2012 Toyota Sienna Review: What Is It
When Toyota launched the redesigned Sienna minivan for 2011, it called the new family hauler the “Swagger Wagon” and showcased the model we reviewed, the sport-tuned Sienna SE model. Yep. A sport-tuned minivan. Improbably advertised using the word “swagger.” Now that’s ballsy.
Funny thing is, the Sienna SE amounts to more than just marketing smoke-and-mirrors. It is actually athletic – for a minivan weighing nearly 2.5 tons – and it looks better than any other kid-cruiser on the market thanks to SE-specific modifications ladled upon conservative but appealing styling. And while other Sienna variants might not swagger about suburbia with quite the panache of the SE model, there are many reasons to recommend them, and one really good reason not to.
2012 Toyota Sienna Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
There are five different flavors of Sienna available at your local Toyota dealer. The least expensive model is equipped with a four-cylinder engine and is known simply as the Sienna, and it costs $25,870 including the $810 destination charge. At the opposite end of the lineup sits the Sienna Limited, a luxury-themed model that starts at $40,110 and costs $46,515 with all the factory trimmings. In between these extremes are the popular Sienna LE ($30,510), the sport-tuned Sienna SE ($34,250), and the upgraded Sienna XLE ($36,355).
The Sienna LE model adds heated side mirrors, power sliding side doors, dark tinted privacy glass, Bluetooth calling and music streaming, a USB/iPod connection, a reversing camera, a power driver’s seat, 8-passenger seating, rear side window shades, nicer trim, and more storage areas.
The Sienna SE includes a sport-tuned suspension, sport-tuned steering, unique design elements inside and out, fog lights, and a set of 19-inch gunmetal-finish aluminum wheels with lower profile tires. A power liftgate is standard, along with triple-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, leatherette seat bolsters with sport fabric seat inserts, and seating for eight passengers.
Stepping up to the Sienna XLE adds automatic headlights, perforated leather upholstery, heated front seats, fake wood interior, Optitron gauges, and a power sunroof.
Sienna Limited models include a dual-panel moonroof, JBL premium audio, two-tone leather, multi-stage front seat heating, Smart Key entry and push-button ignition, Safety Connect telematics with Automatic Collision Notification, front and rear parking sensors, and special aluminum wheels.
2012 Toyota Sienna Review: What It’s Up Against
Depending on your viewpoint, the 2012 Sienna has a handful of well-known direct competitors, or a lengthier list of competition equipped with three rows of seats and available all-wheel drive. After all, what’s the difference between a Sienna and, say, a Chevy Traverse aside from the rear side door design?
Direct competitors include the Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, and Nissan Quest. However, using a little bit of imagination, it’s not a stretch to say that the Sienna, especially when equipped with all-wheel drive, also competes with vehicles such as the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Ford Flex, GMC Acadia, and Honda Pilot.
2012 Toyota Sienna Review: Exterior
What’s New for 2012:
- Automatic headlights for the Sienna XLE
How It Looks:
In discussing the Sienna’s styling, Toyota points to the minivan’s remarkably low .306 coefficient of drag and hidden sliding door tracks as design highlights. Our test model was the Sienna SE, which features special visual cues including smoked headlight and taillight trim, fog lights, unique front and rear bumper covers, side rocker panel extensions, a mesh grille insert, and 19-inch aluminum wheels with a polished gunmetal finish.
Among minivans, the Toyota Sienna looks clean and contemporary, more substantial in terms of size than the Town & Country and Grand Caravan, more modern than the Kia Sedona, more attractive than the odd Quest, and more cohesive than the somewhat schizophrenic Odyssey. In SE trim, the Sienna looks positively sporty, almost custom thanks to styling modifications that carry with them more than a whiff of aftermarket components.
2012 Toyota Sienna Review: Interior
What’s New for 2012:
- Power front passenger’s seat for the Sienna XLE
How It Looks and Feels
As equipped, our test Sienna stickered for $38,560, but the interior sure didn’t reflect it. The textured plastic used for the dashboard feels coarse and, if you rap it with a knuckle, sounds thin and cheap. The seats feature leatherette bolsters and sport cloth inserts, the latter exceptionally good at trapping lint and pet hair and exceptionally reluctant to allow for removal of said lint and hair. Many of the Sienna’s plastic panels creak under pressure, and the gray steering wheel is wrapped in perforated leather that might as well be plastic.
Though this Toyota could use an upgrade in the materials department, comfort levels are quite good. The eight-way power driver’s seat in our test model supplied a comfortable and supportive position behind the tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel. Second-row occupants benefit from seats that slide rearward to maximize legroom when there’s nobody sitting in the third-row seat. If employed to carry more than five people, the third-row seat is roomy enough for a six-foot-tall adult, and is fairly easy to access thanks to a tip-and-slide second-row seat design.
Cargo volumes are also generous. The Sienna can swallow 39.1 cu-ft. of cargo behind the third-row seat. Flip and fold the 50/50-split third-row into the built-in storage well, and the Sienna can gobble up to 87.1 cu-ft. of cargo while still carrying five passengers. To do that in a Ford Explorer or Honda Pilot, you’d need to leave the kids at home. Remove the second-row seats and toss ‘em into the garage, and the Sienna can devour 150 cu-ft. of cargo, more than a freakin’ Chevy Suburban.
Our test vehicle came equipped with Toyota’s new Entune multi-media system, which features a 6.1-inch color touchscreen display. Graphics are vivid, but the screen is prone to reflections and glare, and the buttons are rather small and difficult to use. It doesn’t help that the screen’s location, high and in the center of the dashboard, makes it even more difficult to operate. For a newly introduced infotainment system, this one already seems old.
2012 Toyota Sienna Review: Powertrain
What’s New for 2012:
- No changes
How Does It Go
The base Toyota Sienna and the Sienna LE come standard with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine making 187 horsepower at a lofty 5,800 rpm and 186 lb-ft. of torque at 4,100 rpm. It doesn’t require a degree in advanced mathematical modeling to deduce that these numbers, added to the Sienna’s base curb weight of 4,275 pounds and its payload rating of 1,550 lbs., and then multiplied by three rows of seats and eight potential passengers, equals slooooooow.
Best, then, to upgrade to the 3.5-liter V6. The V6 generates a far more satisfactory 266 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 245 lb-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm, with no apparent impact on fuel economy ratings. The EPA says both engines will return 21 mpg in combined driving. We extracted 19.8 mpg from the V6 engine despite plenty of time spent plying Southern California freeways, though we’ll qualify our real-world result by explaining that we often had a full house with all three rows of seats occupied.
Models with the V6 engine can also be ordered with all-wheel drive, which makes the Sienna the only minivan to offer this useful go-in-the-snow feature.
2012 Toyota Sienna Review: How It Drives
Let’s be honest. The Toyota Sienna SE is sporty, at best. It’s got a V6 engine that feels stronger than its horsepower and torque figures suggest, combined with a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift gate. Sport-calibrated electric steering, tauter suspension tuning, and a set of 19-inch wheels wearing 50-series rubber are also included, while the braking system isn’t touched.
Naturally, as is the case with any front-wheel-drive vehicle that has the majority of its weight sitting over the nose, the Sienna SE suffers from understeer if you get into a corner with too much speed. Though less sensitive than in years past, the stability control system intervenes with authority when necessary, but we experienced that only once during the twisty road portion of our test drive, and in a predictable spot where banked pavement twists through a downhill S-turn. Notably, the Sienna’s brakes withstood punishment with a driver and passenger aboard, which bodes well for performance under a full load of passengers or cargo.
The Sienna SE rides stiffer than other minivans, but add weight and it smoothens out without introducing wallow, much like a heavy-duty pickup truck. If there’s any reason to dislike the modifications made to create the SE model, it’s the steering tuning, which feels too heavy at lower speeds. Given that it’s electric, Toyota ought to be able to program it for lighter effort levels when wheeling about at lower speeds.
Nevertheless, we like driving the Sienna SE just as much as we do the Honda Odyssey, which is not marketed as a sporty minivan alternative but which exhibits excellent driving dynamics just the same.
2012 Toyota Sienna Review: Final Thoughts
The 2012 Toyota Sienna is one of the most appealing vehicles in its class, and we particularly appreciate the fact that Toyota makes an effort to infuse the SE model with more engaging driving dynamics.
However, given that most minivans are used for schlepping mom, dad, and some kids, the Sienna’s unimpressive 3-Star front-seat passenger crash-test rating – as determined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – is concerning. That said, the Sienna is also considered to be a “Top Safety Pick” based on its performance in crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
2012 Toyota Sienna Review: Pros and Cons
- Three rows of comfort
- Up to 150 cu-ft. of cargo space
- Always appreciated sliding side doors
- Energetic V6 engine; optional AWD
- SE model’s styling and handling upgrades
- Inexpensive interior trim
- Second-row seat tracks gulp small items
- Entune screen glare and tiny touchscreen buttons
- SE model’s cloth upholstery magnet for lint and pet hair
- Unimpressive 3-Star front passenger crash protection rating
Toyota provided the 2012 Toyota Sienna for this review
Photos by Christian Wardlaw (except engine image)
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