Ottawa Citizen

Just what the family ordered

Toyota’s Sienna might not be cool, but it remains a minivan leader

- BY HOWARD J. ELMER

Toyota decided to go with large, tip-up reclining captain’s chairs in the second row. On upscale packages of the Sienna, they even come with an integrated footrest or ottoman.

Toyota may have troubles with its public image these days, but that does not slow the production timetable for new model releases — timetables that have been ticking down to launch dates this year (nine, in fact) and are moving ahead as planned. The lucky news is that one of the new releases is the 2011 Toyota Sienna, the third generation of the minivan that has been a workhorse in Toyota’s stable and is not one of the models currently under scrutiny.

I got to drive the new Sienna on the roads of Vancouver Island, in a province still basking in the warmth of the world’s adulation and the unusually early spring.

Toyota is good at listening to its customers. For 2011, it has brought the four-cylinder engine back to the Sienna. The 2.7-litre motor puts out 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, enough for this vehicle, even on the twisting mountain highways north of Victoria. Coupled to a six-speed automatic transmissi­on, it can spread its torque curve efficientl­y. The payoff is fuel consumptio­n figures of 10.4 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 7.5 L/100 km on the highway.

There is also an optional 3.5L V6 engine, which makes 266 h. p. and 245 lb.-ft. of torque. It uses the same six-speed automatic, which can also be shifted manually on the wellplaced dashboard shifter. For that extra grunt, the fuel numbers are still a very reasonable 11.5 L/100 km in the city and 8.1 L/100 km on the highway. Most versions come with the V6.

To complement this power, the new sheet metal is bolted to a lowered ride with a revised stiffer suspension and tuned electric power steering.

Overall, with the long wheelbase, the ride is smooth and comfortabl­e with flat cornering and a confident steering feel.

Designed in California and Michigan, the Sienna is built in Indiana — a very North American purposebui­lt minivan. That means it has a ton of cup holders, excellent storage (including two glove boxes), a lot of individual HVAC controls, automatic doors and locks and an emphasis on comfort.

In the area of comfort and utility, Toyota uses large power front seats with good bolsters and an easy-clean fabric. In a nod to a good idea, Toyota has borrowed the in-floor storage of seats from Dodge, but for the third-row seat only. Its secondrow seats are too large to go into the floor. Instead, Toyota went with large, tip-up reclining captain’s chairs that slide further back. On upscale packages, they even come with an integrated footrest or ottoman.

From a safety perspectiv­e, the Sienna addresses family concerns with its class-leading seven airbags, as well as Active Front Headrests ( for whiplash prevention), ABS, traction control, Stability Control, Brake Assist and electronic brakeforce distributi­on.

Toyota has created seven incrementa­l trim levels with plenty of features — one of which the company says is an all-new cool factor. Toyota spent considerab­le time putting forward the idea that the Sienna could be “cool.” I’m not convinced. Loved, perhaps, appreciate­d for its utility and attention to a family’s needs, yes; but cool? That’s a stretch.

However, this latest van has an entertainm­ent system that will certainly evoke a “that’s cool!” exclamatio­n from the kids (me included). The rearseat video screen is 16.4 inch- es wide and has a split-screen capability. Watch a show in widescreen or each kid gets to watch his or her own. The wireless headphones pick up the separate soundtrack­s, of course. It also features a 110-volt outlet and game console plug-in ports. Add to that a 600-watt multi-speaker sound system and you’ll probably never pry the young ones from the reclining lounge seats.

This is what a minivan is all about — a spacious, comfortabl­e space for the whole family during those years when you’re always travelling together, whether it’s across the country, to the cottage or just to Saturday morning hockey practice. I don’t think it will ever be cool; but, useful? Absolutely.

The new Sienna will be on dealer lots by the end of March and will start at $27,900 for the base 2.7L model. The V6 will add $1,000 to the price tag.

From there, it can be equipped to top out at $49,100 for the Limited V6 AWD model. At the low end, this is cheaper than last year’s outgoing model and is meant to offer a decent value while still being competitiv­e with the segment leader.

 ?? PAUL GIAMOU, NATIONAL POST ?? The 2011 Toyota Sienna marks the return of the four-cylinder engine with the 2.7-litre motor putting out 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque.
PAUL GIAMOU, NATIONAL POST The 2011 Toyota Sienna marks the return of the four-cylinder engine with the 2.7-litre motor putting out 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque.

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