2012 Toyota Sienna LE Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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I love minivans. Those who read my reviews regularly will know that. And I have my favourites. There are some I wouldn't go near if my own money were on the line, and there are others that I've actually laid down hard cash for. How does the Toyota Sienna rate?

I've never owned a Sienna, but this latest model has me parking closer to Toyota's camp. I think it's the best looking minivan money can buy, and styling matters a lot to me. The stock 17-inch 5-spoke rims don't hurt matters, but overall it's the van's curvaceous body work that moves me like no other minivan has before.

The Sienna handles better than most too, and rides like a dream, while Toyota's seats always leave my back feeling better on exit than when I sat down. The Sienna is cavernous as well, par for the course with all but Nissan's new Quest, and the powertrain lineup is second to none.

It's hard not to love Toyota's 3.5-litre V6. It's a smooth, engaging engine that puts out 266 horsepower in Sienna guise, and comes paired to the brand's efficient 6-speed automatic transmission. It's even fairly good on gas at an estimated 11.3 L/100km city and 7.9 highway for the front-wheel drive version or and 12.3 and 8.6 in all-wheel drive. Sienna is the only van still available with all-wheel drive, by the way, useful in Canada's colder climes. A powerful V6 with all-wheel drive? Pretty sweet for sure. It'll add daily thrills to what might otherwise be a rather mundane minivan experience, especially if you buck up for truly sporty Sienna SE. Oh, there are so many reasons to like Toyota's minivan. My favourite reason, however, is its most pragmatic base four-cylinder engine.

Say what? Hey, I just filled up my latest test car on Monday and paid $1.50/litre! And from all speculation on oil prices it's going to get worse! Toyota is the only manufacturer to offer a four-cylinder in the midsize minivan segment, and the result is an estimated 10.4 city and 7.5 highway for class leading fuel economy. The 2.7-litre, DOHC, 16-valve four is hardly a slouch either. Nail the throttle and 187 horsepower powers the front wheels along with 186 lb-ft of maximum torque from as low as 4,100 rpm. Like the V6 it comes mated to a 6-speed automatic that goes through its motions almost unnoticeably. You might notice the ECO driving indicator though, a feature that helped me eke more miles from a tank of gas.

For my first stint I drove from Halifax to Moncton to hang out with my oldest daughter who was going to school at Mount Allison University in nearby Sackville. It was an effortless drive and proved a great traveling companion as Julia and took in the surrounding sights. More recently I had a similarly equipped base LE at home in Vancouver where I experienced its many attributes in higher density stop and go city traffic as well as hillier terrain. Again, from a performance perspective the Sienna left little to be desired. How about practicality?

Well that depends on how you're going to use it. When I get a van I have things to accomplish. After all, in a city that rains more often than I care to admit, having the use of a large covered cargo hauler is something I take full advantage of. I'm not even going to venture to guess how many trips I took back and forth to my storage locker, but the Sienna got plenty of use and I quickly learned its only real drawback: the second row seats. While they're extremely comfortable for passengers and tumble forward to lay things on top when not in use, they're not so easy to remove, and once you've wiggled them off of their tracks they're ruddy heavy. Then, for me at least, came the problem of storage. Since I don't have a garage they ended up on my kitchen floor, not ideal. Once removed the Sienna held a massive 4,248 litres (150.0 cubic feet) of stuff; there's 2,466 litres (87.1 cubic feet) behind the second row and 1,107 litres (39.1 cubic feet) behind the third row, incidentally. But then, after the jobs were done, came the challenge of hauling them out and finagling them back in, not an easy task for my ailing back and tendonitis stricken elbows, and not wise for the impatient.

Again, choosing the right minivan always comes down to how you're going to use it. If you don't plan on hauling large pieces of furniture or building supplies very often then the Sienna will work extremely well, but if you're a do-it-yourselfer or run a small moving company on the side then something that folds its second row seats right into the floor will work better. When it comes to third rows however, the Sienna's folding mechanism might be the best in the biz. Really, it's so easy to lay flat that you might find yourself doing it for fun.

If you like the way the Sienna looks on the outside then you're likely to love the way it looks inside too. It's a stylish van that's well put together. The plastics are nicely textured if not soft to the touch, and the base van comes well featured, for the most part. On the positive you'll find standard tri-zone climate control. It's not automatic, but it fills the Sienna with heat or alternatively cools it off quickly. The stock Sienna has a pretty good stereo too, with a single CD plus an aux input and prewiring for XM satellite radio. It has all the usual powered convenience features too, plus a bevy of safety items such as ABS, of course, traction and stability control, airbags galore, with even one for the driver's knees. While I would have loved to see a standard USB plug to play my tunes, what was most obviously missing was standard Bluetooth for my phone. Just the same, your dealer will install a BLU Logic system for $390.77, pushing the base price of a Sienna past its advertised MSRP of $28,120 and $1,560 for destination, to a total of $30,070.77, everything in less tax. That's good value for a van that holds its value very well too.

After two separate drives on both sides of the continent I have few complaints about Toyota's new Sienna LE. From styling to performance, creature comforts to fuel economy it's the best in its segment. And depending on how you use it, it'll likely be totally practical too.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Minivan, Toyota, 2012, Sienna, $20,000 - $29,999, $30,000 - $39,999,

Organizations: Toyota

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