Review and photos
by Greg Wilson, CanadianDriver.com
The first question you might ask about Toyota’s new four-cylinder Sienna minivan is, “Does it have enough power, or should I opt for the V6 engine?” Nobody wants a big minivan that can’t keep up.
The short answer is, “Yes, the 2011 Sienna’s new 187-hp 2.7-litre four-cylinder has adequate oomph, but it won’t impress you like Toyota’s rorty 266-hp 3.5-litre V6 will.” A recent Consumer Reports’ acceleration test of both four- and six-cylinder Siennas revealed zero to 60 mph times of 10.3 seconds and 8.8 seconds, respectively. CR rated the four-banger’s performance “Good” and the V6s “Very Good”.
Naturally, the four-cylinder Sienna offers better fuel economy, but not as good as you might expect. According to the EPA’s “real-world” fuel consumption guide, the four-cylinder Sienna manages better fuel economy in the city: 12.4 L/100 km vs 13.1 L/100 km, but gets the same fuel economy on the highway: 9.8 L/100 km.
None of this would deter us from recommending the four-cylinder Sienna, but there’s one thing that will give many buyers pause: the Sienna LE V6 ($28,900) is only one-thousand dollars more than the LE four-cylinder ($27,900). That’s not much for an extra 79 horsepower, improved engine smoothness and cabin quietness.
Still, the Sienna four-cylinder model, which only comes in LE trim, does have its advantages; it comes with the same standard equipment as the LE V6 – in fact, it offers a few extra features that the LE V6 doesn’t have.
Standard on both LE vans are seven cloth seats, second row captain’s chairs with unique clamshell design for easier entry to the third row; fold-into-the-floor split third row seats, dual sliding rear side doors, air conditioning with separate second row fan and temperature controls and pollen filter, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA stereo with four speakers, auxiliary jack and XM satellite radio ready, three 12-volt outlets, power first and second row side windows with auto up/down and jam protection on all windows, power door locks and keyless entry, cruise control, variable intermittent wipers, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and power heated mirrors.
As well, four and six-cylinder LE models come with a standard six-speed automatic transmission with transmission oil cooler, stability and traction control, 17-inch all-season tires with alloy wheels, and four wheel disc brakes with ABS and brake assist.
The four-cylinder LE also includes easy-clean cloth seat fabric, an overhead console storage box with sunglasses holder and convex mirror so you can keep an eye on the kids in the back; illuminated entry, body-coloured door handles, chrome grille surround, rear bumper protector, and door sill scuff plates.
So as well as being $1,000 less, the LE four-banger offers a little more value.
Like all redesigned 2011 Sienna minivans, the base LE model is roomier inside – 50 mm longer overall – with some improvements designed to make getting in and out easier. The sliding side door openings are now wider, and the standard second-row Captain’s chairs fold up clamshell-like against the front seats to allow easier access to the third row. The second-row seats also have a longer range of travel, allowing second-row passengers to stretch out limo-like if there’s nobody in the third row seat, or to move forwards to allow third row passengers more legroom. Alternatively, third row passengers can walk through the wider centre aisle between the second row seats.
As with previous Siennas, one or both sides of the split folding third row seats can folded flat into the floor, providing increased cargo area while allowing flexibility in the number of passengers that can be transported. The third row seats can folded flat with one hand, but lifting the heavier side is a little more awkward – it takes a bit of practice.
Cargo space is generous, even with the third row seats up; the well in the floor serves as a handy trunk: Toyota says there is enough room for five golf bags or four large suitcases. With the third row seats folded flat and the second row seats removed (with a single release), the cargo area measures about eight feet long by four feet wide!
Up front, the front seats have more rearward travel and the tilt/telescopic steering wheel has been tilted up for a more comfortable driving position. The driver’s seat has a manual height-adjuster and lumbar adjuster, and inboard folding armrests – but unfortunately seat heaters are not available. The seating fabric is a soft, warm cloth, but in our van, the seats were a light beige colour called “bisque” that’s sure to get dirty in a hurry with kids in the van: think chocolate, juice boxes, and crayons. There are only two interior colours offered, bisque and light grey. The latter would be better, but it’s only offered with exterior colours white, black, grey, and silver.
Though the base LE Sienna lacks a centre console between the front seats, we liked the fact that we could walk through to the rear with ease, something parents will appreciate. They’ll also like the standard “conversation mirror” in the overhead console for keeping an eye on the kids without having to turn around while driving.
The Sienna’s redesigned instrument panel is simple and functional with easy to see backlit instruments and a transmission shift lever close to the driver’s right hand. We were impressed that the base LE model includes three-zone climate control: separate driver and passenger temperature controls and a separate rear temperature and fan speed control. The latter can be operated from the driver’s seat or by roof mounted dials in the second row. An air filter is standard.
The four-speaker stereo is basic but adequate and includes standard CD player, auxiliary input, and satellite radio-ready hookup; no USB, though. Bluetooth cell phone compatibility is not standard, but it is available as a dealer-installed accessory.
Small item storage is exemplary including upper and lower gloveboxes on the passenger side, two open bins in the centre dash, an open tray on the console floor, and a tip-down coin box near the driver’s door. There are also storage containers in the third row walls and a “milk jug holder” at the left rear cargo area. Two cupholders slide out from the dash, two more in the second row doors, and four in the third row walls.
Seven airbags are standard equipment, including dual-stage front and seat-mounted side airbags for front occupants, plus a new driver’s side knee airbag. Side curtain airbags protect passengers in all three rows from potential head injuries in a collision.
On the road, the four-cylinder Sienna has plenty of pick-up off the line and performs better than you might expect for a four-cylinder engine, however we did experience some coarse engine noise and vibration while accelerating. And with a full load of passengers and luggage on board, we expect that long mountain climbs would be accompanied by a busy engine. The six-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the previous five-speed, helps make the most out of this engine by dividing up the engine’s torque six ways instead of five. A manual shift mode is included which can be used to hold the transmission in gear when needed – such as when descending a steep hill.
On the freeway, the engine revs pleasantly at just 2,000 r.p.m. in top gear at 100 km/h, and the cabin is quiet while cruising. Unlike the V6 Sienna though, the four-cylinder model is not recommended for towing. The V6 will tow up to 3,500 lbs while the four can tow a maximum of 1,500 lbs.
The Sienna driver sits up high with good visibility, aided by large windows and folding rear head restraints. The power rack and pinion electric steering effort is light and the turning circle is surprisingly narrow for such a long vehicle. In fact, the Sienna is very easy to drive considering how big it is. Backing into a parking space is a challenge though, and it would be nice if Toyota offered back-up sensors or a rear-view camera on this base model.
The Sienna’s major competitors are the newly redesigned Honda Odyssey ($29,990), Kia Sedona ($27,995), and the Dodge Grand Caravan ($20,945), none of which offer a base four-cylinder engine. The Grand Caravan’s 175-hp 3.3-litre V6 engine, however, has less horsepower than Toyota’s inline four and it’s mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Still, on a features per dollar basis, the Grand Caravan is a clear winner: a nicely-equipped Grand Caravan SXT can be optioned with a 251-hp V6 and six-speed automatic for less than the price of a base Sienna LE. But as “import” buyers don’t tend to cross over to the domestic side, the Sienna’s major competitor is more likely to be the new Honda Odyssey – also a great new minivan but with slightly weirder styling, more complicated controls, and a harder ride. But as the Odyssey is only available with a 3.5-litre V6, the 2011 Sienna LE four-cylinder is really in a class of its own.
Pricing: 2011 Toyota Sienna LE 4-cylinder
Base price: $27,900
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $29,560
Crash test results
Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and editor of CanadianDriver. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).