Read the introduction of this vehicle to our long-term fleet.
Even the most masculine of us can profess our love for the minivan. Sure, they don't have rear-wheel drive and they can't do burnouts, or at least not that easily. But the fact is, minivans do a better job of carrying people and stuff than any crossover, sport-utility or truck. So when you need stuff done, they become very cool.
When Toyota announced the significantly redesigned 2011 Toyota Sienna, we knew it needed to be in our fleet. We know, kinda pathetic, but this 2011 Sienna threatened to knock the mighty Honda Odyssey from the top of the heap. Our comparison of the 2011 Toyota Sienna versus the 2010 Odyssey ended with the Sienna ahead on points.
We preferred the Sienna SE, which is a couple of tiers up from the base model. A 265-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 powers the sportier SE. Beneath it turn 19-inch all-season Michelins. Its suspension and steering are tuned for a more sporting feel compared to the other trims. Inside the cabin there's a unique gauge cluster and leatherette seat fabric that further distinguishes the SE from other Siennas. The optional 40/20/40 second-row seat was a must-have for eight-passenger seating. Additional comfort items such as a power liftgate, roof rails, window shades and a tow package came on our Sienna.
We initiated a search at our local dealerships and found several that meet our criteria. We offered $500 over invoice on our first choice and the dealer accepted. Done deal: It wasn't going to get much better than that. Out came a check for $32,243 and into our hand went the keys. At that point we owned a Sienna, and within months Honda was scheduled to deliver a long-term 2011 Odyssey to our offices. We looked forward to 12 months and 20,000 miles of direct comparison.
Let the Work Begin
At first, it was strictly utilitarian. Requests to drive the Sienna poured in before it had even returned from the dealer. It had been some time since our last long-term minivan test, and during that time folks around here accumulated lots of stuff. You name it and somebody asked, "Can I borrow the Sienna to move my treadmill... pixie-party supplies... bed... old toilets... bicycles... 4-by-8-inch sheets of plywood?"
Senior Editor Josh Jacquot compared our Sienna to the Odyssey: "Easily the biggest difference when it comes to driving these two vans is what happens when a driver opens the throttle. The Sienna is, dare I say it, snappy. By comparison, the Odyssey lags." We found the Sienna's sport shift awkward, however. The default for "manual" sport mode was 4th gear. One editor shared his frustration with this logic. "Oftentimes, 4th was too much, and I had to manually upshift almost immediately to get to 5th gear. Essentially, I was forced to shift 6-4-5, otherwise known as two steps forward, one step back."
Inside the cabin we encountered some limitations of our 2011 Toyota Sienna. Senior Editor Erin Riches wrote, "I'm going to go out on a limb and wager this will be the No. 1 complaint.... The center stack is wide and not angled toward the driver. As such, you have to reach into the Eastern time zone to tune a radio station." She was right. At one point it was said "the interior is the Camaro steering wheel of the minivan world." But positives outweighed the negatives. It had a power rear liftgate which was appreciated by all. It offered all of the cargo area we needed. It hauled eight passengers. And its 40/20/40 second-row seats could be removed in two pieces.
On the Open Road
The Sienna's appeal earned the Toyota top honors when it came time to pick a vacation vehicle. Every winter Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds drives his family up the coast to Oregon, and only dedicated people movers make the cut. Edmunds reflected on his choice: "I have a problem with Toyota's SE option strategy. Who says you don't want navigation, seat heaters or video support just because you prefer the SE's sportier look, bigger tires and firmer suspension? But if one moves 'up' to the trim grades that offer these features, the SE goodies are lost. That's a problem for me."
Edmunds continued, "As for the drive itself, the SE's firmer suspension feels just about right. There's no float, no wallow and the steering is nicely weighted around center. It tracks straight and true, and no one remembers feeling the least bit woozy at any point during the trip.... 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."
Upon its return from the great Northwest, our Sienna was due for its first scheduled maintenance.
Toyota Care Maintenance Program
Our first service at 5,000 miles was somewhat confusing. All 2011 Toyotas qualified for Toyota Care, a free maintenance program spanning the first two years or 25,000 miles. But we were charged for this first oil change. A glitch linked to the purchase date of our Sienna required manual entry of the VIN into Toyota's database. Somebody was out sick that week. Blah, blah. Eventually things worked out. We were reimbursed for our troubles and buttered up with a free pair of lift tickets at a local skiing hot spot. Not bad.
Subsequent service visits at 10-, 15- and 20,000 miles were also free. But our dealership experience stretched beyond routine maintenance. Toyota replaced a stop lamp switch per an open recall campaign during one visit and a bent radio antenna during another. These were our only repairs, until the rear sliding doors began sticking. Toyota Santa Monica gave us a hard time about this one. We reported the issue, which seemingly fit into an open TSB. The dealer would not honor our claim because the VIN of our vehicle "did not fall into the range stated in the TSB." After two visits to the dealer (one overnight) and persistence on our part, Toyota ultimately expanded the TSB to cover our vehicle.
A year with the 2011 Toyota Sienna taught us a lesson about form over function. Low-profile rocker panels and bumpers look attractive. They are sporty. But daily driving sends a surprising number of tall obstacles their way, including high curbs, steep driveways and concrete parking stall stops. We hit them all. Nothing was intentional, of course, but the low overhangs of the Sienna require special consideration. A visit to the body shop mid-test returned it to nearly new condition for about $1,000. Unfortunately the blemish-free look didn't last for us, as the nicks and scrapes returned in time.
The Utility Factor
One of the most controversial aspects of any new minivan is its seating configuration, or more specifically, how the seats can be rearranged to accommodate various combinations of passengers and cargo. The Sienna can seat eight if you use the removable middle seat in the second row. Most editors found it easy to use, although rarely did anyone actually use it as a seat given its narrow dimensions.
When it comes to removing the seats, the 2011 Toyota Sienna is slightly easier than the Odyssey. As Dan Edmunds pointed out, it's mainly because of the design of the seat latches, which he found easier to release even though the seats themselves are slightly heavier.
Once the second-row seats are out, getting a completely flat load floor is as simple as folding the third row, which every author found simple. At that point, the Sienna is a cargo-hauling monster. From moving duty to track days to buying treadmills, the Sienna swallowed just about everything imaginable.
Off to the Auction Block
After 13 months and 23,000 miles, our test of the 2011 Toyota Sienna was complete. We held onto it a little longer than usual for the purpose of side-by-side comparison with our long-term Honda Odyssey and Nissan Quest.
Demand for the Sienna was considerable when it came time to sell. Edmunds' TMV ® Calculator valued the van at $24,590 based on a private-party sale. So when CarMax offered us $25,000 for the Toyota, we agreed. This was a strong price. It equated to just 22 percent depreciation. Historically, anything below 25 percent is considered good.
On its own, the Sienna is a smart buy. Resale value is commendable. Free scheduled maintenance is hard to beat. And at the time of this review it sat atop the minivan sales reports, ahead of the Dodge Grand Caravan and Odyssey. We observed an average of 19.6 mpg over 23,000 miles. This was decent, ranking it between our 20,000-mile Odyssey (20.8 mpg) and 3,000-mile Quest (19.2 mpg).
The Sienna was not without its drawbacks. A trade-off for cosmetic superiority of the SE version over its competitors was a low-hanging body kit. The low profile created issues even for the most careful of drivers and required a body repair budget. We also encountered three separate warranty replacement items during our test. This was not excessive, but it deserves some consideration as the van ages.
Would we recommend the 2011 Toyota Sienna to a friend? Yes. At the time of our test it ranked among the top two in most categories that matter to minivan buyers. This is one of the better bargains on the market right now.
|Total Body Repair Costs:||$998.52|
|Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 13 months):||None|
|Additional Maintenance Costs:||None|
|Warranty Repairs:||Stop lamp switch, sliding door motor, bent radio antenna|
|Scheduled Dealer Visits:||4|
|Unscheduled Dealer Visits:||2|
|Days Out of Service:||7|
|Breakdowns Stranding Driver:||None|
|Best Fuel Economy:||26.3 mpg|
|Worst Fuel Economy:||13.2 mpg|
|Average Fuel Economy:||19.6 mpg|
|True Market Value at service end (private party):||$24,590|
|What it sold for:||$25,000|
|Depreciation (% of original paid price):||22%|
|Final Odometer Reading:||23,210|
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.