2011 Toyota Sienna LTD: Safe at any speed

March 16, 2010, 7:20 PM UTC

Getting into a Toyota these days makes you extra-conscious about how the vehicle functions — things like the proper behavior of the accelerator and brakes.

But the Sienna minivan is one of the few Toyotas that hasn’t been caught up in the sudden acceleration recalls, and nothing I experienced in several hundred miles of driving suggested that it should be. The Sienna performed without fault — just the way you used to expect a Toyota to behave.

Now that we have that out of the way, on to the main event.

In an effort to stabilize the shrinking market for minivans, Toyota is pitching them toward older couples who are well past the life-stage when they chauffeur children and their paraphernalia. The approach makes sense. Minivans can be entered and exited without fuss, are easy to drive from their command seating position, and provide ample room for long trips or outings with friends.

Load a minivan up with entertainment devices, and you create the equivalent of a party boat on wheels. I began to think of my Sienna LTD in that way. It was rigged out with a two-screen entertainment center, a voice-activated touch-screen DVD player, MP3 player, 4 disc CD changer, ten speakers, and XM satellite radio. All that was missing was a supply of adult beverages.

All those electronic options helped propel the base sticker price from $39,770 up to an as-tested price of $44,914. That’s a chunk of change for a family on a budget, but not for a couple drawing down their IRAs.

The Sienna is mostly new for 2011. The exterior sheet metal has been refined and upgraded, but the cost-cutters seemed to have found their way to the interior, where the instrument panel is covered with shiny vinyl while the overall design appears underdeveloped.

I had no complaints about the captain’s chairs forward and aft, though, which are an ideal choice for long trips. Toyota felt it didn’t need to copy Chrysler’s stow-and-go seats, and the Sienna’s passengers will appreciate the greater comfort that the second-row seats provide.

For 2011, the Sienna gets a six-speed transmission that is attached to a new fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine. My lux-o-cruiser was powered by the holdover 266-horsepower V-6 that gets 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway on the EPA driving cycle. Power is ample but the pleasure of short trips can be challenged by the Sienna’s girth and heft.

There is nothing romantic about a minivan. The Sienna is basically a 4400-pound box, stuffed with enough comfort and entertainment features to make you enjoy the ride — if not actually forget where you are. Still, it is a seaworthy vessel that is stylish enough to be welcome in any port.

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