Well, Toyota hit the Sienna SE minivan so far out of the park that not only is it fun to drive but it also handles and affords the driver a level of driving involvement that will be familiar to luxury sedan owners who need more room. Oddly enough, the 2011 Toyota Sienna SE may be the sportiest car that this automaker has made in far too long. And if they can do this to a minivan just imagine what they can do with some of their, shall we say, less exciting to drive cars?
Although Honda has a new Odyssey van lined-up for later in the year as of yet the only comparison that can be made is with the current class leader also known as the 2010 Honda Odyssey. We had planned on testing a Chrysler Town & Country but the driving dynamics of the Toyota are so superior that this test would have been akin to waterboarding the poor Chrysler vans.
2011 Toyota Sienna SE
One thing that complicates matters when testing a pre-production model is that final pricing usually has yet to be determined. But if you have ever once enjoyed the art of driving then you absolutely must, no matter how Toyota prices this Sienna variant, pick the SE. Not to inspire the wrath of the Bavarian masses but if BMW built a minivan it would no doubt drive much like the 2011 Toyota Sienna SE.
The SE is powered only by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, making 266-horsepower and 243 lb-feet of torque, that is a faithful, reliable workhorse in a number of Toyota products. Toyota must have tuned the noise this motor makes in the SE because when really pressed it gives off a pleasingly metallic wail that urges you to rev it harder and drive faster. At cruising speeds the motor settles down to the usual Lexus-like silence and EPA estimates are 19 mpg city/24 highway.
The interior of the Toyota Sienna SE comes with part leather/cloth seat trim, faux carbon-fiber on the dash that is surprisingly stylish and has the usual array of cupholders, storage cubbies and seating options. But what sets the SE model apart here is that the interior of it screams "road trip" to passengers but it screams "driving trip" to the person behind the steering wheel. There is a big difference there.
Truly what marks out the Sienna SE from the herd of family minivans is its chassis tuning, taut steering, lack of body roll and near perfect suspension damping. You may think these things don't matter but they are the invisible parts of a car design that can mean the difference between having a love affair or a "like-affair" with your new car. And if you are wondering if this "sporty" minivan rides harshly it definitely doesn't although a couple of huge potholes did push the Sienna to its limits of absorption.
The Toyota Sienna minivan also doesn't look like your ordinary van. Our tester had side skirts, a rear spoiler, smoked gray alloy wheels and a number of other visual addenda that conspire to make this one stylishly menacing minivan. Dare we say it is the Darth Vader of minivans.
2010 Honda OdysseyEnlarge Photo
With prices ranging from $26,000 for a basic LX model to over $40,000 for the Odyssey Touring, you might think buyers of the "cheap" model would feel short changed. But that is one of the things that makes Honda so great because the 2010 Odyssey gets all of the basics so right (steering, handling, powertrain, design, build quality) that no matter how much you spend you will always feel like you got a fine value.