What's New for 1999
Entering its second full model year of production at Toyota's Kentucky plant, the Sienna minivan gets a right-side power-sliding door. An engine immobilizer system has been added to the keyless-entry security system and all Siennas will be equipped with daytime running lights. Selected models have a full-size spare tire and Woodland Pearl replaces Classic Green Pearl as an exterior color option.
Toyota's new minivan sits in sharp contrast to the one it replaces. Whereas the Previa was a study in minivan abnormalities, with rear-wheel drive, a midship-mounted supercharged engine, and a shape that looked like the droid escape pod from the first Star Wars movie, the Sienna is a model of suburban respectability.
That doesn't, however, mean that this minivan is boring. Resting under the hood is a powerful, 3.0-liter V6 engine that was stolen from the Camry parts bin. The engine isn't the only piece of equipment pilfered from the Camry; the Sienna rides on a stretched and modified Camry platform and uses much of the Camry's interior switchgear. Appropriately referred to internally at Toyota as "The Camry of minivans," we can only assume that the company expects this creation to be as popular as their hot-selling sedan.
In order to harness the 194 horses at work under the hood, engineers put antilock brakes at all four wheels of every Sienna. Other safety equipment includes dual airbags, side-impact protection that meets future federal standards and seatbelt pretensioners for both front seats. Last year the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted an offset crash test of the Sienna and called it "the best performing vehicle in the history of the test."
Interestingly, Toyota was able to talk rivals General Motors and Chrysler into lending a hand on the Sienna's manufacturing process. Not used to making such a large vehicle, Toyota had questions about how to deal with the interior assembly of this van which has well over 130 cubic feet of cargo space.
In the end, General Motors and Chrysler may be sorry that they offered to help Toyota figure out some of its manufacturing logistics. Toyota has been able to successfully capture the midsize sedan market with its excellent Camry. If this truly is "The Camry of minivans," GM and Chrysler better watch out.