Minivan updates have been few and far between as of late, but the segment is heating up. Toyota released significant changes in its 2011 model Sienna, beating Honda to the punch as it prepares an updated 2011 Odyssey.
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The basic design of a minivan makes stylistic flourishes difficult, but Toyota made the grille and hood reflect the look of its other models.
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The Sienna's power train doesn't break any new ground, relying on a conventional 3.5-liter V-6 with variable valve timing. Its 265 horsepower ensures good acceleration, although the engine sounds strained during high-speed passing.
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Siennas can be had in seven- or eight-passenger configuration. The eight-passenger model uses bench seats for middle and third rows, while the seven-passenger version has two captain's chairs in the middle.
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In the Limited trim version, the side doors and rear tailgate are all power-operated. Pulling the side door handle causes the door to slide open, while buttons on the inside activate the closing mechanism.
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These middle-row captain's chairs are plush. They recline and have built-in ottomans.
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Completing rear cabin comfort is this ultra-wide-screen LCD. It is actually composed of two separate LCDs and can show one wide image or two images from separate video sources.
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The Sienna can be had in front-wheel- or all-wheel-drive versions, but the latter incurs a 2 mpg penalty. As for ride quality, we didn't find it particularly soft, but there was a lot of body movement during quick maneuvers.
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The third bench row is a little tight for three adults, although children should fit easily. With this row up, there is a deep well for cargo.
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With the third row folded down, the cargo area becomes a large, flat load area.
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Although the interior looks good, Toyota uses hard plastics over the dashboard. The texture on this plastic looks good, but is unpleasantly rough.
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The Sienna's steering is overpowered, making parking-lot turns effortless. The vehicle also has a good turning radius.
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The instrument cluster design is very clever, using a half circle for the tachometer, temp, and fuel gauges, and a large, full circle for the speedometer.
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This six-speed automatic transmission actually has a sport setting, an anomaly in the distinctly nonsporty Sienna.
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Toyota includes this small LCD at the top of the dashboard, so non-navigation-equipped Siennas can still show rich information. Leaving it in place with the navigation equipped Sienna is a cost-saving measure on the part of Toyota, so the company does not have to reconfigure the dashboard completely.
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The DVD-based navigation system in the Sienna uses maps with good resolution. It also overlays traffic information and dynamically routes around major problems.
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Audio sources include satellite radio, a CD/DVD player, Bluetooth streaming, and an iPod interface. The disc slot is behind the LCD.
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The iPod interface has the usual categories for browsing a music library, including album, artist, and genre.
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The car's Bluetooth phone system downloads contacts and lets you dial by name through the voice command system.