Usually, when I get a test car, it’s a top-of-the-line, fully loaded version with all the bells and whistles – all the better to display the manufacturers’ finer points and paint the rosiest picture possible, I guess.
That said, most buyers tend to purchase middle-of-the-range models, with a few options here and there, rather than a full-zoot, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink edition.
In this case, Toyota furnished an option-less Sienna LE V-6 “6A” that, while it isn’t the bottom of the line, is a mere one step up from there. Among other things, it will seat eight passengers, but those in the middle and third row seats will be snug – especially in the centre.
What else do you get? I can tell you right off the bat what you don’t get: you don’t get heated seats. It may sound trite, but heated front seats should be standard equipment in a $30,000-plus vehicle, and I was dismayed to find that if you want this small but welcome feature, you have to step up to the XLE, which is more than $10,000 pricier. Of course, there are other features included, such as a power sunroof, power rear door and so on, but other manufacturers such as Kia and Hyundai offer bun-warmers as standard equipment on virtually all their models. Toyota: get with the program.
With that out of the way, the Sienna is as good as these things get. Power is provided by a 3.5-litre V-6 that develops 266 horsepower, mated to a six-speed automatic. The base LE has a 186-horsepower four-cylinder, which I suspected would be a little on the underpowered side, especially if you are hauling seven passengers. As it is, the V-6 is more than up to the task, with plenty of reserve grunt, a refined power delivery and decent fuel economy: 11.4 litres/100 km in the city, and 7.9 highway. By way of comparison, the Honda Odyssey consumes 11.7 city/7.2 highway.
Other mechanical highlights of the Sienna include traction control and vehicle stability control systems, brake force distribution and Toyota’s SmartStop, which “automatically cuts engine power and allows the brakes to take precedence over the accelerator when both pedals are pressed at the same time.” These are lessons learned after the unintended acceleration/wonky floormat fiasco a couple of years ago, no doubt.
You can also get the Sienna with all-wheel-drive, which makes it unique in this segment. It will run you an additional $13,000 and only comes with the XLE model.
I like driving the Sienna – it’s a no-fuss, driver-friendly, practical hauler with lots of room to spread out and enough creature comforts (aside from the missing seat-warmers) to satisfy most buyers.
Interior cargo capacity is 1,107 litres with the middle-row seats up, and you can remove these and easily fold down the third row to get a flat storage space. The centre row seats are on the heavy side, and it’s a hassle to get them all lined up again when they’re re-installed. To fold down the back seats, however, couldn’t be simpler: yank a couple of straps, pull back and presto! It’s interesting that no one but Chrysler is fitting middle-row seats that fold into the floor, but this has to do with safety issues.
The other thing I liked about this particular version of the Sienna was its lack of unnecessary electronic doo-dads: no glaring monitor mounted in the middle of everything, no recalcitrant automatic climate control that constantly needs to be adjusted, no power sliding doors that are too slow to be of any use, and no “multi-information” display that requires the driver to take his/her eyes off the road.
On the other hand, pop-out rear vent windows would have been nice, and a back-up camera wouldn’t go amiss here. But if you want those, you have to pay for them, and they come in packages, with other stuff thrown in, rather than being individually available. Annoying.
Price-wise, the Sienna starts at just more than $28,000 for the four-cylinder LE model – before taxes and extras. Comparatively, the Odyssey starts at about $2,000 more, but has a V-6 engine, ditto with the Nissan Quest. The Sienna’s chief domestic rival, meanwhile – the Dodge Grand Caravan – is cheaper by $1,000, but also has a V-6 engine as standard equipment.
But what none of these rivals have is a “Recommended” tag from Consumer Reports. The magazine likes the Sienna (with some reservations) and it has been a consistently highly-ranked model with this organization for several years.
Even without seat warmers.
2013 Toyota Sienna LE V-6
Base Price: $32,905; as tested: $34,675
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 266 hp/245 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.4 city/7.9 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest, Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country
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