2003 Toyota Sienna Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Maybe you don't need an SUV.
Now in its fifth year, Toyota's Sienna makes a good argument against buying a sport-utility vehicle.
It delivers an excellent ride, and comes with a smooth and powerful V6 engine and smooth-shifting automatic. It's roomy and comfortable in all seating positions, with enough space for a family with several children. Step-in height is much lower than that of an SUV, so you don't feel like you need a ladder to get in and out of it. Okay, so it's a minivan, but It looks sort of like an SUV from the rear.
The Sienna also comes with Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability.
Three trim levels are available: CE ($23,905), LE ($25,755), XLE ($28,012).
All use Toyota's V6 engine to power the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission. All are the same length, and all come with dual sliding rear doors. Power rear doors are optional, however. If you want the right-side door to open under its own power, you'll pay an extra $395. Dual sliding doors are a $795 option.
Of the three trim levels, the CE is basic: Cruise control, and power windows, locks and mirrors are all optional.
Mid-line LE comes with all the popular features. It comes standard with dual-temperature air conditioning with separate controls for the rear, power windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control, privacy glass and better quality cloth. It also offers most of the available options, including the captain's chairs, six-speaker audio system and power sliding door.
XLE adds body-colored trim, remote keyless entry, heated mirrors, upgraded stereo with eight JBL speakers, anti-theft alarm, multi-adjustable power seats, second-row captain's chairs, wider tires, alloy wheels and a roof rack. The XLE Upgrade Package #1 ($1,690) provides leather trim, second-row captains chairs, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, six-way power driver's seat and a premium audio system with radio, cassette, and CD changer and eight JBL speakers. Also available for Sienna is a huge power moonroof and a towing package.
Also optional is a Video Entertainment System ($1,795) that features a flip-down TV screen, VCR, and AV outlets for video game systems.
New for 2002 is a Symphony special edition package ($1,077) for LE models that includes keyless entry, a roof rack, cloth seats with a new gray or oak-colored fabric, captains chairs for the first two rows (with six-way power for the driver's seat), 215/65-aspect tires on 6.5-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, color-keyed heated power side mirrors, an overhead console with HomeLink, painted bumpers and cladding and Symphony badging, floor and cargo mats.
Also new for 2002: the Extra Value Package for the CE version now includes a roof rack and keyless entry as well as power windows/locks and mirrors, cruise control, swing-out quarter windows, privacy glass, carpeted floor and cargo mats and 205/70-aspect tires on 15-inch wheels. The package is $757, the same price as last year when it didn't include the roof rack and keyless entry.
With its clean, conventional looks, the Toyota Sienna is a classic minivan with subtle touches of sport-utility styling. The long, sloping nose is unmistakably minivan, but square lines elsewhere, particularly when viewed from the rear, recall a sport-utility vehicle. Where many minivans display vast sweeps of metal, the Sienna has a relatively even proportion of glass to metal, another SUV characteristic.
Sienna is built on a stretched version of the Toyota Camry platform. It is built on the same Georgetown, Kentucky, assembly line as the Camry. Basing the Sienna on the Camry results in nice road manners. It also makes it less expensive to design and build, a win-win situation for carmaker and buyer. These savings allow Toyota to bring the price of the Sienna closer to the norm for the class.
Sitting in the driveway, the Sienna looks neat and compact. Its just-right size fits in between the Chrysler Town & Country and Voyager. The Sienna is 6 inches narrower inside than the Chrysler minivans.
The Toyota Sienna is roomy, despite its moderate length. Three-row seating is standard, and the rear cargo area is an accommodating 18 inches deep from hatch opening to seatback. The flip-and-fold seats make it simple to expand the cargo area as needed.
If you need to remove the seats entirely, they can be lifted out individually. The seats can be removed with the seat backs folded flat, which make them easier to handle. The seat latches are superbly executed; they release easily and are simple to re-install.
Getting in and out of the Sienna is easy. Dual sliding doors are now standard and ensure passengers get in and out in a hurry and minimize running around to the far side of the vehicle to grab a kid. Child-safety door locks defeat the inside door handles on all sliding doors. At the full-open position, an interlock stopper prevents sliding doors from sliding closed when parked on a downhill grade. A half-door stopper prevents the left-side sliding door from fully opening when the fuel lid is opened to prevent the door from making contact with the fueling area.
The optional right-side power sliding door can be opened by pressing buttons on the dash, keyless remote or B-pillar, or by pulling on the inside or outside latches. During the summer, it's nice to be able to start the airing out process while you're approaching the Sienna with a load of groceries. A switch next to the steering wheel allows the driver to override these buttons so that the power sliding door cannot be opened. The power sliding door feature works without having the key in the ignition. The power sliding door can be opened like a normal door when the power switch is turned off. The power sliding door senses when an obstacle is in its path and automatically retracts.
Step-in height is much lower than that of an SUV, making getting in and out much easier for shorter people, older people and everyone else. Once in, the driver enjoys an expansive view of the road, though the seating position is not as high as in many sport-utility vehicles. Visibility is excellent in all directions, thanks to all the glass. Big mirrors (power on LE and XLE models) offer a good view to the rear. Instruments are big, bright and easy to read.
All seating positions are very comfortable. Optional leather upholstery is attractive, luxurious and easy to clean. Low side bolstering on the seats makes slipping in and out of them easier, but they lack sufficient support to keep you comfortably anchored in aggressive side-to-side maneuvers, if you are inclined to drive that way. The rear two rows of seats provide enough room to comfortably seat six people, though they don't offer as much room as the bigger Honda Odyssey, Dodge Grand Caravan or Chrysler Town & Country. With a little cooperation among the passengers, fore and aft adjustments for the second row (and, of course, the front row) permit optimum space for people of varying heights.
Storage is close at hand without impeding the generous pass-through between the front seats that makes it easy to move from the front to the rear without getting out. Little nets attached to the sides of the front seats are great for storing toll tickets, sunglasses or wallets. Fold-down cupholders next to the storage net secure drinks but flip up out of the way when not in use; they don't look like they'd hold tall drinks well, but securely held my Venti-sized paper cappuccino cup.
The second row can be equipped with either captain's chairs or a two-place bench seat. The seatbacks fold down to provide a flat surface for food and games and cupholders. Molded into the doors are round holders suitable for one-liter bottles. Cupholders, up to 14 of them, are everywhere. Either captain's chairs or a three-place bench can be ordered for the third row; the captain's chairs are preferable if you only require seating for six people.
Last year, the climate and audio controls were repositioned, with the radio located higher in the das.
The Toyota Sienna rides as good as or better than any comparable model. Toyota Sienna's 3.0-liter V6 engine, four-speed electronic transmission, steering system, gearbox, and front suspension are standouts for refinement.
A big, tall box will never ride and handle as well as a low, sleek sedan, but the Sienna is pretty good. The steering isn't as sharp, and the transient response isn't as crisp as some of the other minivans; it leans in the corners, and seems a bit mushy in transient maneuvers. But overall, the Sienna handles well and its soft suspension makes up for any handling deficiencies with its smooth ride quality and solid stability at high speeds.
Toyota's V6 is easy to live with. It's smooth, reliable, and economical. Power isn't an issue. It generates 210 horsepower, slightly more than the Ford Windstar's 3.8-liter V6 and on par with the Chrysler Voyager's 3.3-liter V6. Passing other vehicles on hills is easy: Punch it and the Sienna takes off, quickly putting slower vehicles away. Toyota recommends premium fuel. Toyota's engine is efficient with EPA fuel economy ratings of 19/24 mpg city/highway.
The four-speed automatic transmission is excellent. It always chooses the right gear, forming a team with the V6. Shifts are so smooth when cruising that they are nearly seamless; under hard acceleration the transmission provides positive shifts at the redline.
Anti-lock brakes come standard on the Sienna, which offers smooth stopping performance.
The Toyota Sienna offers a high-quality minivan experience. It's smooth and comfortable. Loading passengers and cargo is easy and convenient, aided by optional power sliding doors.
The Sienna may lack a few features that can be found on some of its competitors, such as the rear audio jacks on the Ford and GM models that let the kids enjoy separate music. But the Sienna offers Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability, along with high resale value.
CE ($23,905); LE ($25,775); XLE ($28,012).
Options As Tested
XLE Luxury Package ($3,385) includes leather-seating surfaces, second-row captain's chairs, leather-wrapped steering wheel, six-way power driver's seat, premium AM/FM/cassette/CD with six-disc in-dash changer and eight LBL speakers; cargo net ($48).
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