2008 Toyota Sienna Review

Consumer Reviews
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The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
September 7, 2008

The 2008 Toyota Sienna minivan does almost everything right for the family, with a roomy, functional interior and great ride comfort, but there’s not a lot of personality.

As they wrote this comprehensive review covering the 2008 Toyota Sienna, the experts at TheCarConnection.com consulted with some of the most respected review resources. Then TheCarConnection.com’s editors, who have driven the Sienna and several other sedan variants, chimed in with their own firsthand driving experience.

Toyota’s minivan model, the Sienna, is a large, comfortable van ideal for big families or extended road trips. The popular Toyota Sienna can seat up to eight and haul them in relative quickness, thanks to its 3.5-liter V-6, rated at 266 horsepower.

The 2008 Toyota Sienna isn’t especially exciting to drive, but its engine is one of the smoothest and quietest in its class, the transmission shifts without hesitation, the interior is especially hushed, and the ride is smooth and somewhat soft, though the Sienna maneuvers very well.

LE, XLE, and XLE Limited models are available with a road-oriented all-wheel-drive system, but the base CE and all the other models come with standard front-wheel drive.

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Although minivans are typically purchased more on the basis of practicality and functional design than cutting-edge style, the Sienna hasn’t been completely redesigned since 2003, as a 2004 model. Inside it offers an interior configuration that’s very competitive and spacious. The third-row seats fold neatly into a well, allowing plenty of flat, low space for groceries while seating for five is still up; at the same time, the second-row seats fold down for space that permits an actual 4x8 sheet of plywood. Top 2008 Toyota Sienna XLE and XLE Limited models get twin captain’s chairs in the second row instead of the three-place bench seat.

The Sienna’s interior is rich on features—including dual sliding doors and the stowing third-row seats on all models, with power sliding doors, a power folding third row, and a power rear tailgate available up the range—but its interior materials and appointments feel a little skimpy compared to other minivan models.

The options list on the 2008 Toyota Sienna is more extensive than for most minivans, with a closed-circuit 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.

Electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes are now standard on every grade of the 2008 Toyota Sienna, as are front side airbags and side curtain bags covering all three seating rows. The Sienna has 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. But the IIHS deemed the Sienna "poor" in the seat-based rear impact test, which gauges the risk of whiplash injury among other things.

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2008 Toyota Sienna

Styling

The 2008 Toyota Sienna’s styling doesn’t offend, but it doesn’t try to inspire.

The 2008 Toyota Sienna is a vehicle that’s rather anonymous and inoffensive.

Automotive critics have precious little to say about the Sienna’s styling, perhaps because it’s a minivan, and perhaps even more so because it is a rather bland minivan. Kelley Blue Book offers mild kudos, 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.” Road & Track makes a half-hearted mention to it and other minivans being “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.

Inside, the story is a little more stimulating. 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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2008 Toyota Sienna

Performance

If driving enjoyment is important, you might want to skip over the 2008 Toyota Sienna and go on a little shopping Odyssey.

The 2008 Toyota Sienna features an extremely robust powertrain in an extremely relaxed chassis.

Offering perhaps the Sienna’s only draw for the enthusiast is Toyota’s gem, the corporate 3.5-liter DOHC V-6. Blessed with 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. Fleet performance for a family carton, indeed. Kelley Blue Book attests the engine “delivers where it counts,” and comparing it to the 3.3-liter V-6 it replaced, Edmunds admits “there's no denying the potency of the new V6 when you step into it.”

The only transmission offered is a five-speed automatic that's generally praised for the smooth, responsive way it transmits the V-6’s power to the ground. 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.” 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.”

And that’s about it for the Sienna’s rave reviews. Handling is pretty ponderous, Car and Driver faulting the “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,” says 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.” Even the non-enthusiasts over at ConsumerGuide note that “tire grip seems only adequate and the steering is a tad overassisted.”

Perhaps making up for its lack of athletic moves, Car and Driver, in a comparison test involving other competitive minivans, asserts that “what you get instead of confident handling is a soft, quiet ride that makes the others seem a bit rude.” Edmunds also makes note of 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.”

Despite its athletic acceleration, the Sienna offers competitive EPA ratings of 17/23 mpg with front-wheel drive, and 16/21 mpg with the optional all-wheel drive, both competitive figures for the class (or in a class of its own, in the case of the AWD).

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2008 Toyota Sienna

Comfort & Quality

Smart features, lots of utility, high quality, and plenty of comfort characterize the 2008 Toyota Sienna.

The 2008 Toyota Sienna redeems a lackluster driving experience with Toyota quality and Lexus luxury and refinement.

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, Edmund was 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 ConsumerGuide. The Sienna is one of the few minivans to offer true eight-passenger capacity.

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.”

ConsumerGuide deems its 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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2008 Toyota Sienna

Safety

Solid crash-test results and Toyota’s usual bevy of active safety features mean the 2008 Toyota Sienna is resistant to accidents and injury.

While not a standout in safety, the 2008 Toyota Sienna still possesses more than enough active and passive safety to easily recommend it for family transportation.

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.”

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.”

Regarding the Sienna's performance in tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Edmunds reports “the 2008 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.”

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2008 Toyota Sienna

Features

If you don’t mind spending premium SUV money, you can have an extremely well-equipped, luxurious, and capable…minivan.

The 2008 Toyota Sienna offers several standout features that make it unique among minivans.

“The 2008 Toyota Sienna minivan comes in four trim levels -- CE, LE, XLE and XLE Limited,” explains Edmunds. CE and LE may be had with a second-row bench or captains' chairs, providing those models with eight- or seven-passenger capacity. XLE and XLE Limited models come only in the seven-passenger varieties. All except for 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.

To that roster, depending upon trim, items may be added. 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 atop 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.”

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.”

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April 28, 2015
2008 Toyota Sienna 5-Door 7-Pass Van XLE Ltd AWD (Natl)

Too expensive for it's features and gas mileage.

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This is a nice car, but it only gets about 18-19 MPG and there is a fair amount of road noise from the tires. This model has run flat tires and no spare, which makes me very nervous. I do love the sliding side... + More »
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Styling 6
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 8
Features 9
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