2011 Toyota Sienna first drive
Evolving the minivan
Victoria, B.C. - Canadians love minivans. That's a huge, sweeping statement but the numbers back it up. However, customers left in droves to hipper crossovers that had at least a hint of coolness. So why, given the steady market and small competition, would Toyota throw so many resources at the completely redesigned 2011 Sienna? Surely the business case couldn't be easy to make, especially in a recession-driven economy where customers are downsizing drastically. Given the company's recent safety recalls and the resulting public black eye, wouldn't you rethink your strategy on trying to make minivans cool?
Those surviving sales of the segment wars total tens of thousands per year, which while down from the '90s heyday, is still a significant chunk of business.
When an enthusiast designs a minivan, this is what happens
The 2011 Sienna is the first of nine either new or heavily revised models that will roll out this year. Kazuo Mori, chief engineer on the project, loves driving his modified AE86 Corolla and raced karts in the '90s. He is not the gent you might imagine enjoys designing minivans. But, his passion for driving ensured that there are several ways the new Sienna is more confident to drive than the previous version. And cooler too.
Styling follows templates set by other recent Toyotas, and there's more than a hint of Camry Hybrid and Matrix. Wheels are either 17 or 18 inches in diameter, depending on trim level. Neat touches like the rear window wiper arm hidden beneath the standard rear spoiler are very slick, but that's cancelled out by the old-school radio antenna poking out of the passenger-side front fender.
Ride in the many laps of luxury
Inside, the shapes and materials echo those of the Venza, but the HVAC and audio controls are tightly packed and hard to distinguish on the move. There are numerous cubbies in the dashboard, doors, roof and centre console to store all the detritus a family generates. And the standard tri-zone climate control works wonderfully for those riding in the rear.
One of the new Sienna's highlights is the second-row seat. In either seven- or eight-passenger configuration, they can slide more than 58 cm fore and aft to ease access to the third row. In eight-passenger models, the middle seat in the 40/20/40 split is removable and ingeniously stows in one of the rear interior quarter panels. Finally, in high-end models, the second row includes fully reclining captain's chairs with extendable ottomans to provide a limo-rivalling ride.
While the third-row easily folds into the floor using one hand, the second row is only removable. The decision was made for improved passenger comfort over the few times you might actually want to stow the second row of seats.
A 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake sold for $1.3 million. Do you think classic cars were made better than modern rides?
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- Yes, the quality of cars from the 1960s and '70s is the best
- No, modern technology makes cars better today
- Maybe, it's hard to say since most Canadians get a new car every 10 years