2004 Toyota Sienna Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The new class leader?.
The Toyota Sienna is all new for 2004. Bigger and better than last year's model, it's the first in a parade of redesigned minivans and may be the new class leader. What makes the new Sienna impressive is not ground-breaking features. (Of course, it has power sliding doors, a power tailgate, and a rear-view camera.) What makes the new Sienna impressive is that it does everything well.
For starters, the new Sienna is big and roomy. It's considerably larger than last year's model, and about $1,000 cheaper. It offers more cargo space than the full-size Sequoia sport-utility yet retails for $10,000 less.
Sienna's interior is comfortable and comes packed with features that make life easier and more convenient. On the road, it offers a smooth ride, responsive handling, and brisk acceleration performance. Its V6 engine has been bored out for more power and now produces 230 horsepower, while a new five-speed automatic improves response and fuel economy. All this adds up to a compelling people mover.
Toyota Sienna comes in four trim levels: CE, LE, XLE, and XLE Limited. All come with the new V6 engine and the new five-speed automatic transmission. All are equipped with anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, which help the driver stop quickly and maintain control. Seven- and eight-passenger configurations are available and there's a choice of front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.
All models, starting with the base CE ($22,955), come standard with a 60/40 Split & Stow third-row bench seat, power windows, door locks and mirrors, sliding doors on both sides with power windows, keyless entry, AM/FM/cassette/CD with six speakers, dual (front and rear) air conditioning with rotary dial controls, 16-inch steel wheels with 215/65R16 all-season tires, dual front captains chairs, folding tray table between the front seats, tilt/telescopic steering column, black lacquered interior trim, tire pressure warning system, variable intermittent front and rear windshield wipers, 10 cup holders and four bottle holders, three 12V power outlets and a heavy-duty rear window defogger with timer.
The most popular model is the Sienna LE ($24,260), which comes with nicer cloth fabric, upgraded trim and a host of convenience features: engine immobilizer, heated power mirrors, a roof rack, privacy glass, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, driver's side power window with auto up/down and pinch protection, driver's seat manual-adjustable lumbar support, illuminated vanity mirrors, color-keyed license plate garnish, and a fold-flat front passenger seat. Also available is an eight-passenger LE ($24,410) and an all-wheel-drive LE ($27,875).
Sienna XLE ($28,260) is more luxurious, with upgraded fabric, power dual sliding doors and a power open/close back door, tri-zone (driver, front passenger and rear) HVAC with air filter, 16-inch alloy wheels with 215/65R16 tires, eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, rear seat audio controls with wireless headphone capability, JBL Synthesis 360 watt AM/FM/cassette/CD with 10 speakers, overhead console with trip computer, outside temperature display, HomeLink universal transceiver garage door opener, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, wood-grain trim, chrome door handles, color-keyed heated power mirrors, auto on/off headlights, fog lamps, an anti-theft alarm, and a removable center console. XLE is also available with all-wheel drive ($31,465).
The top-of-the-line XLE Limited ($34,480) adds leather-trimmed seats, driver and front passenger side airbags, curtain airbags for all three rows, 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/60R17 all-season tires, VSC with TRAC and brake assist, rear disc brakes, front and rear parking sonar, wood grain/leather steering wheel with audio controls, JBL Synthesis AM/FM/cassette/CD changer with 10 speakers, dynamic Laser Cruise Control, high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, driver and front passenger heated seats (adjustable temperature), chrome accents on bodyside molding, grille and rear license plate garnish, daytime running lights, windshield wiper de-icer grid and an auto-dimming electrochromic driver's side mirror and inside rear view mirror, second- and third- row sunshades. The all-wheel-drive XLE has a base MSRP of $36,930.
Numerous option packages are available for all grades.
Safety features: A new LATCH system (Lower Anchor with Tether for Children) is used in all second-row seating positions to accommodate new-design child seats. Front side and side curtain SRS airbags covering all three seat rows are standard on the XLE Limited, optional on all other grades. Additional standard safety features include: three-point seatbelts in all seats; driver and front passenger frontal airbags; adjustable seatbelt anchors for front- and second-row seats; driver and front passenger pretensioners, force limiters, and ELR with height adjustable anchors; ALR/ELR on all second- and third-row seats, heigh.
The new Toyota Sienna was styled in California, designed in Michigan, and built in Indiana. Before designing the new Sienna, chief engineer Yuji Yokoya drove the previous Sienna all over North America, through Mexico, Canada, and the U.S., through every state, every province, some 53,000 miles. A short, slight Japanese man, Yokoya-san was often accompanied by program manager John Jula, a tall, burly American. An odd couple, they couldn't have been more different in stature, appearance, and temperament. But they shared a seriousness of purpose, a devotion to designing the best minivan ever created, and a strong sense of humor. Working with designers and engineers from around the world, they ferreted every weakness and shortcoming of the old (1998-2003) Sienna and addressed it with this new Sienna.
The biggest shortcoming of the old Sienna was its lack of interior roominess. Yokoya saw families buried under luggage. He also determined it needed to be quieter so families could more easily converse on long drives. He wanted better seats. And he wanted to improve stability at high speeds, especially in cross winds and on crowned roads.
The all-new 2004 Toyota Sienna is substantially larger, wider, taller than the previous-generation model. Its wheelbase is 5 inches longer and the track is 4 inches wider than last year's model. Stretching 200 inches over a 119-inch wheelbase, the new Sienna is the same size as the biggest minivans on the market: the Honda Odyssey, Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country, Ford Windstar, and the long-wheelbase versions of the Chevrolet Venture and Pontiac Montana.
Everything on the Sienna is big and bold: Big headlamps and big taillamps light up the night and give the Sienna presence in the dark. Black pillars, instead of body-colored pillars, make the new Sienna look even larger than its considerable dimensions. A big windshield, big wipers, and wiper-mounted washer nozzles designed for snow belt improve driver visibility.
The Sienna presents a sleek appearance by minivan standards, enhanced by its steeply raked windshield and the black pillars. The slot for the sliding doors is cleverly hidden, offering a cleaner look. Though you shouldn't expect ogling at the car wash, the new Sienna is an attractive vehicle.
The large dimensions of the Sienna make for a roomy interior. There's lots of room for passengers and cargo. Fold the second- and third-row seats flat and the Sienna can carry 4x8 sheets of plywood.
Getting in and out of the Sienna is easy. Its step-in height is about six inches lower than that of the Sequoia SUV, a benefit when dressed up or dealing with toddlers or just about every time you get in or out. The power sliding doors are smooth and quiet and move more quickly than in the past, helpful for impatient passengers. Manual sliding doors and manual rear hatch on the LE and CE models have a quality feel as well.
The rear side windows lower partly, though not below the center of gravity of a toddler, and feature anti-pinch protection designed to reduce chance of injuries to small hands and fingers. A nice feature is the availability of sunshades for the second- and third-row seats, which filters strong sunlight better than privacy glass.
Up front the driver sits before a smooth, organic dash. Toyota says it splurged on the seats, which are designed to offer comfort for a variety of body shapes over long periods of time. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes. Big mirrors and lots of glass give the driver a good view.
Trim materials improve as you go up the line, but are of good quality even on the base CE model. The CE comes with a nice cloth interior, though the door inserts are plain. LE features nicer cloth, nicer door inserts, and other trim. XLE offers even better cloth, while the Limited model comes with leather.
There are lots of cubbies for storage. Two glove boxes are provided and a big center console holds 12 CDs. Armrest compartments can each hold six CDs and there's a spot for a small cell phone just to the right of the shifter. The dry cleaning hooks look big enough to accomodate a load of dry cleaning. In back are hooks for holding grocery bags. A standard 115-volt outlet like the kind in your house is provided, allowing you to power computers or whatever else you want to run from your car.
The second row of seats is roomy. There's comparably good legroom and it feels roomy and airy with good room next to the passenger's head. That's impressive given that the Sienna is fitted with side-curtain type airbags; they do not intrude into rear headroom as much as other designs. When not needed, the second-row seats tumble forward, presenting a friendly seat bottom to cargo or pets. The second-row seats are easy to remove and reinstall, though the captain's chairs weigh 49 pounds each.
Seven- and eight-passenger models differ in the configuation of the second row. Seven-passenger models feature second-row captains chairs. The right-hand seat can be repositioned laterally (side to side), offering either a small bench seat or a pair of bucket seats. The seat has to be removed and reinstalled in one of two locations, however, it does not slide on tracks like the seats in the Mazda MPV, which is a more costly design. Toyota says it found that people normally don't move the second-row seats once they've put them in the favored position. Moving them close together makes getting into the back row a little easier. Moving them apart makes them more comforable for adults. A neat feature: the center console can be removed from between the front seats and relocated between the second-row seats. (Removing it leaves room for a bag between the front seats. Owners who want a center console in both locations can order a second center console.)
Eight-passenger models use a bench seat for the second row that can seat three small passengers. It's a three-way split/folding bench with a small middle seat that can be moved almost 13 inches closer to the front, putting infants and toddlers in child seats within arm's reach. When not being used, the center seat converts into a big armrest.
Third-row seats offer rake adjustment, which improves their comfort. The third row is split 60/40 for added versatility whe.
The first two things we noticed about the Toyota Sienna were its smooth ride and good handling. While the previous Sienna was soft, maybe too soft, the all-new 2004 model strikes a good balance between ride and handling. Next we noticed its smooth engine and responsive acceleration performance. It adds up to a vehicle that's enjoyable to drive, on long trips and for quick errands.
On the mountain roads above Palm Springs, we found the Sienna could be driven quickly, like a car. Its steering is responsive and there's little body roll, or lean, when cornering. The Sienna offers very good transient response, quickly changing directions on winding roads without losing composure. It feels stable at high speeds. Honda Odyssey is known for sharp handling, while Chrysler Town & Country is known for a smooth ride. Toyota designed the Sienna to beat both of them at both of their games and appears to have done so.
The Sienna can get to speed fairly quickly. It's capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds, according to Toyota, making it one of the quickest minivans available. Toyota's 3.3-liter V6 features a two-stage variable-valve setup for good power at low and high rpm, while improving fuel economy by 3 mpg over the previous design. In other words it's quicker and more fuel-efficient than the 2003 model.
A new smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission adds to the Sienna's responsiveness around town and on the highway. The first four gear ratios are lower than those for the old four-speed automatic, while the higher fifth gear overdrive improves highway gas mileage (27 mpg EPA Highway).
Shifting into reverse turns on an outside warning beeper, which improves safety in a crowded shopping center parking lot but may not be popular with neighbors late at night. Models with the navigation system also feature a camera that switches on whenever the Sienna is shifted into reverse, displaying a moving picture of what's behind. The top-of-the-line XLE Limited features a park-assist system that sounds a tone inside the vehicle when backing up or pulling forward toward close objects, very useful when parallel parking or detecting unexpected objects. There are different tones for front and rear and the tone beeps faster as objects get closer.
Braking is smooth and powerful, the best in the class, according to Toyota. Making big 16-inch wheels standard equipment allowed Toyota to design bigger brakes. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) come standard. ABS helps to prevent the brakes from locking during severe braking conditions. EBD distributes the braking force evenly among the four tires for quicker, more stable stops.
Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with Traction Control (TRAC) and Brake Assist are optional. Vehicle Stability Control utilizes the braking system to help the driver maintain control in adverse driving conditions. The system’s TRAC feature helps reduce tire slippage during acceleration. Brake Assist adds brake pressure during emergency stopping situations when the driver mistakenly reduces pedal pressure.
All-wheel drive models come with 17-inch run-flat tires. Run-flat tires are equipped with reinforced sidewalls with a special bead shape to permit driving for up to 100 miles at speeds up to 55 MPH even when all the air pressure is lost. So you don't have to stop and change a tire in a threatening area of town or on a dark and stormy night. We associate run-flat tires with a rougher ride quality but we could not discern much difference between front- and all-wheel drive models. A spare tire is available for all-wheel-drive models.
The first in a parade of new minivan models, the 2004 Toyota Sienna is ahead of older designs and may be the new class leader. It's much larger than last year's model; it's better equipped and the engine is more powerful.
This is a big van with a roomy, comfortable interior that offers versatile seating configurations and a generous cargo bay. Sienna's new chassis offers an excellent combination of ride and handling and its bored out V6 delivers responsive acceleration performance.
The Sienna offers Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability. It's equipped with the latest safety features, including curtain-style airbags. And it's aggressively priced.
CE ($22,955); LE ($24,260); XLE ($28,260); XLE Limited ($34,480).
Options As Tested
Toyota Sienna LE ($24,260).
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