The minivan market may not seem like such an important vehicle segment these days, but Chrysler's stranglehold among the people-moving vehicles is so dominant that some competitors have dropped out altogether. While General Motors, Hyundai and Ford Motor Company have all taken a noticeable absence from the minivan segment, companies like Toyota, Honda and Kia are still looking for the perfect recipe to battle the dominance of the Chrysler Town & Country and the Dodge Grand Caravan.
For Toyota, the introduction of the third-generation Toyota Sienna takes a whole new approach at competing against Chrysler's 25-year-old minivans. To improve its popularity, the 2011 Toyota Sienna is restyled with more equipment and it seems to be going after a more luxury-oriented consumer rather than the entry-level Grand Caravan and Kia Sedona offerings.
Opposed to the bland styling of the previous two generations, the 2011 Toyota Sienna receives a more detail-oriented design that, in the end, is quite stylish, and it will definitely appeal to any consumers who ever wondered what a Dodge Grand Caravan would lookÂ like with the front end of a Toyota Camry and rear of a Toyota Venza. It's hard to get away from the boxy styling that has been associated with minivans since 1984, but Toyota tries to add in a little flair to the new Sienna without going overboard like the Nissan Quest. As a matter of fact, the area between the A- and D-pillars uses a conventional-looking shape for a minivan, and the front end is much less wedge shaped than the previous Sienna.
Up front, the hood, fascia and fenders give the 2011 Sienna about as sporty a look as a minivan can have with headlamps and grille design similar to the popular Camry. In the back of the Sienna, the shape and styling of the taillights and fascia better accent the body lines, while some of the subtle visual cues help to create a more attractive look including the slight upward kick (similar to BMW's Hofmeister kick) in the trailing edge of the rear side windows that matches up perfectly with the taillights.
In terms of trim levels, the base model is now the LE, as the CE has been dropped, but the XLE and Limited continue to stand as the upper trim levels. For those brave souls who might wish to add a sportier look to their minivan, Toyota will also offer the Sienna in a tricked-out SE trim level that should be priced between the LE and the XLE. Not just an exterior trim package, the Sienna SE is a true sport edition as it offers improved aerodynamics and a sport-tuned suspension. Visual cues do help differentiate the SE from other Sienna trim levels such as the unique front fascia, sporty sculpted side sills, smoked LED taillights and exclusive 19-inch, six-spoke alloy wheels with a chrome finish.
While the exterior design has a familiar, albeit daring, look, the interior focuses on a stylish configuration with luxurious amenities. The new shape and layout of the instrument panel is by far the most appealing design of the cabin where instead of housing a defined center stack, it uses accent trim to cut across the central and passenger side of the dash in a swoosh-like manner. All of the controls forÂ HVAC, audio and navigation systems are packaged closely together above the gear selector. Storage compartments do seem to be lacking in Sienna especially compared to the Caravan's in-floor storage, but Toyota does equip its minivan with a reconfigurable front center console and a pair of large glove boxes on the instrument panel.
Unlike the Grand Caravan, the Sienna's middle row of seats cannot fold flat into the floor, but they do have the ability to tilt and slide forward on integrated floor tracks or be removed from the vehicle entirely. One unique characteristic of the Sienna's middle row seats is the availability of extendable footrests on the captain chairs. The Sienna's cabin can seat up to eight passengers, but the center seat of the middle row can easily be removed (similar to the center seat on the Highlander) and stored in the cargo area. With all of the seats removed, the Sienna's cargo area is about eight feet long and four feet wide.
Another trick feature of the 2011 Sienna's interior is the rear-seat Dual View Entertainment system that offers a 16-inch wide monitor that is able to display two movies side by side. The advantage of this wider, shorter screen is that although it drops down from the ceiling, it is less of an obstruction to the driver's view through the rearview mirror. Like the exterior, the cabin of the SE trim level also gets sportier treatments such as different coloring on the gauge cluster as well as unique interior colors and trim.
As is the case with the two crossovers that share the Sienna's underpinnings, the Toyota Highlander and the Toyota Venza, the base engine for the 2011 model is a 2.7-liter inline-4, while the bigger engine option is a 3.5-liter V-6. The inline-4 is new in the Sienna for 2011 and it will produce 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, while the V-6 is carried over from the previous generation model and puts out 266 horsepower and 245 lb-ft of torque. Both engines utilize dual variable valve timing with intelligence (Dual VVT-i) and six-speed automatic transmissions to improve overall fuel economy. The base engine will return an EPA estimated 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, and the optional V-6 is rated up to 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. Since the Chrysler minivans ditched all-wheel drive in favor of the ability to offer Stow 'n Go seats, the Toyota Sienna is the only remaining minivan to offer the option of all-wheel drive on its LE, XLE and Limited models equipped with the V-6.
Other than interior space, vehicle safety is probably the most important aspect desired in a minivan, and the all-new Sienna is likely not to disappoint. In the event that there is an accident, Toyota's Safety Connect system automatically notifies emergency responders or if the vehicle is stolen it will track the location of the vehicle. Unlike GM's OnStar system, though, Safety Connect is only standard on the top-of-the-line Limited and optional on the XLE and its stolen vehicle service can only track the vehicle, not remotely shut it down. For optimal safety, the 2011 Sienna comes standard with Toyota's Star Safety System which includes four-wheel anti-lock brake system, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, vehicle stability control and traction control.
The 2011 Toyota Sienna will go on sale in February, although official pricing has yet to be announced, but it should be close to the starting MSRP of the 2010 model which is $23,540.