Strengths and weaknesses:
- passenger and cargo space
- 3,500-lb. towing capacity
- nav and rear-seat entertainment systems add thousands to the price
All in the family, all in Sienna
Are you old enough to remember when Chrysler introduced the minivan?
That was back in November, 1983, when the U.S. automaker launched the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager as 1984 models based on an extended version of the K-car platform.
Remember how every family wanted one?
Parents lined up to trade in their station wagons on the new family favourite with its flexible, spacious interior perfect for carrying lots of people and lots of things.
Connie and I had one back then when our girls were small. It was the ideal vehicle for taking gangs of kids everywhere – from short trips to the ice cream shop or longer journeys to the cottage. And, of course, to the soccer pitch.
Moms and dads like us loved them.
So what happened? How did minivans become objects of scorn, disparagingly referred to as mommymobiles (and worse!)?
You tell me, because quite frankly nothing else suits a family as much as a minivan. Those big, seven-passenger SUVs the carmakers have come up with as a hipper alternative just don’t cut it.
Unfortunately, the minivan has become the vehicle people love to hate – especially dads having a midlife crisis and yearning for a Corvette.
I’d forgotten Toyota even made a minivan; it flies so low on the company’s radar. So when I saw that a 2009 Sienna was in Toyota Canada’s press fleet I jumped at the chance to try it out for a week.
I’m glad I did. It’s every bit as good as I remembered when it was launched in 1998 as a replacement for the Previa.
And this isn’t a minivan in which dad would rather not be seen. If you want it to, the Sienna will perform quite decently. That’s only natural, I suppose, since it’s based on the Camry’s midsize passenger car platform. It’s also a quiet and comfortable cruiser that delivers a good combo of performance and fuel economy.
Our test van was downright luxurious and it wasn’t even a top-of-the line Sienna Limited - that model costs $50,370 but comes with AWD and a navigation system; our tester was a midline FWD Sienna LE, with no nav, for a reasonable $35,450.
All Siennas – even $28,990 base CE models – are equipped with a 3.5-litre V6 that produces 266 hp at 6,200 rpm and 245 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700, a five-speed automatic with overdrive and lock-up torque converter, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, vehicle stability control (VSC), dual-zone A/C and traction control.
For another $4,390 you can step up to Sienna LE and get steering wheel audio controls, dual power sliding rear doors, heated and folding outside mirrors, cruise control and all kinds of interior appointments such as a power driver’s seat and extra storage compartments.
Spend another $2,070 and you can add leather as part of Sienna’s Value Package (see Fact File for details). AWD on LE models can be added for an extra $1,970, which seems quite reasonable for the extra peace of mind it will give you in Canadian winters.
Our test Sienna was a seven-passenger model, with centre row captain’s chairs replacing the eight-passenger version’s split bench seat.
And with those three rows of seats – all of them easy to get in and out of – it will carry your family in comfort and with the kind of separation kids often need from their siblings and parents sometimes need from the kids.
Outward vision is great, thanks to all those windows, and makes it easy to drive and to park.
As a cargo carrier, Sienna is more versatile than ever. There’s a deep well behind the third row of seats that helps create 43.62 cubic feet of storage space back there with the seats upright. Flip them forward, and then slide them back into the well and a flat load floor is created. With the third row seats stowed and the centre row captain’s chairs removed there’s a whopping 148.9 cubic feet available for carrying just about anything that can fit through the top-hinged rear door.
As part of our test vehicle’s Value Package, that rear door was power operated – both up and down – and featured jam protection. However, it seems to take a lot more resistance to make the heavy door stop, then go back up again, than it does to make either of the power sliding doors to stop and back up when objects like fingers are encountered.
All hail the minivan, of which the flexible Sienna is a brilliant example. It’s still the perfect family vehicle, for my money.