Full 2008 Toyota Sienna Review
What's New for 2008
The 2008 Toyota Sienna sees no significant changes.
Ever since its last makeover four years ago, the Toyota Sienna has been a top choice in the minivan segment for consumers and automotive critics alike. Things got even better last year, when Toyota updated the minivan with a new, 266-horsepower V6 that improved performance while remaining as fuel-efficient as the previous (and less powerful) engine. For 2008, the Toyota Sienna stands pat, and that sits just fine with us.
As you might expect from a Toyota product, the Sienna has a comfortable ride, earns respectable gas mileage and has top-notch safety ratings. It's also one of the roomiest minivans available and one of the few that offers eight-passenger capacity and all-wheel drive. Inside, the Sienna can be fitted with luxury features not typically seen on a minivan, such as a telescoping steering wheel, adaptive cruise control and rear sunshades. If Lexus made a minivan, we imagine it would be a lot like the Sienna.
Although it's got plenty of power, the Sienna still isn't the best choice for those looking for at least some driving involvement due to its softly tuned suspension and numb steering. Granted, most people buying a minivan are more concerned with getting all the kids to school and sports activities than tearing it up on a twisting road. However, those who'd like a more carlike experience behind the wheel of their family shuttle would be better served by the Honda Odyssey, which is as close to a sporty sedan as a minivan gets.
Besides the Honda, there are a few other minivans you might want to consider. The redesigned Dodge and Chrysler minivans offer a number of segment-exclusive features this year, and the less expensive Hyundai Entourage/Kia Sedona twins provide better value than the Sienna. But overall, the 2008 Toyota Sienna remains one of the best choices out there, especially if price isn't a huge concern.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Toyota Sienna minivan comes in four trim levels -- CE, LE, XLE and XLE Limited. The CE and LE come in seven- and eight-passenger configurations while the upper trims are seven-passenger only. All but the CE offer a choice of either front-wheel or all-wheel drive; the CE just comes as a front-driver.
The base Sienna CE includes 16-inch steel wheels, dual sliding rear doors with power-down windows, front and rear air-conditioning, a six-speaker CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack, a telescoping steering wheel and full power accessories. The LE adds privacy and solar energy-absorbing glass, a roof rack, heated mirrors, a CD changer, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a folding front passenger seat, cruise control and upgraded instrumentation.
The Sienna XLE features alloy wheels, power-sliding rear doors, a power liftgate, automatic headlamps, tri-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, wood-grain interior trim, a trip computer and a removable center console. The plush XLE Limited adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, adaptive cruise control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a leather/wood steering wheel, an upgraded 10-speaker JBL sound system, rear window shades and a windshield wiper de-icer. All-wheel-drive Siennas automatically receive 17-inch wheels, run-flat tires and the wiper de-icer.
Options on the Toyota Sienna are grouped into packages that vary based on buying region, and they can get rather pricey. You'll need to study them carefully to ensure the one you pick has just what you want. Notable items include xenon headlights, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a navigation system (with a back-up camera and Bluetooth), a power-folding third-row seat and a pair of 115-volt power outlets.
Powertrains and Performance
A superb 3.5-liter V6 engine with 266 hp matched to a five-speed automatic transmission is featured on every 2008 Sienna. This refined combination provides brisk performance (we timed an AWD version of the XLE from zero to 60 mph in just 8.0 seconds) as well as respectable gas mileage. The revised 2008 EPA figures come in at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for front-drive models, while the AWD versions rate 16 and 21, respectively.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control and a full complement of airbags (including front-seat side and full-length side curtain) are standard on all Siennas. 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.
In government crash testing, 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.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Sienna's spacious cabin is handsomely fitted with high-quality fabric on lower trim levels, and leather and faux wood on the higher-end models. The various controls are simple to use, storage space is plentiful and the seats are plush. Seven-passenger vans allow the second-row captain's chairs to be pushed together to create a bench seat. The eight-passenger version uses a 40/20/40-split bench in the second row whose center section slides 13 inches closer to the front seats for easier access to the little one seated there. The Sienna provides a cavernous 149 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Although the 2008 Toyota Sienna's automatic transmission is calibrated more for fuel economy than performance and thus tends to shift conservatively, there's no denying the potency of the new V6 when you step into it. Acceleration is spirited in most situations, and the engine delivers its power in a quiet, refined manner. Ride quality is smooth and comfortable, but the Sienna offers little inspiration in the handling department. It feels secure enough when going around corners, but with minimal steering feedback and considerable body roll, it's not a minivan you'll relish driving. Braking distances are on par with the rest of the minivan class, but pedal feel is too soft to inspire confidence.