Tuesday, November 2, 2010

2011 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD - Mutiny in The Backseat

The 2011 Toyota Sienna Limited is like an airplane: cockpit in the front, then First Class, and Economy Plus is in the back. If you have more than 2 kids, expect mutiny from those seated in the 3rd row of the Sienna Limited. Those 2 kids in the "Swagger Wagon" videos don't fight, but once Baby #3 comes along and takes one of those captains chairs, I'm sure we'll see some tantrums pop up on You Tube.

  • New Exterior Design
  • "Swagger Dad" Approved
  • Artsy Swoosh of wood grain on dash
  • Seating for 7-8
  • Footrests & reclining seats for 2nd row (Limited only)
  • The only minivan with All Wheel Drive (AWD)
  • Navigation panel on dash swivels out for CD loading (very Star Trek: The Next Generation, but a Replicator would be better)
  • Good storage with 2 glove compartments, door pockets and cargo area
  • 2 sunroofs on Limited model
  • OK look for men & women. It is the "Swagger Wagon" after all.
  • Very easy driving

Choices, Choices, Choices

The Sienna comes in five different trims: Base, LE, the sportier SE, XLE, and Limited with prices ranging from $24,500 to $46,600 and up. I drove the tricked-out Limited, and for $46,000 we'd like a soundproof cockpit door (thanks to my friend K. for that suggestion). No doubt about it, the 2011 Sienna Limited is nice inside, but I can hear the outrage of 3rd row passengers when they see the perks of the 2nd row: captains chairs that recline and have foot rests, wireless headphones, and sliding First Class cup holders. I shudder just thinking about the whining, shouting and tears -- even hair pulling. If you have more than 2 kids, you'll have to set up a very rigid seating chart and schedule to manage the inequality of the seating. Since only the Limited comes with this fancy 2nd row, you can always opt for the other trim packages and still get the Entertainment System if you take long road trips. 

Updated Look In & Out
The perks of the 2011 Sienna include the re-designed exterior with more rounded corners and more heft -- I think it's an attractive minivan and isn't as Plain Jane as the earlier design. Maybe this new design will make men feel better when they need to do carpool or run to Home Depot. And it looks big from the outside, even though I hear it's an inch or so shorter. The interior got an upgrade as well. The new swoosh of wood trim on the dash gives it a very "Look at me, I'm an artiste" quality. The wood trim isn't of such a quality to suggest that this is anything other than a Toyota, so if you want the wood in a Range Rover, you should get a Range Rover. But I was really turned off by the quality of the plastic used throughout. I know, it's plastic, but I would worry that a kid would slam the top dash glove box and break off a corner. The feel of the plastic really cheapened the whole experience. (Like walking into a nice house that has clear plastic covering the furniture.) The seats are very comfortable, and the leg room is excellent for all three rows (unless those 2nd row kids in the Limited recline and use their footrests) (Brats.). However, after my ACL reconstruction surgery this summer I would have loved a van with reclining seats and footrests, so keep that in mind if you have recurring knee issues. But I know my kids don't need reclining seats for our trips to Tahoe, and certainly not every day.

There were enough cup holders and storage spaces inside the Sienna. I counted 14 cup holders in the van I drove and there were only 7 seats. However, most of the cup holders aren't tall enough to keep your Venti Latte from spilling if you take a sharp corner or have to make an abrupt stop. (Another across-the-board Toyota/Lexus issue I have.) And a sippy cup with 2 handles won't sit straight up. But most parents have ways to work around those hassles.

Technology Within Reach
The technology in the Sienna was good: USB port (works with iPods), DVD system, navigation with voice commands, back-up camera, Bluetooth support, dual heating and cooling, heated front seats, keyless entry and push button start, and run-flat tires (there is no spare). The key fob had buttons for both side doors and the rear lift gate, and you didn't have to fish it out of your bag or pocket: just walk up to the car and put your hand on the door handle and "beep-beep," it unlocks. The voice commands with the navigation system were a bit much: What state? What city? Choose option 1 or 2. House number? Street name? Choose option 1 or 2. But once I stopped the van and got Ms. Nav all set, I liked that she didn't keep talking to me as I drove. However, she said I had arrived at my destination before I took my last turn. That's a bit of a problem if I don't know where I'm going... Maybe she just needs an update.

The shift lever is on face of the dash and I hit it when driving and reaching to turn down the fan and adjust the temperature. That bugged me and made me take my eyes off the road. Maybe there should be a voice command to control the fan and temp like in the 2011 Ford Edge with MyFord Touch and Sync. Basically, the techy components are there, but just not as impressive as the MyFord Touch and Sync systems. There is a cool calendar feature on the Sienna, but I couldn't figure out how to display the name of the Month...

A Few Concerns
I do have a few concerns about this Sienna: 1) I can only find 3 LATCH-equipped seats (2nd row outboard and 3rd row center); 2) I couldn't fold down the 3rd row for storage and in the AWD it doesn't have a power fold-and-store button (the FWD Limited does); and 3) I find the Toyota options packaging to be maddening. 

Since LATCH is the new standard, and some people have more than three kids in car seats at a time, I just don't understand the lack of LATCH seats. Imagine having triplets and a toddler. What then? I realize you can install car seats without using LATCH, but it still doesn't make sense when there are five or six usable seats in the back.

As for folding the 3rd row for storage, I just couldn't get the leverage to stow the folded seats. It might be my height, and it might be my gimpy left leg, or a combo of both. No matter the angle, I couldn't pull the folded seat back towards me to stow it away. Very frustrating and I didn't even have my kids with me. Hugh, the salesman, was able to get it to fold down and stow, but sometimes I don't have access to a taller person and sometimes I don't want to ask for help. (Actually, I don't like to ask for help most of the time.)
As for the options packages, that's just the way Toyota does it. We've bought two different Lexus' (Lexi?), and were frustrated by the packaging of options on those as well. So before you go to the dealer, review Toyota.com and all the packages so you know how to speak their language.

Easy Driving
Driving the Sienna was fine, nothing too exciting, and nothing too awful to talk about. Acceleration was good with some nice power to get up to highway speed. The Limited I drove has a 3.5-liter V6 engine with 266 horsepower, so it moves when you ask it to. Braking was easy, steering was easy and didn't hint at the massive machine you're driving, and the turning radius was awesome. I could easily pull into a Target parking lot spot and make a nice U-turn. The van looks wide, but it drove nimbly. I understand that the engineers added in more responsive steering in this model year.

The (Yawn) Bottom Line
And that's the bottom line: nothing too fancy, nothing too terrible. Certainly a step up from the plain vanilla Sienna of years past, but I'm just not that excited. You'll just have to check it out for yourself and find out if the wood swoosh and cheap plastic bug you, and if you drive so much that your kids need first class accommodations.

2011 Sienna vs. 2011 Honda Odyssey
I've now driven both the 2011 Sienna and the 2011 Honda Odyssey (read my review here) and I have to say that I would choose the Odyssey over the Sienna. The Odyssey has plastic, but it's higher quality plastic; better mileage on the V6 Touring Elite (19 city/28 highway) compared to the V6 Sienna Limited (18/24 for 2-wheel drive or 16/22 for AWD); has 5 LATCH lower anchors and 6 LATCH tether anchors for car seats; easier-to-fold 3rd row; and the Odyssey's 2nd row may not recline, but the seats move forward and back and side-to-side making it easier to reach young ones and get big ones in the 3rd row. The Sienna has All Wheel Drive, 2 sunroofs, first class seating for kids, and better color options. Most other standard features are the same on both. So it really comes down to your preferences. Go drive them both and let me know what you think with a comment here on my blog.

Photos by Car Mama and from Toyota.com.

(c) Copyright 2010-2016. Erika JN Fish. Car Mama. All Rights Reserved.


  1. The great Sienna is most of the time comparable to the Honda Odyssey. But I like the Toyota Sienna mostly which comes with large interior.

  2. The Sienna does have a nice interior and is large. It all goes back to priorities and family needs. You likely can't go wrong with either! Thanks for your comment!