- A good-looking minivan
- Handling's much improved
- Second-row seats slide for more space
- Frugal four-cylinder option
- All-wheel drive still available
- No fold-away second-row seats
- No in-car satellite TV or in-car Wifi
- V-6 Limited is pricey, maybe too luxurious?
It's not as flexible as some minivans, but the 2012 Toyota Sienna is large, safe, and still has options for four-cylinder power and all-wheel drive.
One of the Big Four among minivans, the Toyota Sienna was revamped last year to give families more choice in drivetrains and in features. The Sienna's now the most diverse minivan, in terms of power and features, but it's not quite the most flexible big box in the parking lot.
You won't encounter any flash mobs thronging around the Sienna for its looks alone, but it's a little more dynamic-looking than the domestic and Korean minivans. Honda's gone astray with a lightning-bolt motif and Nissan's mimicking the Ford Flex, but Toyota was satisfied finessing the Sienna's details, adding some more pronounced forms on the nose and down its side windows. It's not quintessentially boxy like the Chrysler vans or the Quest, and the Sienna tapers softly from windshield to tail. The dash wears a big, dramatic arc like other new Toyotas, one that divides driver controls from secondary knobs and switches. The swoopy theme gives the impression of greater interior space, and seats and trim pieces have been slimmed down for the same effect. Unlike other Toyotas, the Sienna's interior looks a bit better than in the last-generation minivan, but there's still grainy plastic on the dash. Some plastic trim is swapped out in higher grades for woodgrain trim, and gauges go electroluminescent, like those on a Lexus.
The Sienna's four-cylinder base engine is good enough to give buyers pause when considering the more expensive V-6 versions. The 2.7-liter four produces 187 horsepower and teams with a six-speed automatic for acceleration times of less than 10 seconds, and fuel economy of up to 19/26 mpg. The usual four-cylinder noise isn't all that loud, though it is almost always present in even commuter-style driving, since the engine has to work to keep up with the Sienna's significant curb weight, but the automatic keeps up its side of the bargain so well, we'd think twice before spending up to the 3.5-liter V-6. It has 266 horsepower and a six-speed automatic, too, but gas-mileage ratings slip to 16/22 mpg when all-wheel drive is ordered. The power is ample, even luxurious, and some drivers will believe the extra swiftness is something of a safety feature.
All Siennas ride atop a front strut and rear multi-link suspension. Electric power steering was new last year, and it works particularly well in such a big vehicle with such little emphasis on cornering performance. That's not to say the Sienna is sloppy: its steering tucks in the front end quickly, and body roll isn't excessive for this kind of vehicle. It's no sports car, but the smooth ride motions and steering feel make the Sienna feel maneuverable beyond its dimensions on city streets. There's an SE version for drivers who demand a little more direct feel: it comes with 19-inch wheels and tighter suspension tuning, but it's a subtle difference that could be lost on most minivan drivers.
At more than 200 inches long, and more than 78 inches wide, the Sienna's a big van. There's space everywhere, even in the third row. The front seats get a regal seating position, and even in the second row, a pair of airline-style reclining bucket seats are available. The basic bench is comfortable, with expanses of head and leg room--and it slides on an elongated track so that either second- or third-row leg room can be expanded. It also aids in loading passengers into the third row. The second-row seat can be removed entirely, but does not fold away into the floor--the Chrysler minivans' special trick. The third-row seat does fold flat, and with it stowed and the middle seats pushed forward, the Sienna has 150 cubic feet of cargo space.
Standard features include curtain airbags and stability control, and a rearview camera and Bluetooth are available, but there are no blind-spot monitors. All Siennas come with dual sliding side doors; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; a CD player and aux jack; a tilt/telescoping steering wheel; and three-zone climate control. Upscale versions add a power tailgate and power sliding side doors; steering-wheel audio controls; leather upholstery; heated front seats; a dual sunroof; and a huge 16.4-inch-wide LCD screen and a DVD player to keep the two back rows of passengers entertained. The screen even splits so that side can be dedicated to gaming, one to movies. A word of warning: one viewing of Pirates of the Caribbean, and you'll be hooked, or on the hook.