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2002 Mazda MPV by John Pearley Huffman (3/11/2002)
The van from Japan with the American engine.
Minivans are the most practical family haulers around. Trouble is, practical isn’t prestigious. Practical isn’t sexy. More people opt for SUVs because minivans aren’t considered cool enough.
Thus the challenge for every minivan maker is to create a vehicle so comfortable, versatile, and liveable, you forget you’re driving a breadbox.
Toyota’s engineers and designers have accomplished this feat with the all-new 2004 Sienna — a better vehicle in every way than its milquetoast predecessor.
That’s not to say the first-generation Sienna (introduced in ’98) was bad. After all, it had Toyota’s reliability, a five-star safety rating, a butter-smooth engine, and a decent interior. But it was bland, lacking one charming feature to distinguish it from the pack. Chrysler’s Town & Country has power-operated sliding doors and a rear liftgate. Honda’s Odyssey has a nifty fold-flat third-row seat. Mazda’s MPV has electric, roll-down rear windows.
Now the Sienna has all those things and more.
Thinking inside the box
For research, Toyota chief engineer Yuji Yokoya drove 53,000 miles back and forth across America (hitting every state in the continental U.S.) in the current Sienna and competing minivans. Back at the drawing board, Yokoya and his team took all the best attributes of competitive minivans — available all-wheel drive, a fold-flat third-row seat, electric roll-down rear windows, power-operated doors and rear liftgate – and rolled them into the Sienna. The Sienna’s attractiveness springs not from one particular characteristic but from the combination of all these previously disparate elements. Toyota didn’t just copy these features; it improved them where it could, and added a few clever tidbits of its own.
2004 Toyota Sienna LEEnlarge Photo
Designed and engineered in the U.S., the 2004 Sienna is being built on a brand-new assembly line at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Princeton, Ind., and will boast 90 percent domestic content when it rolls into U.S. dealerships in March.
Toyota has managed to make Sienna bigger and more powerful while at the same time more nimble and fuel-efficient. The new Sienna’s interior is 44 cubic feet bigger, its wheelbase is five inches longer, and its track is four inches wider. Nevertheless, its turning radius is three feet tighter than before, and nearly one foot tighter than that of its nearest competitor, the Odyssey.
Sienna’s all-new 3.3-liter V-6 engine produces 230 hp (up from 210 hp) and 242 lb-ft of torque (up from 220), and is teamed with a new five-speed automatic transmission. The Sienna’s highway fuel economy has improved by three miles per gallon, with a preliminary EPA city/highway gas mileage rating of 19/27 mpg. Sienna will be certified as a Level II Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV-II) standards.
Shape of things to come
The ‘04 Sienna’s exterior breaks no new ground. It still looks like a minivan, but is edgier, less jellybean-like than before. Its true inspiration lies inside.
Particular attention was given to improving comfort and convenience in the rear area, a.k.a. the “kids’ section.”
“It’s the kids who occupy the rear two-thirds of the vehicle, and it’s the kids who are most critical and appreciative of their environment,” chief engineer Yokoya says.
Kids will appreciate Sienna’s electric roll-down windows in the rear doors. They’ll also like Sienna’s benevolent sliding doors and liftgate, which not only have jam protection, but “pinch protection,” meaning they will automatically reverse if a pinky finger so much as glances the leading edge of the door.
Enhancing parent-child communication is a “conversation mirror,” which enables front-seat passengers to keep an eye on back-seat roughhousers. Cabin noise has been improved, so kids can use indoor voices and parents don’t have to shout “Cut that out!” to be heard. For those long, arduous drives when parent-child communications break down, there’s an optional DVD rear-seat entertainment system with wireless headphones.
2004 Toyota Sienna LEEnlarge Photo
Sienna comes in four trim levels — CE (stripper); LE (volume leader); XLE (luxo); and XLE Limited (ultra-luxo). The CE and LE are available in seven- or eight-passenger renditions. The top-of-the-line XLE and XLE Limited models (aimed at parents with older kids) come exclusively with seven-passenger seating.
The eight-passenger model features a second-row bench with a pull-forward middle seat to put an infant or toddler within easy reach of a parent (the better to wipe a face, plug in a binky or give a pat on the knee). The seven-passenger configuration features second-row captains chairs that slide together to form a bench or separate to provide a center aisle. The second-row seats slide fore and aft, fold flat, and tumble forward; and both the second- and third-row seats recline.
The Sienna’s third-row seat is split 60/40 to maximize cargo- and people-carrying options. Cargo room behind the third seat is a best-in-class 43.6 cubic feet. With the second-row seats removed and the third-row seats folded flat, Sienna’s floor can accommodate a 4x8 sheet of plywood.
Families who travel in wet and snowy climes can opt for a Sienna with all-wheel drive. Available on LE models and above, Sienna’s AWD system includes 17-inch run-flat tires that enable you to drive with no air pressure for 100 miles.
Panoply of safety
All Siennas come standard with anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD). Other standard features include dual front airbags, three-point seatbelts and adjustable head restraints in all seating positions, and the LATCH child-seat safety system in the second-row seats.
Front and side curtain airbags for all three rows (standard on XLE Limited models) are optional on all other grades. Vehicle stability control (VSC) with traction control (TRAC) and brake assist (BA) is optional on all trim levels.
To help you avoid backing over tricycles and children, navigation system-equipped Siennas include a rear-view camera that automatically displays a wide-angle view of the area behind the van whenever the vehicle is in reverse.
Other cool safety gizmos (standard on the XLE Limited) include a “park assist system,” which uses audible beeps to warn you when the Sienna gets too close to standing objects. A “dynamic laser cruise control” system decreases vehicle speed when your cruise-control-set Sienna gets too close to a vehicle ahead. (Pretty soon you’ll be able to drive with your eyes closed.)
No minivan discussion would be complete without a mention of cupholders, bottle holders and grocery bag hooks, of which the Sienna has ten, four, and eleven, respectively. That’s not to mention two glove boxes, numerous storage pockets, power outlets, and rear-seat audio and air-conditioner controls.
The Sienna is base priced from $23,000 (for the CE, front-wheel-drive) to $36,930 (for the all-wheel-drive XLE Limited). With a roomier interior, available all-wheel drive, fold-flat third-row seats and oodles of family-friendly features, the Sienna is set to become the new queen of the minivan hill.
2004 Toyota Sienna
Base Price: CE - $22,955; LE - $24,260; XLE - $28,260; XLE Limited - $34,480
Engine: 3.3-liter V-6, 230 hp
Transmission: Five-speed automatic, front- or all-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 119.3 in
Length: 200.0 in
Width: 77.4 in
Height: 68.9 in
Weight: 4120-4365 lb
Fuel economy (estimated): 19/27 (2WD); 18/24 (AWD)
Standard safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes, child seat LATCH system, dual, multi-stage front airbags, three-point seatbelts and adjustable head restraints for all passengers
Major standard equipment: Dual sliding doors with power windows and door locks, 60/40-split fold-flat third-row seat
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles; five years/60,000 miles powertrain