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Toyota Sienna: Roomy family vehicle

  • Article by: ANN M. JOB
  • Associated Press
  • February 26, 2014 - 11:10 AM

Remember when Toyota's quintessential family vehicle, the Sienna, was called a minivan?

Today, the Sienna stretches nearly 17 feet in length, and with generous seating for seven or eight people and impressive cargo space, the Sienna no longer is mini.

Even the Sienna's four-cylinder engine is gone for 2014, leaving all Siennas to be powered by a strong, responsive, 266-horsepower V-6.

It's a good thing, because the V-6 is well suited to moving the large, heavy Sienna van around town and down highways.

Plus, federal government fuel mileage ratings for the V-6 are akin to those of last year's four cylinder: 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway.

Also noteworthy about the Sienna: It's the only passenger van on the U.S. market that still offers all-wheel drive. The system operates on demand to shift torque to rear wheels when needed, such as in snowy conditions.

Best of all, the 2014 Sienna, with and without all-wheel drive, earned top, five out of five stars overall in federal government crash tests. This is up from four out of five stars for the 2013 Sienna.

And the Sienna is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, which lists predicted reliability as above average.

Base price is up with the departure of the four-cylinder Sienna.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge is $27,780 for a base, front-wheel drive, 2014 Sienna L. The L includes tri-zone air conditioning, fabric-covered seats, cruise control, keyless remote entry and power windows and door locks. It does not, however, have a rearview camera, which is standard in base models of some competitors.

The lowest starting retail price for an all-wheel drive, 2014 Sienna is $33,780 and this is the LE trim level that includes standard rearview camera. All 2014 Siennas come with a 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission.

Competitors include the top-selling U.S. passenger van, the Honda Odyssey, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $29,655 for a 2014 LX with 248-horsepower V-6 and automatic transmission. The base 2014 Odyssey comes with rearview camera, two-zone air conditioning, fabric seats, cruise control, remote entry and power windows and door locks.

Meantime, the second best-selling passenger van in the United States, the Dodge Grand Caravan, has a starting retail price of $21,390 for a 2014 American Value Package trim level with 283-horsepower V-6, automatic transmission, fabric-covered seats, dual-zone air conditioning, keyless entry and power windows and door locks.

Prices for passenger vans can reach into luxury territory, as they did for the test, 2014 Sienna Limited AWD.

With a price tag of nearly $48,000, this seven-seater was a showcase in comfortable, multiple-passenger travel.

Well-padded, leather-clad seats were in all but the split-bench third row, where same-color leatherette material was scarcely differentiable, visually, from the four ritzier seats in rows one and two.

The two captain's chairs in the middle row were popular sitting spots because they had pull-down armrests on both sides, reclining backs and extremely long seat tracks that provided amazing legroom, even for people who were well over 6 feet tall.

And, if parents want to be able to reach a child behind them, they only need to position a second-row seat all the way up on the tracks and close to the front seatbacks.

Third-row seats didn't feel as confining as in some other vans because the Sienna has large third-row windows that in the tester could open, via power, like vents.

The rearmost seats split 60/40 and didn't require a lot of brawn to fold them into a deep cavity. Still, the fixed, plastic floor pieces around the second-row seat tracks and at the base of the third floor Sienna seats gave a less-than-luxurious appearance inside when people approached the wide door and liftgate openings.

The test Sienna had two moonroofs, but it was the one above the rear seats that opened widest and brought a big sky inward.

Alas, in the test vehicle, this larger moonroof also made a grinding/rubbing noise as it closed, as if something wasn't quite on track.

Steering felt a bit numb but acceptable.

Sienna drivers notice the considerable heft of the vehicle, since weight shifts from side to side and from one corner to another as the vehicle travels through curves and turns. The suspension, with independent MacPherson struts up front and rear torsion beam — is compliant and absorbs and manages all but the worst road bumps.

Standard safety equipment, such as traction control and electronic stability control, work to keep the Sienna from exceeding its limits, and this van has front, side and curtain air bags along with a driver's knee air bag to keep the driver properly positioned in a frontal crash.

The Sienna's V-6 was surprisingly quick to respond to pressure on the accelerator pedal and, with the transmission, delivered power smoothly. Passengers could hear engine sounds, but the only nit was a vibration that came through the steering wheel at times during low-speed acceleration.

The tester averaged 15.7 mpg in city driving, just a tad less than the government mileage rating of 16 mpg. Highway travel averaged 20 mpg vs. the government's 23 mpg. With a full, 20-gallon gasoline tank, the test Sienna could travel 360 miles at a cost of less than $70 at current fuel prices.

© 2014 Star Tribune