Sunday, December 20, 2009

The 2011 Toyota Sienna

041 Sienna SE When Toyota invited me to come to their media event for the 2011 Toyota Sienna, I knew it was an event designed for me.  Although the word “minivan” plays a dominant role in the title of my blog, I’ve never revealed exactly which minivan I drive…Until now: Toyota Sienna.  I have to admit, when I heard they were launching a 3rd generation Toyota Sienna, I had minivan envy in advance.  So, off I went in my Sienna to the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel for the event.  Upon arrival, I met with Kazuo Mori, Sienna Chief Engineer who was really great to speak with.  I found out that he took a 7,000 mile road trip zig-zagging around the country in a large Toyota Minivan called the Alphard that is only available in Japan.  He went out looking for average Americans to get their impressions about minivans and what is important to them.  He came away with three words: comfort, cool and convenience.  With those words echoing in the background, he engineered the five new grades of Toyota Sienna: Sienna, LE, SE, XLE and Limited.  These five grades include two engine choices, 7 or 8 passenger seating, front or all-wheel drive and a mix of standard and optional features.  After hearing all this, I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel.  I paired up with fellow blogger Eunice and hit the roads of Orange County to test these babies out.  First up we took an XLE for a spin.  New for 2011 is the option to have a removable “8th seat” that also stores in a rear compartment in the interior wall of the car.  This is a really nifty option that allows you to keep an aisle when you need it and to easily add the 8th seat when you need it.  I wish I had this option in my current Sienna.  Another new feature is the footrests on the captain’s chairs in the second row.  I was able to sit behind Eunice while she drove and have my feet067 Sienna Limited totally up (I’m 5’ 7”).  I especially see this as useful when you are waiting in the car, say at your kid’s soccer practice.  Why not put your feet up and take a load off?  Next we took a Sienna grade 4-cylinder for a spin.  This is the first time the Sienna has been offered with a 4-cylinder engine.  I was interested to get it up to highway speed and was able to do so via an uphill onramp.  Although the acceleration was acceptable to me, I was watching the tachometer push 5,000 RPM.  We whizzed down the freeway and worked our way back to the Ritz via some back roads.  We did not have the benefit of a full passenger load or cargo to test how taxing that would be to the 4-cylinder.  If the lower price point offered for the Sienna grade 4-cylinder or better fuel economy allows you to purchase one, I support that, otherwise I wouldn’t dip below the 6 cylinder.

The highlight of our driving was the new SE or “sport” model.  First off, I noticed it sits lower to the ground.  I wasn’t thrilled with that because I started thinking it was a bit of a low-rider-Scion vibe, but from the outside it wasn’t particularly noticeable.  I only really could tell when I was getting in and while driving.  Then again, I’m used to sitting higher in my minivan.  I really liked the steering.  It was much more reminiscent of my BMW and even made me think of my experience driving the Lexus RX 450h a few months ago.  The tighter response just is more comfortable to me.  I don’t feel as in control when there is a lot of play in the steering.  The exterior features an SE-only sporty-mesh grill that gives it a more aggressive look.  It also has low, wide rocker molding and the rear has distinctive clear tail lamps and a sculpted lower fascia.  I’m not a fan of the clear tail lamps as I feel they are a bit cheesy-after-market-esque, but I can live with them.  Overall, I’m a fan of the SE and would recommend anyone who is a bit unsure of taking the minivan leap to look at it as a possible point of entry.

082 Sienna Limited
The interior of all the grades feels roomy.  In fact, they have added to the width and length of the Sienna without making it feel more cumbersome to drive.  Some of the new features for 2011 that were giving me minivan envy:  The industry’s first dual-view, dual-source rear entertainment system.  It’s a wide screen for the backseat that allows the kids to watch two different programs on one screen.  With Chip and Lulu so close in age, sometimes I really, really wish I had this!  The optional navigation system comes with up to the minute traffic—another option I wish had been available for mine.  The all-wheel drive minivans come with run flat tires.  Finally, there is a new panorama back up camera that gives the driver more perspective on the sides.  I really had a blast speaking with all the Toyota executives and engineers and designers.  One fun note was when I stopped by the test drive area with Lulu.  Kazuo Mori came over to speak to me and we found out that his daughter has the exact same birthday as Lulu!  They will both be two in a couple of weeks.  When you know the Chief Engineer of the new generation of Toyota Sienna is a minivan dad, you also know you are in good hands.  Toyota has streamlined the options for the 2011 Sienna, a move that I applaud.  When I was researching my minivan purchase last year, I especially found the various package options very difficult to get a handle on.  In his speech opening the event, Bob Carter, Group Vice President and General Manager of Toyota said, “Even though the new Sienna has a wide array of choices…it’s packaging and model complexity have been reduced by 80% from the previous generation.”  Yay, I say!  The new Siennas will be available beginning in February 2011 with a base MSRP of $24,260 for the Sienna grade 4-cylinder to $39,770 for the Sienna Limited all-wheel-drive 6-cylinder with all five grades available by April.  The main reasons I went with the Sienna when I was looking at minivans last year were: Toyota reputation, interior options and exterior looks.  I really think the Sienna is the least minivan looking minivan on the market.  As I said in my first post on this blog…You gotta love those sliding doors…

UPDATE: to read my June 21, 2010 Toyota Sienna post click here


Anonymous said...

I really liked your article. Thanks. Did you ask if they solved the rapid wear issues of the run-flat tires? That was one of the only two complaints I ever saw about the Sienna that I agreed with. The other being that the doors sliding doors sometime get frozen (I live in Pittsburgh, PA) shut. I have a 2004 Sienna XLE LTD AWD and I love it. I'm a dad with 3 kids 7, 4 and 2 and I could not imagine driving a young family around in a car or truck (SUV) that did not have power sliding doors and adjustable/movable seats. If we would have been tooling around in an SUV my 4 yr old would have done a lot of damage to parked cars around us trying to open and close doors. I must admit after seeing pictures of the SE it looks a too much like a tuner car. They went overboard trying to appeal to young “non-minivan” people. The only thing missing from the SE is ground effect lights and a huge spoiler. The other 4 trims look very nice and “classy” like they should. Nice article, thanks for writing it.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Anon,
Thanks for your comment. I did not know they had a rapid wear issue with the run flat tires. I will ask about that and leave a follow up comment. I do know that the price point of the run flat tires have come way down which had been my major question regarding the run flats. Elizabeth

Elizabeth said...

I heard back from my contact at Toyota regarding your question on the run flat tires:

"We have an all-new Bridgestone run-flat tire for the new Sienna(all-wheel-drive models only). Its new run-flat design has improved the ride quality while reducing noise/vibration. A new NanoPro-Tech polymer rubber reinforcement insert resists heat at the molecular level and reduces friction between the carbon and polymer molecules, which improve the tires overall performance. A cooling-fin design on the side surface of the tire prevents heat build-up on the tire surface by tripping the air flow and directing cold air down against the sidewall to cool the tire."

I hope that answers your question. Please let me know if you have any more and I'll get the answers from Toyota.

Anonymous said...

Hi Elizabeth, Great article. 2 questions if you noticed - for the DVD system, where do you load the DVDs? In other words, is it accessible from the driver's seat like in the Honda Ody?

I also heard others remark about the inability to use the navigation while the vehicle is in motion - did you notice if this had changed for 2011? Has this been an issue for you in your current Sienna?

Thanks again, we're getting ready to purchase our first "real" mini-van and trying to decide between makes.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Anon,
Thanks for stopping by. To answer your questions:
1) The DVD player has been moved to the instrument panel for easier access. It is in the lower section of the "center area" where the navigation screen is. I wholeheartedly approve of this switch as it is an improvement from the current positioning of having to load where the screen is. The Dual Screen DVD is also Dual Source, meaning one side can play a DVD and the other can play from an external source such as an Ipod Touch. The jacks for this are in the rear of the center console.

2) The navigation in my '08 is not able to be operated if the vehicle is in motion. And by "operated" I mean the screen locks out. Meaning you can't make changes or do a new route while you are moving. The system continues to show the map and give voice directions if you entered a destination before you started moving. I did not notice if that had changed for '11. I'm going to assume it hasn't because I really think it's a safety issue. The driver might be distracted using the nav while driving. I haven't noticed it to be a huge issue for me. I would say that when you have a passenger and they want to use it, it would be nice to override. Otherwise, I find that I can pull over or make adjustments at a red light pretty easily.

I know many people who have an Odyssey and are really happy with it. But, I gotta say, this new generation Sienna combined with the fact that I prefer the looks over the Odyssey, has me cheering. Good luck in your real minivan hunt!

Anonymous said...

Is the 8th seat a full size seat? Is it allowable to use with a carseat? Could you fit two carseats and a full sized adult?

In the 2009 SIenna, it seemed the 8th seat was a real-sized seat that would fit a carseat or an adult. The Odessy has a small seat (between the captains chairs) that seems sort of useless, except for maybe a teen.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Anon,
I was able to confirm the following with Toyota:

"The new Sienna will have the lower anchors and top tethers for child seats in the two outboard positions in the second row, and the anchors and tether in the middle seat position in the third row.

You can secure a child seat in the second row center position on an 8-passenger model using the seatbelt."

Elizabeth here: To answer your questions, I do think you can fit an adult and two car seats. Of course, some car seats are wider than others, but IMO there is plenty of room as the width of the Sienna is increased for '11.

Also, I prefer to anchor my car seats with seatbelts. I have my two toddlers in the outboard captain chairs. I feel that I get a better install that way.

The Siennas are rolling into dealerships this month so I would suggest checking it out in person to see if it fits your specs.

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Did they fix the "frozen sliding door" problem? The sliding doors on earlier models would become stuck in cold weather. This would cause the sliding door motors to burn out and a $2500 fix (not covered by warranty or extended warranty).

Elizabeth said...

Hello Anon,
Thanks for your question about one of my favorite features on the Sienna. I love those sliding doors!

The Sienna sliding door issue affected some 2004-2007 Sienna models. There was a fix created for those models, which means this condition was addressed during the development of the new 2011 model.

I just spent some time last week (May 2010) at the Toyota design center and learned event more about the 2011 Sienna design. Please check back for my post coming shortly!

toyota Sienna long island said...

Thanks for such a nice post .This time Sienna is surely going to be right some attractive features.I think in all aspects like style, quality and performance.I think in the car market Sienna is attract his customer for his styles and extra feature.So that the features that makes it different and i love its sliding door.

JEff said...

Hi great article. I had a question on the dual view screen. Is it possible to have the sound from the movie being played to go through the car speakers or is it just the wireless headphones? And if you are using the other aux input so you can have both screens going does the audio go to each wireless headset? I hope that makes sense.. Basically just wanting to know if the second input is used and I got a third set of headphones what my options are etc as I can't find any info on it. Thanks!

Elizabeth said...

Hello Jeff, Thanks for your nice comments. I checked in with my friends at Toyota to go over my understanding of the dual screen entertainment/DVD system. Let's see if I can answer your questions:

The item playing in the main disk player can be channeled through the main speakers and a head set if you choose. The headsets have a channel A/B switch - which allows them to be used for either source, and the screen can be switched to show each source on either side.

Either headset can be switched to pick up either of the two sources - You could be playing your X-Box video game watching one side of the screen, while listening to the movie on the DVD player should you choose to.

You can use additional headsets - they all work on either of the two reception channels for the two sources.

I hope that helps! Check back and let me know what color Sienna you get ;)

Michael said...

I just bought a 2011 Sienna XLE FWD with the premium package. One thing that I can't figure out is how to get music in the front while a dvd is playing in the back. Do you know if this is possible?

BTW-I'm loving this minivan so far (never thought I would say that)!!


Elizabeth said...

Hi Michael,
Glad you are loving your swagger van! Wellll....To answer your question.....That's what the headsets are for. So the rugrats can listen to what's playing on the DVD (wearing the headsets) and you can listen to whatever you want up front. If you mean sending different audio signals to different speakers in your Sienna, my understanding of the audio system is that it can only send out one audio source through the speakers. Although I love the 2011 Sienna and it is roomier than previous models, I'm finding it hard to imagine what it would be like with two audio tracks playing on the speakers simultaneously? In my Sienna, I either listen to what the kids are watching or just have some "mental alone time" if they don't use their headsets on a particular jaunt.

If for some reason you didn't receive headsets in your new Sienna or you are still having issues, I would recommend you swing by your dealership for assistance. Or feel free to hit me back here and I can bring your question directly to Toyota.

Michael said...

Thanks for the reply! Yes, I do mean listenting to the radio in the front and have the dvd audio playing on the rear speakers for the kids. My kids are 1 and 3 and too young for head phones.
In our old car we had the portable dvd player playing in the back for the kids and were able to listen to the radio in the front and it worked out ok. This seems like a major engineering flaw of the audio/video system. I think they forgot about the younger kids. On longer trips when the kids will be watching videos I'd like to keep myself entertained with music. Why limit that ability?

Thanks again!

Elizabeth said...

I do know where you are coming from. When I got my Sienna, my kids were 4 mos and almost 2. Granted the 4 mos old wasn't going to facing the DVD screen for a while anyway. BUT, now that they are both forward facing, I have to admit, at ages 2 and almost 4, they rarely do wear the headphones and I do mainly just let the DVD audio play through the car speakers. More ideal would be a way to hook up their car seats with audio IMO!!! Cheers, Elizabeth

toyota dealers said...

I am really satisfied with this posting that you have given us. This is really a stupendous work done by you. The new Sienna is the best and i am also liking its sliding door.

Khash Sarrafi said...

We picked up our Sienna 2011 Limited 4 weeks ago and traded in our 2007 LE Sienna for it. I must say we love the car but the tech geek I am I have some complains...
1) I thought Limited comes with all of the options, not true. The rain sensor, Laser Cruise and the push button 3rd row seat put away was not in my car (Amazingly the dealer avoided to tell us about those features...)

2) In this day and age of digital media, I have all of my kids videos on an IPOD, instead of DVDs. I would like to attach the iPOD to aux, which I bought the adaptor from apple, and attach it to the aux behind the center compartment and be able to listen to the audio on my speaker instead of headphone... Trying to get rid of the DVDs (my kids love destroying them, those dirty gruby hands)....

Otherwise the car is great and my wife and I are both happy....

Anonymous said...


We just bought a 2011 Sienna XLE with NAV and Entertainment system (not a dual). We've noticed that when DVD screen is down the size of screen blocks the view of the driver to the back of the car (via rear view mirror). We cannot see the car driving behind at all and that's with the headrest on the third row down. I called dealer and they said "sorry that's factory installed". Can you please ask your Toyota contacts about this.

If you need a video or pictures to show them, let me know.

Elizabeth said...

Hello Anon,
Your question intrigued me because the 2011 Sienna only comes with a dual screen. I've driven the exact model you have, including a week long test drive in August during which time I drove from Boston to New York City and back. I experienced no rear view mirror obstruction.

I then contacted Toyota and they verified that the 2011 only comes with the dual screen. Since you say that is not what you have, this is worth investigating with the Toyota call center and speaking directly with a rep at 800-331-4331.

If your issue isn't resolved, definitely let me know and I'll follow up with Toyota. Also, I'd be interested in hearing back as well if you do solve it because this could certainly be useful info for others. Elizabeth

Anonymous said...


This DVD, according to the sticker on the window, was installed by SOUTHEAST TOYOTA prior to delivery. I took the car to the service department today. I'm waiting for their response. I'll keep you posted. I wish I could post or send you a video or a photo so you can see it. I went to the dealer yesterday and we looked at a 2011 Sienna with a factory installed Dual DVD and is like you mentioned, not issue at all. Southeast Toyota shouldn't installed this DVD, is a safety issue.

Thank you for your reply.

Elizabeth said...

Hello Anon,
This is what I suspected your situation would turn out to be: an aftermarket dealer add-on. You say "sticker in the window", so I'm assuming that means they put a dealer sticker next to the manufacturer sticker and listed whatever they added on and the price? Thus raising the manufacturer's sticker price for your Sienna.

Whenever you see that, you can request that they removed whatever they "added on" and return the car to the specs on the manufacturer's sticker. Dealer add-ons are frequently a moneymaking maneuver by the dealer. They don't "have" to honor your request, but then you don't "have" to buy that car. You can also move onto another dealer. It is unfortunate, that according to your comments here, this add-on has compromised the driver's visibility and thus safe operation of their Sienna.

I'd be happy to look at pictures and/or video. You can send me pictures at my e-mail address. If you go to the top right of my blog where it says "about me" and below that click "view my complete profile". Once there, under "contact" click on "e-mail". It might be easier to upload your video to Youtube and send me a link. Definitely keep me posted.

Percy said...

I like your website, I just traded my BMW 335i Controvertible for 2011 Sienna AWD LTD. I thought I will be the only one to do this but seems like I am not alone. lol