2011 Toyota Sienna review: 2011 Toyota Sienna

A more stable platform would have been nice, as the middle-row seats proved very inviting. In our car's seven-passenger configuration, two captain's chairs made up the second row, and each had an integrated ottoman and reclining back that put us in La-Z-Boy heaven. A massage feature would have completed the picture.

The rear-seat entertainment system's ultra-wide-screen LCD made for one of the best movie-watching experiences we've seen in a car. Made of two LCDs, this screen measures 16.4 inches and can show a single video across its expanse or two separate images from different sources. Some movies can take advantage of this screen width for a very nice visual experience, or little Johnny can watch a movie while Janie plays a video game. Wireless headphones keep the audio private.

Recliners with ottomans make the middle row the best seats in the house.

Sitting in the front seat, we chose to play music as we drove, the Sienna offering satellite radio, an iPod jack, and Bluetooth streaming audio. The touchscreen LCD provided a usable interface for selecting channels or browsing an iPod music library. But the iPod interface is problematic in that it automatically starts playing any entry that shows up on the screen. For example, while browsing the albums category we hit the button that would make it show the next screen, and the music selection immediately changed to the top entry on that screen. This operation is very annoying if you want to browse the library while continuing to listen to a selection.

The audio came out loud and clear through the 10-speaker JBL-branded system, a feature of the Limited-trim Sienna. This system had surprisingly good clarity, probably due to a design geared toward the rear-seat entertainment system. But it wasn't the best for music, as midranges sounded a little hollow, and bass wasn't particularly strong.

One odd and annoying quirk of the Sienna's cabin tech is that the stereo would not mute or pause when the navigation system issued voice prompts for route guidance. With the music turned up, any route guidance was completely drowned out. And we could find no setting to fix this issue.

The navigation system shows traffic on maps with good resolution.

The navigation system itself is something we've seen in Lexus and Toyota models for some time, but despite its age, the maps still look good, and it incorporates some advanced features. The maps are strictly 2D, but the resolution is quite nice. Voice prompts for route guidance pronounce street names and graphics for turns, and freeway intersections are easy to read.

It shows traffic information on the maps and will dynamically change the route for bad traffic ahead. Further, the system used a voice prompt to warn about slow traffic, which typically means cars moving from 20 to 40 mph, on a programmed route. But this warning was not accompanied by a detour button, making it informational rather than actionable.

The car's navigation LCD also came in handy for the Bluetooth phone system. Along with showing an onscreen keypad to complement the voice command system, the phone system also ingested our phone's contact list, showing names on the LCD. The system falls short of offering dial-by-name voice commands, which many other automakers have adopted.

One final piece of tech helps for an effortless driving experience: adaptive cruise control. As in other cars we've tested, the adaptive cruise control let us set the Sienna's speed and following distance. As we approached slower traffic, the Sienna hit its own brakes and matched speed with the car ahead. Unlike adaptive cruise control in cars such as the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid , the Sienna's only works above about 30 mph, and won't bring the car to a complete stop if traffic ahead is stopped. Although adaptive cruise control is nice, we would really like to see blind-spot detection on the Sienna, as it has large blind spots.

In sum
Although the 2011 Toyota Sienna brings in some innovative cabin tech, especially considering the segment, its power train remains fairly run-of-the-mill. The 3.5-liter V-6 doesn't represent much of an advance on engine tech from five years ago. The six-speed automatic keeps the car up with current technology. Design is also mostly average, tending toward practicality more than flair. The onscreen interface remains usable but could do with an aesthetic overhaul.

The Sienna mostly shines for its cabin tech. Although the navigation system is old, it still works and looks good. Odd quirks aside, we appreciate the traffic alerts and iPod connectivity. Adaptive cruise control is a surprise in this segment, and the backup camera is essential. There are a few other cabin tech features we would like to see, but the movie theater qualities of the Sienna made our day.

Spec box
Model 2011 Toyota Sienna
Trim Limited FWD
Power train 3.5-liter V-6
EPA fuel economy 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 19.7 mpg
Navigation DVD-based navigation system with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Optional
Disc player MP3 compatible four CD changer
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio USB drive, Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio, auxiliary input
Audio system JBL 10 speaker system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, rear-view camera
Base price $38,500
Price as tested $46,200

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About The Author

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET. Prior to the Car Tech beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine. He's also the author of "Vaporware," a novel that's available as a Nook e-book.