, driver's seatbelt Emergency Locking Retractor (ELR), and Automatic Locking Retractors (ALR) on all other seatbelts; front seatbelts with pretensioners and force limiters; driver and front passenger Active Headrests; driver and front passenger airbags with Advanced Airbag System; driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags; driver knee airbag; three-row side curtain airbags; side impact beams in front and sliding side doors; LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children); child protector sliding door locks; jam protection for power windows. Optional all-wheel drive enhances safety in adverse conditions. The Pre-Collision System is optional with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management System (VDIM), Hill Assist Control (HAC), Safety Connect, and front and rear sonar are optional or included on premium models. All of this stuff is a very good idea.
All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices (MSRP), which may change without notice at any time. Prices do not include destination charges.