The minivan has been the Rodney Dangerfield of the automotive world for most of its 33-year existence. Theories abound as to why the minivan never gets the respect it deserves, despite being the most versatile transportation device in the world. Could it be because the term “mini” is no longer suitable, especially for the 200-inch-long Toyota Sienna tested here? Some blame the sliding doors. Others insist that the beveled shape of the shoebox is asexual.
Despite fond memories of trips to the zoo and happy football expeditions, modern parents and kids tend to shy away from minivans. Sales are barely more than half of what they were in 2005, largely due to the seemingly inexorable rise of crossovers. Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai and Mazda have all dropped out of the category. That said, six brands are still battling for their share of the minivan action, currently around 600,000 sales per year.
While Chrysler’s Pacifica is the hottest news in this category, Toyota hasn’t twiddled its thumbs on the sidelines. The Sienna’s new 3.5-liter four-cam V6 engine (shared with the Toyota Highlander) features both port and direct fuel injection, boosting output from 266 to 296 horsepower and torque from 245 to 263 lb-ft. Variable intake and exhaust valve timing produces peak torque at 4700 rpm and a power curve that only crescendos at 6600 rpm (en route to the 6750 rpm redline) , which is pretty racy for a family hauler. The combination of Atkinson Cycle operation during cruise, an 11.8:1 compression ratio and a new eight-speed wide-ratio automatic transmission boosts EPA mileage by 1-2 mpg (although the Sienna still trails the Pacifica by 4 mpg on EPA highway ratings). Keeping budgets in mind, this engine is happy with regular grade fuel and it handles impeccably whether you’re racing flat out to beat the school bell or heading to church on a Sunday. .
Although it hauls a few hundred pounds more than the competition (attributable to the segment-exclusive all-wheel-drive option on this test car), the 2017 Sienna leads the class in acceleration. The seven-second flat run from zero to 60 mph and the 15.4 seconds and 92 mph we measured in the quarter mile for this Sienna Limited Premium flagship are records in our minivan registry, even a few tenths of a second. And only the Honda Odyssey matches this Toyota’s 3.8-second 30-50 mph passing acceleration. Alas, the new Sienna falls behind last year’s Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest and Sienna in going from 50 to 70 mph due to the new automatic’s reluctance to start quickly. (Pressing the well-hidden ECT PWR button, which instructs the electronically controlled transmission to rev higher before gear changes, can help.)
Cornering and braking grip are central to every vehicle’s ability to avoid catastrophe, assuming the driver has the ability to react decisively under duress. In this category, the upgraded Sienna works in the middle of the bag, stopping from 70 mph in 177 feet with some fading evident after repeated use of the brakes. While the 18-inch Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02 run-flat all-season tires hook up reasonably well, the stability control system kicks in to stop cornering fun at 0.77g, well below the 0.83 g of the Chrysler Pacifica. Handling aficionados might do better with the Sienna SE, which has sport suspension and 19-inch wheels and tires as standard equipment.
We weren’t expecting much driving pleasure in the soul of the Sienna, and that’s precisely what we found. The steering wheel is a hand rest, not a conduit for communication with the road. Except for tire noise, the ride is placid, as the Sienna mimics the Toyota Camry’s dedication to isolation.
Features and Options
Basic safety aids like stability and traction control, adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, automatic high beam control, a wide-angle rear view camera and corner monitoring Deadlocks with rear cross-traffic alert are included with the top Limited Premium trim. More advanced features such as lane departure warning and lane keeping assist will have to wait for the fourth generation Sienna, due next year as a 2018 model.
On-demand all-wheel drive is a confidence factor for those struggling in snow and ice, but think twice before checking that box because it adds $1140 to the sticker and cuts the combined EPA mileage rating by 2. mpg.
The primary mission of each minivan is to serve as a school bus/cargo transporter that fits in your garage. This Sienna carries five in its two rearmost rows in spacious accommodations. (Other Siennas can seat up to eight.) Entry through the large doors past the second-row loungers is a breeze, and the backseat is roomy enough to strap in high school kids. . The middle seats slide fore and aft through 23 inches of travel to maximize legroom when four adults are on board.
Toyota’s answer to Chrysler’s ingenious Stow ‘n Go second row seats is a third row that easily splits and lowers into a floor. Second row thrones are easy to unlock but heavy to remove for maximum cargo hauling. In this mode, the Sienna’s interior offers 150 cubic feet of space (nine more than the Pacifica) and enough floor space to carry four-by-eight-foot sheets of building materials flat with the hatch. locked.
Unfortunately, the interior of this Sienna falls short in other areas. To counter competitive surprise and delight features such as vacuum cleaners and beverage coolers, the Sienna offers a wide-angle mirror to monitor misbehavior and a way to scold children through the system’s rear speakers. sound. This is not enough to meet today’s tribulations in raising children. While the Sienna’s 14 cupholders are adequate, the number of power connections (three 12-volt DC outlets, two 120-volt AC outlets, three auxiliary outlets, two USB ports and an SD card slot) won’t keep up. growing connectivity needs.
More disappointing is the low-end interior of this $49,049 Sienna Limited Premium flagship. The seven pieces of woodgrain trim were obviously harvested from plastic trees, and the upholstery is leather leaning decidedly in the direction of the vinyl.
As always, the smart shopper has options. Choose a sub-$40,000 Sienna like the SE to enjoy Toyota’s well-deserved reputation for safety and longevity without the exorbitant limited premium sticker. Go for the Honda Odyssey or the new Chrysler Pacifica. Or wait a few months to see what Toyota’s US design, engineering and manufacturing team has come up with for the redesigned 2018 Sienna. Let’s hope this is a high-flying minivan worthy of unqualified admiration.
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