Minivans may represent an ever-thinning presence in the auto market. But like the ever-thinning hair of most minivan drivers, Toyota is holding on to the precious sales it has left in the segment by offering up a revamped 2011 Toyota Sienna minivan early next year.
The Sienna looks new inside and out, though careful reading of its spec sheet reveals it's got a lot in common with the last version. It just makes economic sense--though some shoppers will wonder if it made more sense to tear up the Sienna's floorpan and install fold-away second-row seats. The Sienna goes without that clever arrangement, while Chrysler and Dodge and Nissan tease shoppers with the promise of a two-seat, cargo-filled van.
To counter those come-ons, Toyota's putting a few spiffs in the Sienna. For one, you can haul a full 4x8 sheet of plywood inside, if you have to--even if you have to remove the second-row seats or scar them for life. If you treat your Sienna with more respect--and your passengers too--Toyota's seen fit to fit a pair of aircraft-style first-class seats on some Siennas. Tilt them back, tune in two videos on the 16.4-inch-wide LCD screen, and you could practically live in the Sienna, if you parked it on the right side of any Manhattan street. You could probably charge $1200 a month, in fact.
There are other arrows in its quiver, too. The Sienna still offers all-wheel drive, unlike every other minivan. A new SE edition has tighter tuning and 19-inch wheels, for those who refuse to give up the tendency to rub sidewalls for guilty pleasure. And for 2011, Toyota's turned back the clock to fit a four-cylinder engine in the Sienna--and with 187 horsepower and a six-speed automatic, the four-cylinder will give frugal shoppers a serious, convincing alternative to lavish V-6 power.
Toyota says the base price of the 2011 Sienna will come in below the current vehicle's $25,000 price point. At that point, it's a worthwhile investment that gives the Sienna a fighting chance against the plasticky Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country, the price-cutter Kia Sedona, the also-ran Nissan Quest and TheCarConnection.com's favorite minivan, the Honda Odyssey.
Our Bottom Line: The 2011 Toyota Sienna adds room and adult-duty second-row seats, but leaves ultimate flexibility and entertainment to the competition.
That's not always a bad thing, however. For more, read our 2011 Sienna road test and stay tuned for a full review of opinions from other Web reviewers.