2011 Toyota Sienna SE: Oregon Return Trip Wrapup
January 04, 2011
It's over. We're home from Oregon and the Sienna is back in the IL garage, extremely dirty and waiting for the carwash to open for a final bath.
Near-constant heavy rain and a bit of snow kept us indoors much of the time, but the roads were clear and dry for much of the 850-mile drive home, which we did in one 15-hour day.
This being the same holiday for many others, a lot of people were out there on Interstate-5 with us. That had a beneficial effect on fuel economy because it kept the prevailing speed down to 65-70 mph. As we neared LA, the Google traffic map on my wife's new Droid phone lit up red like I've never seen before, so we made a detour through the high desert, 50 miles longer but clean and green at 60 mph most of the way. The result: 26.3 mpg on a tank that lasted 421.6 miles.
Overall, we averaged 23.0 mpg over the up-and-back highway portion and got 17.8 mpg in our single in-town Oregon tank. The overall trip average works out to 22.2 mpg.
Here's a summary of our final impressions:
As noted days earlier, the SE's steering and handling are solid. The shortcomings noted at the test track don't ever come into play with a vanload of family members on board to keep things real. At family-friendly speeds (and sometimes a bit more) the SE tracks straight, turns-in accurately and doesn't bob or roll excessively mid-corner. In corners like you're in a lower machine, in that you don't feel like you're teetering high above the roll axis--which is another way of saying no one lost their lunch. But I'd call it composed and appropriate, rather than overtly sporty, which makes me worry about non-SE Siennas. In my mind they all should drive at least this well.
Tracy liked the seats a lot, and her back is hard to please, so that's saying a lot. She disliked the lack of seat heaters no end, especially when we departed Oregon at 4:30 in the morning. Still, I was surprised after our 15-hour marathon to hear her conclude that "I never thought I'd say this, but I'd rather ride in this than the Flex". The kids in the middle row agreed.
There were many chances to try out the headlights on the dark rural roads of coastal Oregon, and they worked quite well, especially with the SE's supplementary driving lights turned on at the same time. I hesitate to call them fog lights, because they seemed more suited to lighting up the sides of the road to help with cornering and critter-spotting, both of which were crucial.
The brakes, on the other hand, frankly suck. Sure, they stop in a reasonable distance at the track and they're quiet just about everywhere, but in the real world the feel is all wrong. Normal stops make them seem weak because you have to press harder than expected to get the job done. It feels like caliper flex or brake line swelling, but since it's happening at street speeds it's probably neither of those. The brakes look to be sized appropriately and they don't seem to fade, so we'll have to keep our eye on this in the coming months.
Finally, while I still can't understand the lack of a navigation system option on the SE, this turned out to be insignificant on this trip because Tracy and I both have smartphones with Google maps (and traffic) built in. Sure, we know where we're going most of the time, but the traffic we spotted before it was too late and the self-imposed detour we took to avoid it are the kind of thing that requires a traffic-enabled navigation system. But using a smartphone like this can get you into trouble with the law in some places, so the SE should at least offer the option (seat heaters, too -- Tracy) because, from what I can tell so far, it's the version I'd want if I wanted another minvan.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 4,267 miles