2009 Toyota Sienna Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
February 23, 2009

The 2009 Toyota Sienna is by no means exciting, but it will do a family right.

The experts at TheCarConnection.com looked to some of the most respected review resources on the Web to compile information on the 2009 Toyota Sienna. TheCarConnection.com’s editors have also driven the Sienna and added their own observations and insights to help you make the best purchase choice.

The 2009 Toyota Sienna minivan has been on the market for five years with no major changes, and it shows. While it is still a large, comfortable, and versatile van for big families, its styling is outdated and its competitors have newer, more stylish products on the lots. Luckily for Toyota Sienna fans, an all-new version is due for 2010. The Sienna soldiers on for 2009 with very few changes.

For those who want a great, long-lasting family vehicle, the lack of cutting-edge style might not matter so much. The 2009 Toyota Sienna can seat up to eight and haul them in relative quickness, thanks to its 266-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. It isn’t exactly exciting to pilot, but it is smooth and quiet, which are attributes minivan drivers are looking for—and there’s plenty of passing power when you need it, even with a full load. The base Sienna is front-wheel drive, but the LE, XLE, and XLE Limited models are available with an all-wheel-drive system for all-weather traction.

"Minivan" may be a bad word for many mothers, but for pure practicality, they are hard to beat.  The 2009 Sienna is an excellent example of that functionality; its very spacious interior features a third-row seat that folds neatly into a well, allowing plenty of flat, low space for cargo while maintaining seating for five. If you don’t have people to haul, the second row folds flat as well and can carry an actual 4x8 sheet of plywood. Top 2009 Toyota Sienna XLE and XLE Limited models get twin captain’s chairs in the second row instead of the three-place bench seat.

Review continues below

The Sienna’s interior is rich on features—including standard dual sliding doors and the folding third-row seats on all models. For power sliding doors, a power folding third row, and a power rear tailgate, you have to move up to the higher trim levels. Its interior materials and appointments feel a bit less refined compared to those of its competitors.

The options list on the 2009 Toyota Sienna would be right at home on a luxury-brand vehicle. It includes a rearview video camera, front/rear parking proximity warnings, side sunshades, laser-guided cruise control, a DVD entertainment system, satellite navigation system, and a JBL surround-sound audio system (standard on the XLE Limited) that includes Bluetooth hands-free connectivity.

The Sienna posts quite good results in U.S. crash tests, with four- and five-star ratings for frontal impact, five stars in side impact from the federal government, and "good" judgements from the IIHS in frontal and side impact. Unfortunately the IIHS deems the Sienna "poor" in the seat-based rear impact test, which gauges the risk of whiplash injury, among other things. Electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes are standard on every grade of the 2009 Toyota Sienna, as are front side airbags and side curtain bags covering all three seating rows.

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2009 Toyota Sienna

Styling

The 2009 Toyota Sienna celebrates anonymity and practicality.

When it comes to styling, minivans can’t get a break. They are designed to carry maximum amount of cargo—human and otherwise—while also being safe and fuel-efficient, and that dictates their shape.

The Toyota Sienna is no exception, and most automotive writers have few nice things to say about the Sienna’s design. Road & Track half-heartedly classifies it and other minivans as “family cartons,” and MyRide.com, the most vocal supporter of this family hauler’s lines, finds “the basic shape of the Sienna appealing,” though they cite its “sneering grille work and those big headlights” as the features that create the strongest impression. Kelley Blue Book offers mild props, calling the Sienna “smartly styled,” but admits that the van, now in its fifth year, “offers nothing radical in the way of exterior features or design.”

Inside, the Sienna is no more exciting, but here its conservative style finds fans. Edmunds reports “the Sienna’s spacious cabin is handsomely fitted.” “The Sienna driver sits before a smooth, organic dashboard, with a prominent if slightly awkward center stack,” says MyRide.com. They like its standard trim with its “dark, lacquered-look plastic,” but are less favorable of the faux wood on the XLE and limited, which they consider “looks tacked on.”

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2009 Toyota Sienna

Performance

Most families will find exactly what they need here: confident passing power, and generally safe but unexciting performance otherwise.

The 2009 Toyota Sienna bland styling hides a very robust engine and transmission that reviewers love, paired with handling that that can be best described as "laid back."

The enthusiast family man/woman needs some excitement, and surprisingly the Sienna delivers in straight-line acceleration. The 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 features dual variable valve timing for the best of low-end torque and high-end power. Its 266 horses and 245 pound-feet of torque make it “the strong, silent type, rushing to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds” by Car and Driver’s stopwatch. Kelley Blue Book attests the engine “delivers where it counts,” and Edmunds admits “there's no denying the potency of the new V6 when you step into it.” Despite its athletic acceleration, the Sienna offers competitive EPA ratings of 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway with front-wheel drive; all-wheel-drive models drop to 16/21 mpg.

The only transmission offered is a five-speed automatic, which is generally praised for the smooth, responsive way it plants the V-6’s power to the ground. Regarding this marriage of engine and transmission, Car and Driver concludes, “if choosing a minivan came down to the powertrain, this Toyota would be a slam-dunk.” Edmunds complains that the Sienna’s “automatic transmission is calibrated more for fuel economy than performance and thus tends to shift conservatively,” probably appropriate for a minivan as well as for economy. Kelley Blue Book, however, contends the transmission “makes the most of the engine's torque curve before seamlessly shifting to the next gear.”

Handling, however, is nothing to get excited about, and that keeps pulses from quickening too much. Even the matter-of-fact reviewers over at ConsumerGuide note that “tire grip seems only adequate and the steering is a tad overassisted.” The hotfoots at Car and Driver fault “the generally aloof responses of the controls. The brakes feel wooden…the steering lacks sharpness.” On a positive note, those brakes are four-wheel discs, unlike the previous-generation Sienna, which makes do with drums on the rear. And despite its front-wheel drive, the Sienna manages “a tidy turning circle of 36.8 feet…the envy of several passenger cars,” claims Car and Driver. “The Sienna offers little inspiration in the handling department,” sums up Edmunds, noting that it “feels secure enough” but offers “minimal steering feedback and considerable body roll,” as well as brake pedal feel that is “too soft.”

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2009 Toyota Sienna

Comfort & Quality

With the exception of a few drab materials, the 2009 Toyota Sienna offers Lexus luxury at a Toyota price.

The 2009 Toyota Sienna may not be a sportscar, but with Toyota quality and Lexus-like refinement, it could be mistaken for a luxury car—a very capable and functional one, at that.

Throughout the interior, materials and fit/finish are generally exemplary. “The gauges are clear,” says ConsumerGuide, “and minor controls are guess-free.” Thoughtful features abound, such as “door panels … scooped out to give exceptionally good elbow space” (Car and Driver). In general, the interior wins compliments for its convenience and versatility, but its removable seats are a bit heavier and more difficult to manage than some competitors’. “The various controls are simple to use, storage space is plentiful and the seats are plush,” summarizes Edmunds. Kelley Blue Book notes “the Sienna's rear seat can fold flush into the floor and features a 60/40 split,” and the ever-critical ConsumerGuide mentions “the cabin benefits from high-grade plastics, but some of our testers say the colors and fabrics are drab.”

Up front, ConsumerGuide locates “room aplenty on comfortable seats” and “no-strain entry and exit,” and they appreciate that “standard seat and steering-wheel adjustments cater to most any size driver.” One of Car and Driver’s “testers noted ‘butt burn’ from the driver's seat, the result of a shape that forces a thin person's weight uncomfortably forward on the cushion.”

Of the second and third rows, Edmunds is careful to point out that the Sienna is “one of the roomiest minivans available,” and in Car and Driver’s minivan comparison, the Sienna’s optional “second-row captain's chairs were rated highest for comfort.” A bench is standard fare. Kelley Blue Book notes “the Sienna's seats take full advantage of the van's roomy interior, with wide seat bottoms as well as firm back rests.” “Bench or buckets, the 2nd-row seats seem long-haul comfortable,” critiques Consumer Guide. The Sienna is one of the few minivans to offer true eight-passenger capacity.

In a comparison test involving other competitive minivans, Car and Driver asserts that “what you get instead of confident handling is a soft, quiet ride that makes the others seem a bit rude,” perhaps to make up for the Sienna's lack of athletic moves. Edmunds also notes the “softly tuned suspension,” and ConsumerGuide finds the van to be “Comfortably composed. Large humps and dips induce some body bounce, but the suspension irons out most rough pavement.”

ConsumerGuide deems the Toyota Sienna’s noise levels to be “at least equal to the class-topping Honda and Chrysler/Dodge minivans,” noting that “the main noise source is moderate coarse-pavement tire thrum.”

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2009 Toyota Sienna

Safety

The 2009 Toyota Sienna doesn’t stand out in terms of safety ratings, but it has the goods to make families feel secure.

Most minivans are typically among the safest vehicles, so it takes especially strong crash-test scores or innovative features to score high here. The 2009 Toyota Sienna doesn’t get the highest scores, but it still possesses more than enough active and passive safety to easily recommend it for hauling your most precious cargo.

Regarding the Sienna's performance in tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the insurance-affiliated IIHS, Edmunds reports “the 2009 Toyota Sienna earned four stars (out of five) for driver protection in frontal impacts and five stars for the front passenger. It also received five stars across the board for side-impact crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave Toyota's minivan a ‘Good’ rating (its highest) for its performance in both frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.”

Edmunds notes, “The XLE Limited also comes with front and rear park assist, while rear park assist is available on LE and XLE trims. If you opt for the navigation system, you'll also get a handy rearview camera.”

Describing its safety repertoire as “typical for this class,” Car and Driver lists the notable active safety features as “ABS with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, as well as a stability control system incorporating traction control.” They continue, “passive features include two-stage front airbags, front seat side airbags, and curtain airbags for all three rows.”

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2009 Toyota Sienna

Features

There’s a trim level to meet a range of budgets, but any way you get it, the 2009 Toyota Sienna’s interior has some nifty storage features.

The 2009 Toyota Sienna offers several features, such as all-wheel drive, that make up for its ho-hum styling.

“The 2009 Toyota Sienna minivan comes in four trim levels—CE, LE, XLE and XLE Limited,” explains Edmunds. CE and LE models may be had with a second-row bench or captains' chairs, providing them with eight- or seven-passenger capacity. XLE and XLE Limited models come only in the seven-passenger varieties. All except the CE may be optioned with all-wheel drive.

Notable standard features, according to Kelley Blue Book, on the base model include a V-6 engine, five-speed automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), 10 cup holders, rear defroster, side-impact and side-curtain airbags, dual sliding side doors with power windows, power door locks, illuminated remote keyless entry, power liftgate release, AM/FM stereo with CD, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power windows, full wheel covers, and a rear wiper. That is, it's well equipped for $25,000.

Calling it quite Lexus-like in its appointments, Edmunds feels the Sienna’s optional “telescoping steering wheel, adaptive cruise control and rear sunshades” are “features not typically seen on a minivan.” Kelley Blue Book’s favorite features are the Sienna’s sliding side-door power windows and its split flush-folding third-row seat. In a segment where others don’t allow windows to open at all, they felt it nice to “allow passengers to enjoy as much fresh air as they like.”

Depending on the trim, items may be added to that roster. Kelley Blue Book’s list of notables includes features such as the aforementioned all-wheel drive, power seats, leather interior, heated front seats, cruise control, dual power sliding side doors, JBL audio with 10 speakers and Bluetooth technology (standard on Limited), power-folding third-row seat (Limited), four-wheel disc brakes, power lumbar support, DVD rear-seat entertainment system, and alloy wheels. The Limited trim offers Dynamic Laser Cruise Control, and Limited and XLE offer optional navigation as part of the JBL audio upgrade.

There is a “Honda-style fold-down table with a cup holder at each corner and a large tray in the middle,” says Car and Driver, to which Toyota adds “a lidded bin and splendid surface detailing.” There are two glove boxes in the Sienna, one stacked on the other, but the top “box on the Toyota is sized for gloves and little more.” The conversation mirror is described by Road & Track as “a convex piece mounted in the over-head console allowing parents to keep tabs on the youngsters.” They also mention the inclusion of “14 (!) cupholders, storage bins galore, three 12-volt outlets” and “standard with power windows in the dual-sliding side doors.”

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7.6
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 6.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 8.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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